A Royal Visitor

The Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) lives in colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals. They build their nests underground in rock crevices or rodent burrows, but will also use human structures, such as under steps. They don’t go deep. Most are less than 2” underground. Some will nest in attics too.

DSC_9676yellow jacket wasp

One Queen starts the colony each year. I didn’t realise until I started researching my photograph that this is a Queen. The Queen has the two black spots between each line. I had to dig a little deeper to ID this wasp because it looks different to the workers that are normally shown on the ID charts and I discovered there is a huge variety in the markings of the different types of Yellowjackets. The Eastern Yellow Jacket is the most common here.

The Queen starts the nest structure by chewing wood and adding her saliva to make it into a pulp. She then lays eggs, which become the workers when they hatch. Once the workers arrive the nest starts to expand rapidly and soil is removed and dropped outside the nest to make room for new cells to be added. I guess if I see a hole in the ground with excavated soil around it I need to be careful it isn’t her nest. These wasps are aggressive defenders of their colonies and will inflict a painful sting. I was a little concerned to read about their alarm pheromone that stimulates defense if their nest feels threatened. It prompts attraction and attack and they can sting multiple times, so I do need to watch out for any signs of a nest and keep my distance if I find it. The Queen was quite near to the cottage when I saw her, so hopefully she doesn’t find a nice quiet spot close by that looks to her like a good place to set up home!

Eastern Yellowjackets are an issue if they are near homes, but they are valuable insects. They are pollinators and beneficial because they eat beetle grubs, flies and other harmful pests. They are known more for being scavengers who eat meat, fish and sugary substances, which makes them a nuisance to humans, but that is a problem of our own making and we should not forget the valuable service they do provide to us. Even so, I hope they don’t wish to be close neighbours with us!


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