As I sat watching the wasps going in and out of my garden, it seemed reasonable to ask: do yellowjackets make honey? Well, I was surprised by where this question took me and just how sinister nature can be!
Yellowjackets do not produce honey, nor do they build honeycomb hives. Yellowjackets attack and feed on honey bees, then hijack their honeycombs.
Instead of producing honey, the primary purpose of a yellowjacket is to seek out other small critters, often garden pests, to eat, making them a friend of us gardeners. As well as eating many different types of insects, they will also eat sweet nectars or fruits as the year progresses, which is why yellowjackets often appear at late summer picnics and BBQs.
Here’s what else I’ve learned about yellowjackets in my time both in and out of the garden:
- Do Yellowjackets Pollinate?
- Do Yellowjackets Make Honey?
- Do Yellowjackets Build Honeycomb?
- Do Yellowjackets Live In Hives Or Nests?
- Yellowjacket vs. Honey Bee
- Do Yellowjackets Attack And Kill Honey Bees?
- Do Yellowjackets Eat Honey Bees?
- Do Yellowjackets Like To Steal Honey?
Do Yellowjackets Pollinate?
Yellowjackets are incidental pollinators but pollinating is not their primary duty. They will occasionally scavenge from or hide in a flower, which can cause some pollen movement.
Bees, on the other hand, are well-known pollinators whereby their fuzzy bodies rub against the pollen that collects inside flowers. As they move from one flower to the next, pollination occurs when the pollen that sticks to them is transferred from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Most other insects and animals will only occasionally and accidentally pollinate by moving through flower meadows or gardens.
A wasp’s scavenging is a crucial aspect of its behavior. While the activity of scavenging can assist pollination, it is actually how yellowjackets find sustenance.
Unlike bees, which gather protein exclusively from flowers, yellowjackets procure protein from various animal sources. When nectar sources are reduced in late summer and autumn, yellowjackets become problematic for honey bee hives because yellowjackets overtake hives, pilfer all available sources of protein, and thus harm the colonies of bees.
Do Yellowjackets Make Honey?
No, yellowjackets do not make honey. While it is easy to confuse yellowjackets with honey bees because of their similar coloring and size, one key difference is that yellowjackets do not produce honey.
Bees produce honey by collecting nectar from flowers by absorbing it with their tongues and storing it in their “honey stomach.” A bee’s honey stomach is different from the stomach that works with this traditional digestive system. Once returning to their honeycomb, bees use the nectar to process and create honey.
While the yellowjackets do not produce honey, they offer various other benefits. Yellowjackets can be an invaluable pest control tool for gardeners because they are exceedingly adept at killing common garden pests.
Do Yellowjackets Build Honeycomb?
No, yellowjackets do not produce honeycombs. However, yellowjackets are infamous for hijacking honey bee’s combs. After a yellowjacket invades a honeycomb, they will kill and eat the colony, then eat the honey that filled the combs before abandoning the empty hive to find other scavenging opportunities.
Honeycombs are made of beeswax, a substance that is created by worker bees. The hexagonal units of a honeycomb are storage containers for honey and shelters to raise baby bees. A honeycomb is the most critical part of a healthy hive; bees rely on its structure to produce honey and raise their young.
Yellowjackets create hives out of paper fibers. Many yellowjackets will build nests underground, while others will make their hives in a wall or a hollow tree.
Do Yellowjackets Live In Hives Or Nests?
Yellowjackets live in hives. Yellowjackets regularly build their hives underground in rodent burrows. If you see flying insects appearing from the ground, it is likely a yellowjacket swarm. By late summer, a colony may comprise thousands of aggressive yellowjackets that will defend their nests by attacking.
Nearly every yellowjacket will not survive the winter, and only the queens remain to help repopulate colonies in warmer weather. Because swarms die in the cold, the yellowjacket hive is abandoned each year, so the winter removal of hives is very safe.
Yellowjacket vs. Honey Bee
The most significant difference between yellow jackets and bees is that the yellowjacket is a wasp – even though the two insects look strikingly similar.
While both are black and yellow, honey bees have minuscule hairs or fuzz covering their bodies, allowing them to pollinate successfully. On the other hand, yellowjackets do not have body fuzz. The yellowjacket body is smooth and shiny.
Both bees and yellowjackets live in massive colonies. A single colony can hold 60,000 individual honey bees. Similarly, a yellowjacket hive hosts four to five thousand wasps.
Another similarity is the social structure of the two. Both are composed of a queen, workers, and drones. Queens lay eggs, drones mate with the queen, and workers care for the nest, create new cells, and accumulate supplies.
Do Yellowjackets Attack And Kill Honey Bees?
To the detriment of conservation it is unfortunate that yellowjackets do attack and kill honey bees. On the other hand, yellowjackets are often regarded as a natural pest control method since they will kill pests that are destructive to houseplants and dangerous to humans or pets.
A healthy colony of bees can defend against a yellowjacket attack. However, if the colony is small or weak, the aggressive wasps can quickly overpower the colony by killing all of the bees. Thereafter, the yellowjackets will eat all of the larvae and eggs and loot anything that remains until the hive is empty.
Do Yellowjackets Eat Honey Bees?
Yes, yellowjackets kill and eat bees. Yellowjacket wasps feed on honey and destroy the comb. The wasps also kill adult bees and eat honey bee eggs.
Do Yellowjackets Like To Steal Honey?
A honey bee hive is an absolute feast for a yellowjacket and has various options for dinner for the scavenging critters. Yellowjackets will attack and consume adult bees and larvae, which are excellent sources of protein. In addition, the honey in the hive is pure carbohydrates.
Beehives are more prone to invasion by yellowjackets during late summer or early fall. This is because other food sources such as nectar and fruits that the yellowjackets feasted on during summer are now dwindling. This is often when they will seek out weak honeybee colonies.
How To Control Yellowjackets Without Harming Bees
Yellowjackets are a natural enemy of bees. In a severe yellowjacket invasion, the wasps will terminate your honey bee colony.
You can protect honey bees from yellowjackets by employing specific wasp traps. Setting these traps in the early spring when yellowjackets begin the reproduction process can keep the population low throughout the year.
Unfortunately, a yellowjacket’s sting can be very dangerous to pets and people, particularly to those prone to allergic reactions. The wasp’s aggressive nature and propensity to perform multiple stings outweigh any benefit they provide in pest reduction for many. Hence, a trap is necessary for keeping honeybee hives protected and humans and pets safe from unnecessary and painful stings.
Why Are Yellowjackets Aggressive In Fall?
Monitoring yellowjacket activity in your garden or backyard during summer and early fall before frost is vital to keep you and your family safe from stings.
In spring and early summer, yellowjackets are carnivores, feeding primarily on insects to provide protein to developing larvae in their colony. As the year moves into autumn, the diet of a yellowjacket changes to include more sugars, so many yellowjackets begin scavenging and can target garbage bags and picnic snacks.
Yellowjacket hives die out after the winter’s first frost, with only the hive’s queens living through to the spring to populate a new colony.
Are Yellowjackets Harmful To Humans?
Yes, yellowjackets can be harmful to humans because yellowjackets can sting multiple times. Furthermore, yellowjackets tend to be more aggressive if a hive is disturbed.
Yellowjackets can be useful predators for reducing other harmful insects but are a significant health concern when in the vicinity of humans and animals.
Interestingly, when a person complains of experiencing a bee sting, it is very likely that a yellowjacket was the actual culprit. Indeed, yellowjackets aggressively sting with no provocation, and unlike bees, sting people or pets multiple times.
Are Yellowjackets Harmful To Pets?
Yellowjackets can be harmful to pets, especially if a curious cat or dog stumbles upon a hive. Because yellowjackets can sting multiple times, if your pet is attacked, immediately remove them from the area and contact a veterinarian for the next steps.
If your pet has been stung, there are some immediate steps to take at home while reaching out to your care provider. First, create a concentrated baking soda and water paste and smear it on top of the sting. If your dog has many stings, then fill a bathtub with warm water and add oatmeal. Having your pet soak in the mixture will minimize swelling from the stings. Finally, you may want to consider applying an ice pack to the sting for at least ten minutes to diminish swelling.
Final Thoughts On Yellowjacket Wasps
Yellowjackets and bees have some similar characteristics, like their distinct coloring and social structure within a colony. On the other hand, some distinct differences make yellowjackets significantly more dangerous than honey bees.
Yellowjackets are aggressive and will not shy away from humans when attempting to scavenge for food. Humans and pets, especially in late summer or early fall, should be exceedingly cautious of yellowjackets.