Yellow jackets are like the ugly stepsisters to the honey bee’s Cinderella. And I don’t mean the version of the story where the stepsisters become friends with Cinderella by the end, I mean the version where the stepsisters are hateful and malicious for the whole story. Yellow jackets are the reason why most people (aside from those with allergies who have a legitimate reason for their fear) are so afraid of all stinging insects. And it’s one of the main reasons why they make the list of my top five least favorite insects.
Most stinging insects are passive, meaning that as long as they do not feel threatened by you, they will not harm you. Honey bees, bumble bees, even mud-daubers, hornets, and paper wasps will likely just fly right past you when given the choice. For yellow jackets, that is not the case. Yellow jackets are incredibly aggressive and will sting without any provocation. And unlike many other stinging insects, they do not lose their stinger when they sting, which gives them the ability to sting multiple times.
Another reason that I can’t stand yellow jackets is that they aren’t actually pollinators. Most stinging insects feed predominately on nectar and pollen, and as such are an important part of our ecosystem. Without them, we wouldn’t have fruits or vegetables or flowers. Yellow jackets, however, are predominantly predators and scavengers. While they do play an important role in agricultural pest control, they also love human foods, particularly sugary ones. These insects are the ones that will interrupt your backyard barbeque or picnic to try to suck the sugary juices off of your plate. And, due to their aggressive nature, they will fight back if you try to defend your food.
Yellow jackets are also a problem because they are so similar in appearance to other, more docile stinging insects. If something resembling a bee starts flying at or around you, it can be hard to tell whether it is an aggressive yellow jacket or a chill honey bee. Yellow jackets have similar body structures to most other stinging insects, with their black and yellow coloring, six legs, wings, and about half an inch in length (coloring and size may vary depending on the species of stinging insect, of course). However, the typical yellow jacket can easily be distinguished from honey bees. While honey bees are fuzzy and the yellow coloration is usually a darker, amber color, yellow jackets are smooth and shiny, and are black with bright yellow or white accents.
Now, I’ll be honest. If I come across a stinging insect of any kind, aside from honey bees and bumblebees, I move very quickly in the opposite direction. I was stung while playing in the grass at a park when I was little, and it’s hard to unlearn that fear. But the more I learn about these insects, the more I realize how important they are and how much I don’t want to hurt them. While I would suggest leaving most species of stinging insects alone (unless you are allergic and have a very valid reason to get these little creatures evicted from your property), if the stinging insects you have seen in your yard appear to be particularly aggressive and incredibly fond of sugar it might be time to call a pest control professional to evict these malicious little bugs from your yard or home.