Yellow jacket is a type of small wasp with black-and-yellow markings. Some people mistakenly call yellow jackets "bees," but they actually are related to hornets. Like hornets, yellow jackets make their nests of paper. They form the paper by chewing up old wood and plant fibers. The nests consist of numerous hexagonal cells inside a thick paper covering. Most yellow jackets nest underground, but sometimes nests can be found hanging in trees or bushes, or within hollows in old stumps or the walls of buildings.
Yellow jackets eat primarily to feed their young. After feeding, the adult regurgitates (spits up) the food for the young. Most species prey on living insects. They consume large numbers of flies, caterpillars, and other pests. Some species feed chiefly on dead animal matter, such as decaying fish and processed sandwich meats. Yellow jackets also feed on sweet, sugary substances, such as ripe fruit and soft drinks. Such feeding habits often make yellow jackets a nuisance at picnics and campsites.
Like honey bees and ants, yellow jackets live in communities made up of queens (mated females), workers (unmated females), and males. Males and queens do not sting, but workers will vigorously defend a nest if it is disturbed, often stinging repeatedly. People are sometimes stung when they run lawn mowers over hidden nests. Some people are strongly allergic to the proteins in a yellow jacket's venom (poison). If stung, they may require immediate medical attention.
Scientific classification. Yellow jackets belong to the family Vespidae. Two common North American species are Vespula pennsylvanica and V. maculifrons.