Save the bees… but get rid of all the yellow jackets you can find.
I love honeybees… Without them, we would all die because they pollinate 70% of the food we consume. But, I never feel even the tiniest bit guilty of swiftly ending the lives of yellow jackets on our survival homestead retreat.
Yellow jackets serve no beneficial purpose to the well-being of our family, and their stings hurt – a lot – so they will remain on the “most wanted” and “kill on sight” lists on our homestead. Alright, yellow jackets can serve one purpose, they do eat insects that want to steal your garden crops right out from under your nose.
But, I prefer not to stumble across a yellow jacket ground nest while pulling weeds and take care of the pest myself with homemade all-natural pesticides.
Unlike the slight pain of a bee sting, a yellow jacket sting packs a pretty big punch. Not only are yellow jackets more likely to swarm than other types of bees, they WILL chase you just like a hornet.
There are a vast array of flying and stinging insects in the United States, and it is important to know the difference before encountering them and especially before attempting to get rid of them.
When something is buzzing about your face trying to sting you, it is not the time to take a closer look. Nearly all types of “bees” move too fast and are too small for such an inspection – particularly when they are already in attack mode.
A yellow jacket is typically a ground-nesting wasp species. They are somewhat larger than a honeybee and have black and bright yellow stripes that wrap around their entire bodies. It is a common type of wasp and is smaller (yet no less vicious) than a hornet.
Yellow jackets, like other members of the hornet family, sting not just once like honey bees, but repeatedly. While they are stinging, the yellow jackets inject a pheromone that lures other members of their colony to the attack site and entices them to sting the intruder repeatedly, as well.
Table of Contents:
Types of Yellow Jackets
There are several types of yellow jackets you might find. These social wasps are members of the Vespula species and can produce several thousand workers per colony per season.
The German Yellowjacket is most commonly found in structures and is native to the northeastern and midwestern portions of the United States. It typically lives in wall voids, structures, attics, cracks, and crawlspaces in the exterior of a building.
The common yellowjacket is frequently found in the United States as well. These wasps construct above- and below-ground nests. The western yellowjacket, on the other hand, makes its nest in the ground, as does the eastern yellow jacket.
These wasps are most commonly referred to as meat bees. They often use rodent burrows for nests, too, but they are opportunistic – they will even choose concrete blocks or railroad ties in which to make their homes.
Finally, there are some yellow jackets that build aerial nests either from trees or attached to the eaves of buildings. These tend to be non-aggressive wasp species, so we won’t refer to them in this post.
15 Yellowjacket Facts
1. Yellow jackets are sometimes called “meat bees” because they are attracted to and love to dine on, rotting meat and fish.
2. Yellowjackets almost exclusively build their nests underground, and take advantage of old rodent burrows – or run the rodents out of their burrows and take them over.
3. The nests created by these fierce insects can measure several inches deep and about three feet in diameter.
4. Yellowjackets spend the spring beefing up their numbers and growing their strength.
5. By the late summer months, a single yellow jacket nest can be home to THOUSANDS of stinging members.
6. The insects will vigorously defend not just their nest but the area around it from potential intruders.
7. Yellowjackets appear to have honed their sense to detect even the slightest vibration in the ground about their heads and the sounds of an approaching potential intruder.
Even a child’s bouncing ball or a push mower running up to 20 feet away from a yellow jacket nest can provoke their ire and send as many as 100 attackers out in a swarm to get rid of the attacking sound.
8. The nests hit their peak in both numbers and strength during the fall months.
9. The insects are at their least active stage during the evening hours.
10. The members of a nest always return home by dark, making that the best time to trap and get rid of them.
11. To locate a yellow jacket nest entrance point, quietly and from a safe distance, sit and watch the flight pattern of the wasps as their fly to and from their safe place. Usually, the insects create a backup exit point for their nests.
You need to be aware of both holes in order to trap and kill the insects. Failing to do so will increase your risk of being attacked or swarmed while in the process of destroying the nest.
12. Signs of an allergic reaction to a sting include swelling of the throat or mouth, difficulty speaking or breathing, the emergence of hives, tightness in the chest, and You’ve been stung more than 10 times and wheezing while speaking or breathing.
13. Yellowjacket colonies die off during the cold winter months.
14. New wasp queens are the only members of the colonies that survive from one season to the next.
The newly crowned queen yellow jacket will leave the nest in autumn and spend the winter living in whatever protective area she can find nearby, like under the bark of a tree.
15. Except on chilly days, the wasps spend their days out foraging. Placing a food-baited trap next to where you suspect a nest is located during the evening hours, will likely be the best way to attract the yellow jackets the following day as they leave the nest without getting attacked in the process.
How To Find Yellow Jacket Nests
Yellow jackets tend to love wood, and most often make their nests in the middle of it. Expect to encounter yellow jacket nests in your barns, outbuildings, and firewood piles every spring or summer.
The wasps frequently use wood pulp and paper trash to create their nests – hence their nickname “paper wasps.” There is no visible or obvious nest structure of any type above ground level.
Yellowjackets rarely fly more than several inches above the ground when out foraging for food. They fly erratically while out hunting. This fact can make it far more difficult to track them back to their nest.
If you spot a yellow jacket flying higher off the ground and in a more direct pattern, it is likely on the way back to the nest – follow it carefully from a safe distance. When flying home for the night, the wasp will typically be moving at a fast pace because it is not maneuvering about looking for food.
The only other time you will likely ever see a yellow jacket fly rapidly, in a direct line, and higher off the ground is when it is in attack mode.
Once you have determined even an approximate location of the nest, it is time to set bait a trap to lure them to their death – or use one of the other means on the list below, to rid your land of their existence… until next spring, at least.
Before you attempt to exterminate yellow jackets, though, make sure you have properly identified the species. Yellow jackets are often mistaken for honey bees. However, honeybees will be slightly larger and will have hairy abdomens.
How To Get Rid of Yellowjackets
Yellow jackets cannot resist the smell of rotting meat or the taste of something sweet. There are many versions of yellow jacket traps using both types of bait detailed and demonstrated in YouTube videos, but the one I have found works best is the board and bucket-style trap.
To make this type of yellow jacket trap, all you need are four different materials – no power tools required.
Simply smear to tie into a dangling mesh net, some rotting meat, rotting fruit, or smeared jelly onto one side of a scrap wood board.
Next, fill a bucket with soapy water (I used Blue Dawn dish soap) just shy of all the way to the top – depending upon how low your bait will dangle.
Place the board with the bait dangling side down, right on top of the bucket.
The objective is to have the water level only an inch (or perhaps two) below where the wasps will have to hang upside down to eat the bait. They will not likely be able to resist gorging themselves on the bait, and sometimes lose their balance in the process and fall into the soapy water and drown.
The wasps also tend to drown because they have great difficulty righting themselves and regaining their balance with immensely full bellies, and after hanging upside down for so long.
Sometimes, in their excitement over the meal and desire to rapidly return to the nest, they simply mistakenly fly straight down into the water and… drown.
The temperature of the water does not matter, but the soap does. It alters the denseness of the water and helps to avoid the brief moment the wasps have to flap their wings rapidly enough to prevent sinking into a watery grave.
If you sit patiently and quietly and watch any yellow jackets that escape your baited trap, you should be able to see them fly back to the nest and use another method from this list to destroy their nest and get rid of the rest of the colony as well.
Clear Glass Bowl
If you know where the underground wasp nest is located, place a clear glass bowl over the opening. But, only one opening, even if you find their backup escape route.
The yellow jackets will continue to use their primary entry and exit point because they will not be able to figure out why they can suddenly no longer get out. The clear glass bowl (use a heavy one and/or place a rock, brick, or log on it, to keep it firmly affixed to the ground so the wasps cannot burrow out) allows the insects to still see the sun and be attracted to it.
Actually, not only will they be attracted to the warm glare of the sun created by the bowl, they will eventually get angry out it blocking their path and attack it. Pure exhaustion caused by their frantic attack flying and trying to sting the glass will eventually kill them.
Placing a second bowl over the other exit will immediately alert the yellow jackets that they have been trapped, prompting them to do just dig another way out. Once out, the colony may decide to abandon the nest and build another one nearby, in a spot that you will again have to hunt to find.
The glass bowl yellow jacket trap will not kill all of the yellow jackets at once, nor is it an immediate fix to the situation. But, as long as the bowl remains in place, more of the wasps will continue to attempt to permeate the barrier and attack it to the point of exhaustion, on a daily basis.
The stubborn meat bees have even been known to starve themselves to death because they refuse to leave the former entryway until they can clear it and remove the threat to their queen.
Once you find the underground nest, pour boiling water down the opening to boil the wasps alive. Some folks simply pour warm water down the hole, but this just serves to make the meat bees angry…very angry.
If you do not take care of the yellow jackets while they are tucked away at night in the underground nest with the boiling water, they will just flee until the warm water dries up and their home is no longer flooded and return – or relocate to a nearby spot unknown to you and prepare to strike at intruders to their realm once again.
This yellow jacket trap can be used for both underground nests and hanging nests – albeit with greater caution.
If the nest if far from your house, which is often the case because paper wasps love to live in barns and gardens, you will need a generator or lots of long outdoor extension cords to use this yellow jacket trap.
Fill the shop vacuum about halfway full of soapy water after you have located the nest.
Place a bowl or rock over the secondary opening of the nest.
Turn on the vacuum, and prepare to stand there for about an hour with the suction end placed firmly to the ground, to suck out all of the meat bees. If there are hundreds to thousands of colony members, it could take several hours to suck them all out of the nest.
Beware, if you let up the pressure when holding the opening of the shop vacuum to the ground, the yellow jackets will escape through any tiny separations between the dirt and the hose and attack you both viciously and relentlessly.
This trap really should be a team effort. There is the possibility that some of the paper wasps will attempt to tunnel out by making a new entrance – and attack you while you are holding the hose. Have a helper stand at the ready with multiple cans of bug spray to kill the yellow jackets and protect you both.
Borax is toxic to yellow jackets. It makes both a great preventative to their nest-building habits and can be used to pour into an entryway to an underground colony to kill them.
But, Borax will also kill beneficial insects, garden crops, and landscaping flowers that come into direct contact with it (sprinkling it around the base of plants will deter insects from eating your growing food) domestic pets, and wildlife.
Although this is not going to be the easiest yellow jacket trap material to get a hold of, it does work beautifully to accomplish the task at hand.
After locating the underground nest of the wasps, as quietly as possible (remember, yellow jackets can detect the vibration of your footsteps) block both the primary and secondary exits to the nest.
Place the dry ice block over the primary entrance – removing the brick or bowl you used to temporarily cover it first – and quickly.
Surround the dry ice block with dirt to prevent any easy burrowing points.
The dry ice will chill the nest as it evaporates, which should make the yellow jackets highly lethargic, and release copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the nest at the same time.
Remember these things and how popular they were when they came out in the 1980s? Every backyard across America probably had one affixed to a porch with folks gathering around to watch and listen to the bugs meeting their demise.
Because of the combination of light, sound, and vibration, a bug zapper will attract as many (if not more) yellow jackets as it once did American families enjoying the erosion of bugs from their backyards.
The machine’s shocking ability is not what will kill the meat bees, but once again, exhaustion and stubbornness will be the cause of their demise. The yellow jackets will attack the light, sound, and vibration, the machine puts off until they die of either exhaustion or starvation – or both.
This yellow jacket trap will work best if you know where the underground nest is located on your property. If you only have a ballpark idea, it should have a solid amount of success, as well.
Run the machine (long extension cords may be required for this trap, too) during daylight hours when the yellow jackets are out foraging for food and in their most active state.
For the sake of safety, set the bug machine up at night when the yellow jackets are tucked away inside their underground colony and plug the extension cord connected to the machine in once the sun rises.
You can splash some cedar oil on your body to help deter yellow jackets from attacking you, but that is not the best use for this often difficult-to-find oil.
Cedar oil, a popular and powerful natural insecticide, is lethal to yellow jackets – among other insects. When the wasps come into contact with the potent oil they ultimately suffocate after suffering osmotic dehydration.
This same oil also causes the body fat inside the meat bees to emulsify and kill them. You can pour or spray the oil into an underground colony, or mix it into the boiling water you plan to pour into the primary nest opening to increase your odds of killing as many of the pesky insects as possible.
Like borax, yellowjackets and nearly all other insects, find diatomaceous earth toxic. Unlike borax, Diatomaceous earth (DE) is not toxic to domestic pets or wildlife. It can also be sprinkled around crops and used as a natural pesticide.
Pour the DE down into the nest during the evening hours and around the above-ground area around it to take care of any of the paper wasps that were able to escape the dusting.
Like most insects and wildlife, yellow jackets do not like strong smells and tastes. Peppermint oil can be used to pour into an underground nest to rid it of yellow jackets, but it will not likely kill them.
Peppermint oil, although not deadly to yellow jackets, can still be used to help combat them. Spray the oil around areas where the wasps would like to make a home or have been known to build nests in prior years.
Also, while you are hunting for a nest, actively setting a trap, or merely working in an area where the yellow jackets could be, dab your skin in various spots with peppermint oil (essential oils works best but baking oil is a decent substitute) as you would perfume to help deter the paper wasps from getting too close to you and attacking.
This oil (which can be hard to find and expensive) not only kills yellowjackets, but destroys the ability of females to reproduce.
Neem oil contains azadirachtin. This active compound destabilizes the hormonal system of the paper wasp rather quickly. It also can be mixed into boiling water that is going to be poured into an underground nest or sprayed on an above-ground nest.
Gasoline And Diesel Fuel
This is the most dangerous, possibly destructive to the soil, and arguably effective, means of destroying an underground yellow jacket nest. This practice might not be legal in some municipalities or states – check your local laws before using a diesel or gasoline torch to burn out a colony.
If you are not careful and able to contain the fire after pouring diesel fuel or gasoline into an entryway in the nest and setting it on fire, you could be hurt or killed, the barn where the nest is located could go up in flames (sometimes hours after you leave and the animals are back in the barn where undetected smoldering wood finally catches on fire) or other various types of destruction that can come from playing with fire and an accelerant.
That being noted, my husband’s buddy did use this method inside my 100-year-old wood barn (when I wasn’t home) to get rid of the yellow jacket nest we had been tracking for weeks.
It worked and my barn is still standing – but that might very well be because my beloved has been an officer on the fire department for more than a decade.
In some cases, the more natural, homemade remedies of getting rid of yellow jackets that we have mentioned just won’t work. In that case, you may need to apply a chemical like D-Force HPX aerosol or Delta Dust. These should be last resorts.
You can apply Delta Dust around the nest and it will last for about four to six months, killing the yellow jackets instantly. Another option is Demon WP, an insecticide that can be applied everywhere using a gallon sprayer.
Be careful applying these chemicals where other beneficial pollinators, animals, or children can access them.
Preventing Yellow Jackets
Unfortunately, yellow jackets are an inevitable part of living in the countryside. If you live in the woods, you’re probably going to encounter these pests at some point or another.
However, you can help prevent the establishment of nests by filling up any burrows or animal holes with dirt.
You can keep yellow jackets outside of your barn by repairing any holes in the exterior wall and by making sure all windows and vents have tight-fitting screens.
Chimney flus can be sealed temporarily with plastic sheeting and tape, and trash bins should be covered with tight-fitting lids to prevent yellow jackets from being attracted to their contents.
Sanitation is an important aspect of keeping yellow jackets away. Once you have removed a potential source of food, you are going to be less likely to attract yellow jackets. This is especially vital during the key foraging months during the summer until mid-autumn.
Yellow Jacket Trapping Tips
Wear drab or light-colored clothing as much as possible when tracking or trapping the wasps. Purchasing beekeeper gear, while it can be pricey, might very well be worth the expense.
Protective clothing of any kind will help reduce the likelihood that you are attacked and stung. At the very minimum, you should wear light-colored clothes, high-sleeved gloves made out of leather or canvas, and a hat or helmet with a secure-fitting veil (which you can easily fashion on your own).
Killing the meat bees will not be a one-and-done type of situation, you will be fighting this same battle year after year and get ample opportunity to use the beekeeper gear again.
Take note of the yellow jacket nest during the day, and remember where they disappear into the structure. Don’t try to trap or kill them until nightfall, which is when yellow jackets are the least active and will be the least likely to sting.
You should also try to wait to remove a yellow jacket nest or kill a population until winter. These creatures are much less likely to take flight when temperatures dip below 50 degrees, and so they are mostly inactive or die off, depending on the exact species, during the winter months.
If you’ve sprayed chemicals or tried any other kind of treatment, wait at least a week to figure out whether the treatments were effective.
There’s no guarantee that you will have killed all of the wasps on your first treatment, so you will want to wait before interfering with the nest. After all, not all of the yellow jackets may have been inside when you applied your treatment.
Treating Yellow Jacket Stings
Disclaimer: this is not medical advice. Your first option should be to seek medical assistance. Neither the author nor newlifeonahomestead.com shall be held liable for the damages and side effects that you might experience as a result of applying the advice given in this article.
- Gently rub meat tenderizer on the stings.
- Rub honeysuckle leaves onto the stings.
- Rub our pour witch hazel onto the stings.
- Make a paste out of 2 parts baking soda and 1 part water and dab it onto the stings.
- Slather some raw honey onto the stings – this will help reduce swelling and draw out an infection to help prevent an allergic reaction.
- Slice an onion thinly and place it upon the stings, wrapping it in a bandage or cloth to keep it in place, if necessary.
- Gently rub Preparation H onto the stings.
- Place a dampened tea bag onto the stings.
- Rub toothpaste gently on the locations of the stings.
- Put some ice on the sting as soon as possible after you’ve been stung – it will reduce pain and swelling.
- Consider using essential oils like lavender, thyme, tea tree, or rosemary oil – just make sure you mix it with a neutral carrier oil first.
- Use aloe Vera gel to soothe and moisturize your skin.
- Apply a thin layer of calamine lotion to the sting.
- Try applying apple cider vinegar to reduce swelling. Use sparingly, though, as it can be too acidic for the skin.
Yellow jacket stings often swell, itch, and are painful. Applying ice to the stings and taking over-the-counter or naturally foraged pain medication and inflammation reduction items, can help reduce the discomfort.
If you have a yellowjacket land on you, don’t panic or agitate the pest in any way. Instead, wait until it flies away. A rolled-up newspaper can easily kill a yellow jacket, but it could also introduce combat that will open you up to future stings. Yellow jackets are unlike bees in that they do not die after they sting you.
Furthermore, killing a yellow jacket or inciting a sting while others are nearby can create more problems. This releases an alarm venom into the air which can draw other yellow jackets to sting you – you have marked yourself as a target!
Signs of an allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings typically present almost immediately but can occur or worsen over the course of several hours after the attack.
Even an individual who doesn’t typically have allergic reactions to stings could become severely (or in some cases, fatally) affected after becoming the target of a yellow jacket swarm attack.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.