Yellowjacket Wasps

What is it?



Several colony-forming species of stinging wasps and bees live in the County of Wetaskiwin. Probably the most troublesome are the yellowjacket wasps (Vespula & Dolichovespula species). There are no true hornets in County of Wetaskiwin.

These wasps commonly build their grey paper nests in dry sheltered sites. Around the home, hollow doorsteps commonly provide ideal nesting sites. The nest colonies die off each winter.

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What's the problem?

Yellowjacket wasps can be a nuisance around food at a backyard picnic. A nest close to your home can be a safety hazard, especially later in the season when the risk of stings increases.

What can I do?

Call an exterminator for nests on private property. You can find a list of exterminator companies in the yellow pages under the heading "Extermination". Get a written guarantee for their services in case the initial treatment fails.
In the event that a honey bee swarm lands on your property, contact the Alberta Beekeeper's Association and they will send out a beekeeper to remove the swarm at no cost.
You may choose to attempt to manage yellowjacket wasps yourself. Here are some suggestions:

Watching flight patterns of yellowjacket wasps will often reveal the whereabouts of nests. Since wasps become more aggressive as colonies get larger, early detection and control of nests reduces the risk of being stung. To prevent access to the hollow under a doorstep, seal all entrance cracks early in the spring (April), before the queens begin searching for suitable nest locations. 

Since wasps and bees are attracted to nectar and fruit juices, they may swarm around flowers, ripe fruits and pop and juice containers. Certain yellowjacket wasps species scavenge meat or hunt flies associated with human food and garbage.

Proper management of attractive foods and drinks or their open containers is especially important during summertime. This includes making sure that all outdoor garbage receptacles are properly covered.

Simple traps baited with sugar water and containing liquid soap to promote drowning, will reduce wasp activity. Such traps, however, should only be considered supplemental to nest control. 

Large or hidden nests are best left to the professional exterminator, however, if a yellowjacket nest is small and easily accessible, you may wish to control the nest yourself.

If you are willing to take that risk, consider the following points of advice, as any mistake in handling the situation could lead to a life threatening mass attack:

  • Control measures should be attempted during cool conditions after dark, when the whole colony is settled down in the nest for the night. 
  • Wear protective clothing such as heavy coveralls, boots, heavy gloves and veiled headwear, and use tape to seal off all cuffs.
  • Be sure to wear goggles or eyeglasses, since the wasps may attempt to spray venom through the veil into your eyes.
  • For better night vision, you might want to set up a spotlight focused on the nest from a distance. Wasps are attracted to light, so do not pass between the light source and the nest, and do not hold a flashlight.
  • It is advisable for another person to watch from a protected location in case a serious accident occurs.
  • The nest entrance, which is usually on the lower side of the structure, should be thoroughly soaked with a residual insecticide. Specially designed insecticide products for wasp control are available through seed-store, garden centre and hardware insecticide retail outlets.
  • When you are satisfied that mid-day nest activity has ceased, it should be safe for you to return at dawn to remove, bag and completely crush the nest to ensure total mortality before disposal.
  • Remember to follow all precautions and rates of application listed on the product label to avoid injury to yourself, others, and the environment.
Additional Information for sting treatment

If you are stung, carefully inspect the site for the presence of a stinger. The barbed stingers of honey bees will usually remain in your skin, complete with a venom sac that continues to pump venom into the wound even after being torn from the bee's body. Quick removal of the stinger is therefore recommended. Be careful to scrape the stinger from the wound without squeezing the venom sac.

Wasps and bumble bees have smoother stingers that usually will not lodge in your skin, allowing each insect to sting you repeatedly. The stings will cause pain and swelling and can be dangerous depending on the number, body location and your immunity.

Seek immediate medical attention if reaction to the sting causes breathing difficulties, shock symptoms, or severe swelling in the head or neck regions. Sting kits or antihistamines are available if you find out that you are highly sensitive to insect venom. If your symptoms are minor, ice or a paste made from baking soda or mud applied to the stung area will provide some relief of the pain.