Skip to main content

eastern yellow jacket

eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Photo by MDC Staff, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Features and Behaviors

The eastern yellow jacket is a common wasp and familiar, unmatched picnic pest. They are only distinguished by other Vespula by small differences in the small, black triangle at the top of the abdomen where it meets the thorax. They range in length from one-half to three-quarters of an inch; workers and males being smaller than the Queen.

They are a social wasp; living and defending aggressively the underground nests they build in yards, golf courses, and alongside creek banks. There are three social categories within a colony: a queen, workers, and males. Very little is known about mating behavior, but they mate in the fall. Females hibernate over the winter, clinging to a surface free from the elements. In spring and early summer, queen yellow jackets build a small nest where they rear a small brood which will become the first workers. During the spring and summer, the mostly sterile workers forage for food and feed larvae, while the queen and the few males within a colony reproduce. A colony may have one or more egg-laying queens. Nests are not typically reused second year. They are found statewide. 

Illinois Range


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Vespidae

Illinois Status: common, native