UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

October 8, 2003

Feature Article - for release the week of October 12, 2003

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Fall Means Yellow Jackets

Fall in Florida is a great time for football, getting back into the garden, and reclaiming the outdoors from the long summer. Itís also time for an insect pest that is more than a nuisance - the yellow jacket can be harmful or even fatal. UF Entomologist Dr. Phil Koehler suggests that knowing a little bit about these stingers might be a good idea as we enter one of this insectís active times of the year.

Yellow jackets are venomous wasps. The name yellow jacket refers to the typical yellow and black bands on this insectís abdomen. While yellow jackets do not bite, they have a stinger that can inject a very painful venom into the skin. Most Florida yellow jackets build underground nests although they can also be found above ground. I was called to home a few years ago and saw a nest of thousands in the crown of a Date palm.

Yellow jacket nests are surrounded by a paper envelope. Inside the envelope are combs with cells similar to bee cells. The mature size of a colony ranges from 500 combs in two cells to 15,000 cells in eight to10 combs. Some of our Florida colonies have nests 6 to 9 feet tall with over 100,000 cells, but normal colonies have from 75 to 5,000 workers.

The queen yellow jacket builds the initial nest all by herself in the spring. The king is long dead and doesn't help her at all. (Similar to human husbands during football season on Saturdays and Sundays.) When the first workers emerge from the eggs, the queen stops going out for her own food. During the summer and fall, the colony rapidly grows and produces more queens and kings that emerge from the colony and mate. Therefore, the worst time for yellow jacket problems is during the fall. Fertilized queens leave the colony and hide in protected places like mulch and leaf litter until spring.

Yellow jackets typically feed on decaying protein and carbohydrates. They love to visit garbage cans, rotting fruit, rotting meat, and soft drinks. One of the hazards is being stung while you are drinking sodas. The problem with these insects is often greater in school yards or picnic areas with open barrels as garbage cans. Much of the problem can be solved by providing tight covers for garbage.

Of course, stepping into a mature underground nest can also be hazardous to your health. The majority of cases of people receiving hundreds of stings usually occurred from wandering into a wooded area and stepping into a mature nest. Thousands of yellow jackets can swarm after the unlucky person or even a wandering dog.

If the victim is wearing thin clothing, the wasps can sting right through the clothing. The stinger of yellow jackets is not barbed, so one yellow jacket worker can repeatedly sting a victim. A normal reaction to a sting involves only swelling in the immediate area of the sting and appears in 2 to 3 minutes. It involves redness, itching, pain and formation of a welt at the site. Usually the symptoms go away within two hours.

Yellow jackets can kill people in two ways. The sheer numbers of stings can cause toxic effects such as severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and shock. In sensitive individuals an allergic reactions may occur. It generally takes about 1,500 stings to kill an adult man by the venom alone. Children are more susceptible to the venom because of their lower body weight. A child that died from yellow jacket stings a few years ago supposedly was stung 300 to 400 times.

For allergic people, one sting can be deadly. In fact, a severe allergic reaction can result in death within 15 to 30 minutes. Severe reactions start with local pain and itching that eventually becomes widespread skin irritation. The victim feels a tightness in the throat and chest and breathing becomes difficult. A study of 641 deaths due to yellow jackets, bees, and wasps reported that respiratory congestion caused 53% of the deaths.

Yellow Jacket Safety Tips

Call a professional pest control operator to eradicate a yellow jacket nest. This is a dangerous and possibly deadly task for an amateur. [UPDATE: see note below!]

If you are stung, the treatment for a normal or mild reaction is: apply ice pack, take a pain reliever and wash the wound carefully. Oral antihistamine may reduce swelling that can occur. Calamine products can reduce the itching. For severe local reactions, considerable swelling and tenderness around the sting bites, rest and elevate the limb and avoid exercise. Medical attention may be needed if the sting is around the throat, nose or eye area.

Immediate treatment is necessary for people who are allergic to stings. If you know you are allergic, carry an emergency sting kit. Consider carrying a medic alert tag or card on your person.

If you need additional information on yellow jackets or want some additional information on these pests , call or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North. Our phone number is 863-763-6469, and you can email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu.


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Last update: 11/10/2008 . Hit Counter  


Yellow Jackets & Hornets - Featured Creatures bulletin.  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service  Bulletin EENY-81, April 2001.

Stinging or Venomous Insects and Related Pests  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service  Bulletin ENY-215,  March 2003.  (includes pesticide recommendations)

IPM for Yellowjackets and Hornets in Schools  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service,  UF School IPM website , May 1998


Persons having difficulty finding a Pest Control Company willing to remove wasp nests - take note of email: 

I understand that your office sometimes gets calls from people that  have yellowjacket (sometimes called "wasps or bees" by people)  problems on their property. I am en entomologist that does research on these insects and I also provide their venom for the development of  desensitization shots. If you have any such calls, please refer  people to me. I have included my email, toll free phone and website below.  I am located at Eastern Illinois University, but I also have a colleague in Gainesville (FL).   Gary Fritz

 Call Toll Free: 1-866-852-9317 or Email: waspex@waspex.com .  See Webpage for information: http://waspexonline.org/