What’s the difference between Yellow Jackets and Wasps — Daphne’s student essay

What's The Difference Between Yellow Jackets And Wasps

Wasps and yellow jackets are common throughout the US, but what is the difference between the two? All yellow jackets are wasps but not all wasps are yellow jackets. Meaning that yellow jackets are a subspecies of the wasp. Physical differences are indeed noticeable if you aren’t scared and you want to get close to them. The original species of paper wasp have slender bodies and orange tipped antennas, while the subspecies of yellow jackets have thicker, stockier bodies and black antennas. Again, if you are willing to identify them, it should be simple.

 The paper wasp is known to dangle their legs as they buzz around your yard, yet jackets tuck their legs under them; perhaps a Darwinian trait that evolved to the current species, or just habit for the bugs to control their small legs. Currently, my own backyard is infested with both species and I have noticed that the paper wasps are more attracted to flowers and sweet-smelling items, such as fruit, in order to trap them I put flowers in the bright yellow traps.

Yellow jackets, however, are attracted to other bugs and meat. Which inheritably makes them more aggressive to humans, therefore I probably should focus on trapping them more. The yellow jacket nests look like mini squirrel nests, they use grass and sticks to create a hole to nest in. Wasp nests are the ones you see hanging on windowsills and gutters, they look like origami of sorts and are usually hanging by a thread, and also take on the shape of honeycombs (like the honeybee). They chew up paper and wood and form it into a 3-10-inch nest.

Wasps and jackets are eusocial, meaning they live in colonies, although wasps can have between 50 and 75 in a nest, while the yellow jacket can have up to 15,000. The queen usually builds the nest, which are destroyed every year by birds foraging for food before winter. Unlike the bee, wasps and jackets can sting multiple times without dying because their stinger doesn’t fall out of their body and kill them.

If someone does get stung, it will probably be from a yellow jacket, it will hurt less though. The wasp sting will hurt more but is less likely to happen. The two use the same venom, so if someone is allergic; a process called anaphylactic shock, may occur. The venom used, contains a pheromone that makes other wasps/jackets more aggressive, so if you are swatting one away and get stung, others will likely come after you as well.

Like most colonizing insects, the yellow jacket and wasp will have a queen, which will lay hundreds of eggs to then turn into ‘workers’. Workers allow the nest to become fed regularly and help to provide the queen, bees are similar. The drones come from non-fertilized eggs, meaning they have no sting, females will sting consistently to protect the colony. Paper wasp drones are only alive to essentially mate with the queen, once that is done, they die shortly afterwards and the only wasp that survives the winter are young, fertilized queen so they can begin their process in the spring once more.

Author: Daphne Galloway

University of Colorado, Denver
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