Yellow Jackets

Half Eaten Apples by the Groundhog HoleThe other day during a walk-about at Audubon, I ran across this scene:  a groundhog hole surrounded by half chewed apples.  For a few minutes, I considered the life of the Groundhog, even envied it…  Well, part of it.  The part where you get to eat and eat and eat until you build up lots and lots of fat!  At this time of year when there is zucchini bread and apple crisp and pies and torts of all kinds…  It would be nice to be allowed, even duty-bound, to eat and get fat.

Then I noticed the Yellow Jackets.  They were taking advantage of the exposed white flesh of the apple to get themselves a little lunch.

 Mmmm Apples

I’ve always been curious why  Yellow Jackets come and eat my food.  They don’t bother you all summer long… but come fall, there they are, ruining your picnic.  So, I googled it…  (Isn’t that how all questions are answered now-a-days?)

The diet of adult yellow jackets consists mainly of food rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as plant nectar and fruit. Also, foraging adults search for meat that is high in protein, such as insects and fish, which they chew and condition in preparation for larval consumption. The larvae in return secrete a sugary substance that is consumed by the adults. This exchange of food between the adults and larvae is known as trophallaxis.

In late summer and fall, the normal food materials are in short supply, so the yellow jackets scavenge for alternate food sources which many times leads to major conflicts with human activities. Late-season foods include carbonated beverages, juices, candy, ham, bologna, fish, cakes, fruit, vegetables and ice cream. Large numbers of these pesky insects can totally disrupt a picnic and are often a nuisance around homes and outside restaurants.  (source)

So when they irritate me in fall when I am eating outside, I will try to remember their contribution to the Interdependent Web.  Their job is done; they are going to die.  Only the newly mated queen will survive the winter.  So they come to our picnics for one last great feast before going to the great beyond!  We should be grateful for them and celebrate with them the fine life they led, for during their larval-rearing phase, they eliminated a lot of pests from our gardens and orchards.

Thank you, Yellow Jackets!

Click here for more on Yellow Jackets from Seabrooke.

9 thoughts on “Yellow Jackets

  1. As a biologist, I can appreciate the ecological importance of yellow-jackets… But still I am paralyzed with fear whenever any bee-like creature approaches me!

    In any case, great post. It at least helped me understand why they won’t just go away when I am not bothering them. 🙂

  2. Wow, I didn’t know. Thanks!
    The other day I saw a hawk fly off leaving the feathers from his meal behind. I almost dug my hand into the heap to examine the feathers when I saw a yellow jacket crawling out from the pile. There were several of them in that feather pile fighting over meat tidbits. I’ll think before plunging my hand into feathers again!

  3. Your photography is wonderful. Your research appreciated and very interesting. A little lesson to me in taking the time to understand the why’s of things.

  4. So, are there two types of yellowjackets? The type with the narrow-waist (like your picture) and the more solid ‘bee-shaped’ ones? Now I need to go look it up…

    Okay – I did look it up, and couldn’t find a reference to size of the waist — that might just be about how they are positioned… in case you’re interested, here’s a yellowjacket ID guide:

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    Did you happen to find out whether yellow jacket populations are declining in some areas? I noticed this year that there were hardly any at all around my hummingbird feeders. That’s very unusual for my backyard.

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