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Yellow Jacket Lifecycle

The Role of the Queen
A yellow jacket queen is the most important part of the colony. The lifecycle of a yellow jacket begins when the queen, who has survived the winter, begins to build a nest. She constructs it with chewed-up cellulose, building cells to lay her eggs in. Eventually, the nest will grow, consisting of 30 to 55 cells.

Eggs
The yellow jacket queen lays one egg in each cell and feeds it nectar and protein. After about 30 days, the first eggs hatch, and about 5 to 7 workers emerge. These yellow jacket workers then take over the care and feeding of the rest of the eggs.

Workers
An average yellow jacket nest will consist of between 2,000 and 6,000 cells and 1,000 to 4,000 workers. Special cells are built to rear the new queens and males. Eventually, these yellow jackets leave the nest to mate. The inseminated females return in the fall to hibernate through the winter while the rest of colony dies off.

Yellow jackets build nests out of cellulose or paper, and a queen does the initial work. These nests are usually built underground or in crevices that exist naturally, in rocks or trees. The queen, who has hibernated through the winter, will build the nest and lay eggs, creating a colony. The queen begins the colony by laying eggs and feeding them.

Summertime / Why often see empty nests
The colony will grow through the summer. The queen continues to lay eggs and produces reproductive males and females. These yellow jackets then leave the nest to mate. The colony begins to die off and the nest becomes abandoned.

The inseminated females are the only ones to survive the winter, becoming the new queens in nests they will build when they emerge in the spring.

Winter
The queen begins the colony anew each year. Every winter, a queen will hibernate from a colony that has died out. In the spring, she will begin to rebuild the yellow jackets’ nest.

The yellow jacket queen begins the nest with cellulose or paper that she has chewed up. About the size of a golf ball, the nest created houses a few cells. The queen will lay eggs in these cells. Eventually, this small nest will have 30 to 55 cells, covered by a larger paper envelope.

The yellow jacket queen will continue to lay eggs. The first larvae to hatch will be 5 to 7 worker bees. These sterile females will take over the queen’s nest building and larvae feeding duties. This leaves her free to produce more eggs.

Late in the season, queens and males will leave the nest to mate. The only yellow jackets that survive the winter are the inseminated females that will hibernate and begin the process over in the spring.