Yellow Jackets are wasps, and closely related to the Honeybee, but with some very significant features that make them quite different – but do yellow jackets produce honey?
Yellow jackets do not produce honey, but they are often found attacking hives and eating the honey that they find.
In this article, we will learn all about yellow jackets and how they interact with honey.
Yellow Jackets are a type of wasp that is related to the bee, but that is distinctly different. A wasp nest can have up to 4,000 female worker yellow jackets, some male drones, and as many as 50 queens at one time. The nest population is at its peak in the summer and early fall, but it shrinks as the cold weather comes and the worker wasps die. Winter is hard on Yellow Jackets.
Interestingly enough, only female Yellow Jacket wasps sting- and sting they do! In fact, some of them actually bite their prey for better traction while stinging in rapid succession- they are quite ruthless.
The males do not sting. When Yellow Jacket wasps are under threat, they send pheromones- like bees- to the rest of the colony, which will send them to their aid.
The shape of the wasp’s stinger allows it to deliver a series of stings in a flash. Wasps are mostly aggressive and sting when they feel threatened. They are prey to predators like skunks and raccoons. These animals will dig out wasp nests to eat the larvae and baby wasps. Sure, they get stung, but the thick coats of these animals protect them for the most part.
When wasps do not build underground nests, they often create a papery-thin, light-colored hive inside a hollow tree or along a fence or wall.
Yellow Jackets and Honey
Yellow Jackets do not build honeycomb hives, nor do they make honey. What Yellow Jackets do, however, is attack and eat honeybees, honey, comb, and larvae. Yellow Jacket wasps have another role to play in nature, which is pollinating plants and eating pests that plague gardens and landscapes, like aphids and spiders.
They are not the great pollinators that bees are, but they are still considered to be ‘incidental’ pollinators- as this is not the main job in their colony.
Yellow Jackets feed off the bounty in summer gardens and fruit trees, pestering humans and becoming more visible toward fall when these food reserves typically dry up.
These wasps have been known to commonly travel up to a mile from their nest to forage for food, and they primarily nest in the southeastern parts of the US.
Although Yellow Jacket wasps do not produce honey, that does not mean they do not eat honey. In fact, honey is among their favorite things to eat, perhaps next to the young brood and larvae of the honeybees, themselves.
Wasps will invade and attempt to take over a beehive, stealing the honey, comb, and eating larvae, eggs, and brood that they come across. Yes, the wasps will also kill and eat any adult honeybees that try to stand in their way. When it comes to hijacking a hive and robbing it blind, few can compare to the Yellow Jacket’s ferocity.
Once the hive has been emptied and looted, the wasps move on to forage elsewhere for food. They will fly up to a mile from their nest to find food for the young wasps back in their nest. Bees often travel further in their pursuit of nectar and pollen, sometimes up to four or five miles per day.
The issue arises that this long journey may be harder on the insect than the reward that awaits them- this is the life of a forager!
While the normal life span of a Yellow Jacket is only around 12-22 days, its queen can live up to a year. Yellow Jackets die shortly after mating and few live beyond a month.
Yellow Jackets and Bees
Honeybees and Yellow Jackets look a lot alike, but wasps are hairless and shiny, while the bees are fuzzy. Both winged insects are adept at living with others in large colonies, with at least one queen- though many more in most wasp nests.
The hierarchy of the hive is similar, with the queen mating with drones, laying eggs, and leaving the workers to care for the hive. With so many similarities, it would seem that they would cohabitate just fine, foraging and pollinating without many problems-however, this is not the case.
There is no love lost between Yellow Jackets and bees, however. In fact, Yellow Jackets will attack, kill, and eat honeybees. Wasps particularly like to raid and loot the bees’ hive, eating the honey, comb, eggs, larvae, and even adult bees in the process.
Wasps are known to eat other insects, but they also have an affinity for nectar and honey- so they frequently raid and steal from beehives encountered.
Now, the bees can defend their hive if it is a strong colony with limited entry points into the hive, but if they are in a weakened state- such as in cold weather or low food reserves- the bees can be easily overtaken and wiped out.
Remember that wasps enjoy eating the brood and larvae of the bees- which means that an attack from Yellow Jackets could destroy the colony and its future generation.
Additionally, wasps like Yellow Jackets eat other pests and insects that are typically problematic for humans.
Wasps seem less docile and more aggressive than bees, particularly honey bees, but you must consider other factors that could be at play, like the weather, the food reserves, and whether the wasp feels threatened.
If the beehive is weak, it may not be able to defend itself against a wasp attack. The Yellow Jackets will eat the eggs, larvae, and brood- emptying out the hive completely. Yellow Jackets eat honeybees, honey, and honeycomb, effectively wiping out generations of bees in an apiary.
So, while there are familial ties between yellow jackets and honeybees, the two do not peacefully coexist. Yellow Jackets are wasps that feed on honey, comb, and honeybee larvae, or brood. These predators will also kill and eat adult bees, too.