Bug Day (24): Western Yellowjackets

Western Yellowjackets (Vespula pensylvanica) taking water in dog dish

A stainless steel bowl that someone set out for dogs under the faucet in a picnic area served as a watering hole for dozens of Western Yellowjackets on one of our hot days in early September. I was holding the spring-loaded faucet open with a 300-foot hose attached while Bob Huttar and Carlene Chang were watering the native plants on the other side of the ridge, and I happened to glance down at the water dish and saw the wasps. The yellowjackets had no trouble walking up and down the polished vertical stainless steel sides of the bowl. I thought that was pretty amazing. I couldn’t see exactly by what means they took the water in, but they pumped energetically, flexing their abdomens rapidly. Sometimes a wasp would land in the water and drink from there. It had no trouble flying off again. I was inches away but none of the bugs bothered me.

Western Yellowjackets eat a varied diet. They take pollen and nectar from flowers, and can often be seen on the fennel when in bloom. Here, for example. They also hunt and kill other insects and will feed on any other kind of animal protein that they can find. They’re well-known pests at barbecues and picnics. The females will sting if cornered, and can sting repeatedly without harm to themselves. That’s a contrast to the honeybee, which generally can sting only once and then dies. Yellowjackets have a bit of fur on their upper bodies, but their abdomen is glossy and hairless. Bees’ abdomens are thick with fuzz, useful for collecting and carrying pollen.

These yellowjackets live and breed underground, often in burrows made by Ground Squirrels. One such burrow was marked with flags about fifty yards from the water faucet. You could see the wasps buzzing around the entrance. Probably the individuals that filled up on water came back to the nest and fed it to the larvae to hydrate and cool them. These wasps work and thrive in the warm season. The average yellowjacket lives for about a month. They’ll all die, except for the queen, when the weather turns cold and food supplies dwindle. She’ll start another colony the following spring.

More about them: CABI Wikipedia Bohart UCR GISD Discover Life In Chavez Park

Western Yellowjackets (Vespula pensylvanica) taking water in dog dish

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3 thoughts on “Bug Day (24): Western Yellowjackets

  • Lovely animals. I made friends with some Yellowjackets years ago and have fed them on my fingertips, have rushed up to where people were trying to swat them and cupped my hands around one to run off with her to safety. One I befriended came back to visit me. They really are amazing, and I’ve never known them to sting unless actually being hurt. “Cornered” doesn’t get a sting, in my experience. Such beautiful little faces too!

  • This is the most educational and entertaining blog! Thanks as always.

  • great capture……

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