Yellow Jacket Wasps: The Yellow Jackets Life Cycle

Yellow jacket wasps have a busy life to lead, and unfortunately life doesn’t last long for them. On average, the yellow jacket will live for about a year. The yellow jacket wasp’s life has a lot of order to it, and they seem to work so hard all year. In a way, yellow jackets are similar to people as they work through out the day to make the Queen (boss lady) happy and then at night retire to their home and rest up for the next day. Even before yellow jackets become full adults they start to follow the order of life within the colony. Starting in the spring time the order of the colony begins like this:

  • Queens come out from hibernating and select a new spot to make a nest.
  • Sometimes worker yellow jacket may have survived the winter if they found a warm place to stay, but it is very rare.
  • The Queen will lay her eggs. Eggs are also referred to as brood cells and she lays 30-50.
  • Once the eggs hatch the Queen will feed the larvae for up to three weeks.
  • Larvae pupate into small infertile females, workers.
  • Up to the first ten workers that appear will become rearers and feeders for the brood.
  • As the workers grow they will eventually become pestiferous in August-September.
  • In the summer the first adult workers to emerge will be given the tasks of expanding the nest, getting food, taking care of the queen and any larvae, and defending the colony.
  • Part of taking care of the larvae includes feeding them. Adults will find meat for the larvae then chew and condition the meat and feed it to the larvae. In return the larvae secrete a sugar substance that the adults love to eat. This give and take exchange is known as trophallaxis.
  • While the queen is inside the nest she lays more eggs. When these eggs hatch they become males and queens.
  • Once the new males and queens emerge they will mate, shortly after mating the males will die.
  • The queen will then start to look for a place to hibernate. She likes to find a protective place such as in stumps or logs, with in stacks of firewood, under bark, and or attics of homes to hibernate.
  • During the fall parent colony workers begin to dwindle away and die. The foundress queen will also dwindle away, as the new queen will be hibernating at this time.
  • Since the nest has been abandoned at this point it will decompose and disintegrate, this also occurs due to the weather.
  • Then when spring rolls around the cycle will just repeat itself.
  • Also a new nest is always built, the yellow jackets will never go back into an old nest, yet they might build a new one very close to the old one.
yellow jacket wasps life cycle

Here are some eggs and larvae that are still in a nest that has been destroyed. The brighter white parts are the larvae, and the yellow-clear parts are eggs.

yellow jacket wasp life cycle

In this picture the yellow-clear sacs on the far right are the eggs. To the left are some yellow jackets that have developed and hatched.

Pictures courtesy of

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