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Brief Summary

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Yellowjackets (Vespula spp., Dolichovespula spp.) are so named for their distinctive yellow and black markings. They are relatively hairless, with wings that are often a translucent golden-tan color. Yellowjackets are house fly-sized, ranging from 12-25 mm. They are common worldwide, and are particularly abundant in the southeastern United States. Yellowjackets are carnivorous, primarily feeding on other insects like flies and bees, but also on fruits, picnic fare, carrion, and the nectar of some flowers.
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Life Cycle

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Yellowjackets are social wasps - this means that they live colonially in hives or in wasp communities. In contrast, solitary wasps build and live in individual nests rather than in a hive or with a colony of wasps. A queen emerges in the spring and begins constructing her nest of paper, often times underground. She lays a single egg in each cell; larvae hatch a few days later. After she has produced enough workers to take over nest-building and foraging, the queen remains inside to reproduce. A full-size nest exists in the fall, with between 600 and 800 workers. In the late summer, males and future queens are produced; they leave the nest to mate. After mating the male dies and future queens overwinter alone in protected places like under tree bark, in old stumps, and sometimes attics. Nests are not reused the following year.
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Habitat

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Nest locations include lawns, the base of trees or shrubs, and sometimes attics or wall voids of houses or storage buildings.
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Distribution

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Yellowjackets occur worldwide. They are widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, and are especially common in the southeastern United States.
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Pollinator

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Although not known for their pollination services - they lack pollen carrying structures such as pollen baskets and are relatively hairless - yellowjackets do indeed act as pollinators. An interesting relationship exists between yellowjackets and the broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), an orchid native to Europe but introduced in the eastern United States. The yellowjacket lands on the labellum (the showy, lowest petal) and drinks nectar. While doing so, it bumps its head on the anther and pollen becomes glued to the yellowjacket's head. To prevent the yellowjacket from grooming itself and potentially causing the pollen to become dislodged, some of this plant's nectar is converted to ethanol. This causes the yellowjacket to become intoxicated and to behave sluggishly. While in this state, the yellowjacket is less likely to groom itself and thus leaves the pollen on its head. During its next floral visit, the yellowjacket inadvertently deposits pollen onto the flower, thereby pollinating it. Yellowjackets have also been known to nectar from, and likely pollinate, common rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), squash (Cucurbita spp.), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), field garlic (Allium oleraceum), and field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta).
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Vespula

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Vespula is a small genus of social wasps, widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. Along with members of their sister genus Dolichovespula, they are collectively known by the common name yellowjackets (or yellow jackets) in North America. Vespula species have a shorter oculomalar space (shown in the figure below right) and a more pronounced tendency to nest underground than Dolichovespula.

Notable species

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Illustration showing oculomalar space

Species

See also:

Venom

Mostly composed of antigen 5, hyaluronidase, and phospholipase.[King et al 1983 1]

Immunology

There is a high degree of similarity between immunogenic fractions of different Vespulae.[King et al 1983 2][King et al 1983 3]​ Rabbit serum is unable to distinguish between them.[King et al 1983 2][King et al 1983 3]

References

  1. ^ James M. Carpenter & Jun-ichi Kojima (1997). "Checklist of the species in the subfamily Vespinae (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Vespidae)" (PDF). Natural History Bulletin of Ibaraki University. 1: 51–92.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Vespula, BugGuide
  3. ^ Jacobson, R. S.; Matthews, R. W.; Macdonald, J. F. (1978-05-15). "A Systematic Study of the Vespula vulgaris Group with a Description of a New Yellowjacket Species in Eastern North America (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)1". Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 71 (3): 299–312. doi:10.1093/aesa/71.3.299. ISSN 0013-8746.
  1. ^ p. 306, "Yellowjacket venom consists mainly of three proteins: antigen 5, hyaluronidase, and phospholipase."
  2. ^ a b p. 307, "The venom phospholipases isolated from the three species of yellowjackets in this report were found to be immunochemically indistinguishable from each other using sera from rabbits immunized with venom from a single species of yellowjacket. Similar findings were obtained with antigen 5."
  3. ^ a b p. 304, "Identical concentrations of phospholipase-specific antibodies were obtained with immunosorbents containing phospholipase from any of the three species of yellowjackets. This was also the case for antigen 5-specific antibodies. ... The above results indicate that antigen 5s as well as phospholipases from these three species of yellowjackets are antigenically indistinguishable. The findings were confirmed by immunodiffusion. Lines of identity were observed when antigen 5s, or phospholipases, from the three species of yellowjackets were tested with rabbit anti-serum specific for V. maculifrons venom (results not shown)."
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Vespula: Brief Summary

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Vespula is a small genus of social wasps, widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. Along with members of their sister genus Dolichovespula, they are collectively known by the common name yellowjackets (or yellow jackets) in North America. Vespula species have a shorter oculomalar space (shown in the figure below right) and a more pronounced tendency to nest underground than Dolichovespula.

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