Why do the Yellow Jacket (Wasps) nest in the ground?

Getting stung by a yellow jacket is one of the many dangers a gardener faces. But did you know that yellow jackets are not just confined into building their nests in sheds, eaves, bushes, hollowed out logs or inside the crevices located outside your home? There are also species that build their nests underground. These species are hard to locate and can sting you while you’re mowing your lawn or hanging your clothes.

Why do yellow jacket wasps nest in the ground? Primarily, the yellow jacket species that nest underground do this because these nests survive longer by allowing them to expand it indefinitely. Larger-colony species prefer underground nests since it is less exposed to predators and changes in weather.

Not all species of yellow jackets have an aerial nest, there are species that prefer to nest underground or in crevices and hollowed out trees. These stinging bugs are one of the many species that are considered to be a pest when they nest on areas where humans frequent.

Reasons why Yellow Jackets nest underground.

The yellow jacket species that build their nest underground for a number of reasons. Ground-nesting yellow jackets are considered to be more protected from the weather and less visible to predators. This form of nesting also allows the yellow jackets to easily defend their nest entrance.

Subsequently, this style of nesting allows the yellow jackets to create a bigger and more elaborate nest. Most often, an aerial nest will only be small and will have a smaller population compared to ground nests. Pest control experts observed that large ground nests can have as big as 2 inches in diameter of an entrance.

Ground-nesting yellow jackets mostly construct their nests underground with the same papery material that most wasps produce and is generally larger than aerial nests. These nests houses thousands of larvae and adult workers. These adult workers will take over the maintenance of the whole nests and the queen will concentrate on laying eggs.

These nest will continue to grow throughout summer and into fall. By winter, nests usually die out and the new queens look for a safe place where she can overwinter and emerge by next spring to look for new nesting grounds.

Do Yellow Jacket (Wasps) nest in places besides underground?

You can categorize yellow jackets into two types according to their nesting habits. The Dolichovespula species are mostly aerial yellow jackets. They build their nests above ground on exposed areas. Like trees, eaves, inside sheds or sometimes inside an abandoned car. The other type is the Vespula species that mostly build their nests underground.

The aerial yellow jackets (Dolichovespula Arenaria), is a species widely distributed in North America is the best example for an aerial nesting yellow jacket. They build their nest by suspending them on trees, shrubs and also on any form of structure. Their nest is made of a paper-like material that the female produces by mixing wood fibers and saliva.

The German Yellow jacket (Vespula vulgaris), is a perfect example of ground-nesting wasps. Same as their aerial brothers and sisters, their nests are made up of papery materials made from chewed up plant fibers, mixed together with saliva. Both the ground-nesting and aerial yellow jacket nests are very much affected by the climate but the ground-nesting one is even more sensitive due to where it is located.

With appropriate climate conditions, ground-nesting yellow jackets will expand their nests rapidly during the summer and continue to do so if it survives the winter.

Yellow Jackets nests differently than bees.

Yellow jackets, or sometimes written as one word “yellowjackets”, is a species of wasps that is social. It means that they build their nest and grow their colony. They are very protective of their nest and will readily sting you if you approach or disturb them unintentionally.

Because these insects sometimes build their nests in places where human traffic is heavy, they are considered as pests. When this happens, removing them might be the only way to prevent people from getting stung. However, they are important predators of other pests insects that might invade your garden. Consider leaving them alone if the nest is in an out of the way place.

The name “yellow jacket” commonly refers to social wasps from the Vespula and Dolichovespula genre that have the distinct markings of black with bright yellow stripes. Often mistaken as bees, these insects are about 12mm long with the queen being a bit larger, around 19mm in length.

Compared to other stinging insects, the yellow jacket is amongst one of the most commonly encountered by humans. It is attributed to the fact that they are interested in the same type of foods that we humans like, such as protein-rich meat and sugary drinks. Often mistaken as a bee, because of their black and yellow bands, yellow jackets are responsible for a significant percentage of “bee sting” cases in the US.

How to spot underground Yellow Jacket nests?

Spotting an underground yellow jacket nest is a bit tricky. Knowing how to spot these nests can prevent your garden from being taken over by these stinging insects. They usually use abandoned rats burrows or old gopher holes. If you suspect that you have subterranean yellow jacket infestation in your garden, you can employ these tactics to make sure that you are correct. Just remember that you run the chance of getting stung when you do this.

Image courtesy of eWasp
  • Observe your garden and locate a yellow jacket. If you find one, keep observing to determine where the nest is when it flies back home.
  • Walk around your garden in a circular pattern. Widen the diameter until you cover the whole ground. Spot holes and observe if yellow jackets are flying in, out and around it.
  • If you are having a difficult time, try baiting the yellow jackets with meat, fruits or any sweet drinks and then follow it back to its nest.

Don’t approach the suspected nest site without proper clothing to protect you from getting stung. Also, if you are allergic to wasps venom, then it is best to ask for help if you want to locate the nest and remove it.

Should I remove underground Yellow Jacket nests?

Most people consider the yellow jacket as pests but they are beneficial insects if you really think about it. They feed their larvae with other insects that could potentially damage your garden crops and plants. However, when they create their nests around areas where you or your family members frequent, it can be problematic.

Removing an underground yellow jacket nest is a scary undertaking. They are very aggressive when defending their nest and of course, nobody wants to get stung. It is why most people call experts to deal with them and some are allergic to the wasps’ venom.

Experts would use chemicals to kill and get rid of the yellow jacket nest. It is advisable to deal with them during the cooler temp of the evening but most pest control experts address the situation during the day. This is why they always wear protective clothing when they address the problem.

Now there are those who prefer to address the issue without the use of chemicals that might poison the soil of their garden. There are creative ways on how garden owners dealt with the problem. My favorite is using the vacuum cleaner; it turns out that your trusty vacuum cleaner can also double as yellow jacket suckers. But, do so at your own risk!

All you need to do is to turn your vacuum on, but don’t plug it in yet and then place the end of the hose near the entrance ( do this very carefully, to avoid getting stung). Walk away very slowly and then plug in your vacuum. The noise will agitate the worker yellow jackets and fly out of the nest where the vacuum then sucks them in.

Run the machine for about an hour and then plug the hose opening to prevent escape. Leave the machine out under the sun for a day to kill the yellow jackets. You can now excavate the nest and destroy it however you please. Other ways are spraying the nests with a mixture of soap and water or the use of baits and traps.

It is only necessary to remove underground yellow jacket nests if they are becoming a nuisance. But if their nests are built in an out of the way area,  then it is best to leave it be. Most nests are abandoned before winter and slowly disintegrates. It is also unlikely that yellow jackets would use the same nests or use an existing nest for their next breeding cycle.

How to not get stung by Yellow Jackets nesting underground?

Assuming that you have decided to undertake the removal of the yellow jacket nest you found, you will need to prepare accordingly. If you have protective clothing lying around in your garage, then, by all means, use that to protect you but if you don’t, then you can use the following in place of the protective overalls.

  • Thick long sleeved jacket
  • Thick garden gloves.
  • A gardening hat that you outfitted with a net
  • Jeans
  • Socks
  • Boots

For general tips on how to prevent getting stung, you can employ all or some of the following tips.

  • Avoid wearing floral scented perfume
  • Avoid  wearing bright colored clothing
  • Give your soda can a good shake before taking a sip
  • Keep your garbage bins closed tight
  • Don’t swat the yellow jacket. This fast movement will definitely get you stung. Instead, brush it off you gently.
  • Move slowly away from the area if you spot yellow jacket nests.

Ground Nesting Yellow Jacket Sting Symptoms

Yellow Jacket stings can be prevented but not always. Ground-nesting yellow jackets produce similar venom like that of their aerial nesting brothers.  If you ever got stung by one, you can experience one or more of the following:

  • Pain where the insect stung you
  • Redness and swelling in the immediately affected area
  • Itchiness and/or burning sensation

Some symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. Watch out for the following:

  • Coughing, wheezing and breathing heavy
  • Difficulty in swallowing or breathing
  • Feeling light-headed, nauseous and eventually passing out
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Violent skin reaction like hives or itchy red patches that spreads

When you see these symptoms manifest, call emergency right away. It can mean that the person is allergic to the yellow jacket sting and is currently experiencing anaphylaxis, which can lead to anaphylactic shock if not treated right away.


Yellow Jackets are a species of wasps that either nest several feet above ground or underground. Both species can sting and the symptoms associated with the sting are similar on both types. Other locations like shrubs, bushes, hollow of a tree and haystacks can also become a nesting ground for yellow jackets. However, it is the yellow jackets that nest underground that is more dangerous because they are harder to spot an easier to aggravate.

It is advisable that you call a pest control expert and have it removed if you know that the location of the underground nest is in an area where you, your family and friends frequent. You can also forgo the expert and deal with the nest yourself if you don’t like to use chemicals in your garden. Just make sure that you wear clothing that can protect you from stings and watch out for signs and symptoms that may indicate that you or your buddies are under anaphylaxis.

Remember, if in doubt, contact a pest control specialist professional.

One thought on “Why do the Yellow Jacket (Wasps) nest in the ground?

  1. That was interesting . I love your quality that you put into your post . Please do move forward with more similar to this.

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