Do Yellowjacket Wasp Nests Die in the Winter?

There is likely no other exterior insect feared quite as much as the yellowjacket wasp. These incredibly versatile and industrious insects possess one of the most painful stings in the realm of entomology, but when you study this insect, it can be easy to appreciate just how productive these elusive creatures truly are.

A yellowjacket wasp sting is incredibly painful and due to their swarming nature, there have been cases of human mortality at the hands of these insects – but their yearly reign is generally brief; yellowjackets typically thrive between mid-spring and mid-autumn before going dormant if their nest is in a temperature-controlled environment, or dying if their nest is outdoors. Yellowjackets do not survive freezing temperatures and you can usually breathe a sigh of relief after the first autumn night that drops below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit.

Do yellowjacket nests die in the winter? Yellowjackets typically die in the winter months after the first freezing temperatures are recorded; yellowjackets that have survived inside of insulated environments can persist all year.

Do Yellowjackets Die in Cold Weather?

Yellowjackets living or dying really depends upon where their nest is located when the seasons begin to turn cooler. Most yellowjackets will typically scout for areas that are large enough to contain their nest, while also being generally hidden with small entryways to enter to the nest.

That isn’t to say that these insects will only settle for secluded locations; yellowjackets will burrow into the ground, make nests in piles of yard debris including leaves, and even suspend their nest from tree limbs or the eaves of porches and garages, up to and including home attics and basements if the smallest of entry points are present.

For nests located outdoors and inside of the ground, you can rest assured that these yellowjackets will die off after the first night with a recorded temperature of thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit or below. You can usually expect this to occur sometime in November in most places in the country or even later in humid or coastal climates. For yellowjackets that have nested in temperature-controlled environments, it becomes a bit more problematic.

Many people think that yellowjackets will die off when chilly autumn air begins to filter in; this is a myth since it will take freezing temperatures to kill them. Therefore, you will still want to be careful when raking autumn leaves or throwing around the football in the backyard. If the insects have nested in attics or closed garages, you could very well find the insects thriving all year long.

With that in mind, you will likely not get stung unless you actively disturb the nest because the yellowjackets will likely be dormant. If you find a dormant nest during the winter months, take the proper steps to treat them. Cold weather will destroy yellowjackets outdoors, but if a nest has been developed in a closed space, you will have to take the proper steps to get rid of it before spring rolls around.

What Month do Yellowjackets Die?

It is impossible to pinpoint an exact month to expect yellowjackets to die; this is because it takes freezing weather to kill the wasps and the entire nest. If a nest is not insulated inside of a garage or even a home, the nest and all the wasps will die after the first freeze of the fall or winter; this can vary based upon your location within the country.

In the Northern States, the Midwest, and some parts of the Western states, this usually occurs in late October or early November. In coastal states and cities, this process can take longer, usually December or even January. Keep in mind that yellowjackets that have managed to become insulated from the outside weather, the nest can remain dormant and become active again the following spring.

yellow jacket nest

Do Yellowjackets Come Back to the Same Nest Every Year?

There is only one yellowjacket that manages to survive the winter months and that is the queen. Before the first freeze arrives, the queen will abandon the nest and take up safe harbor from the cold inside of tree bark or even inside of homes such as attics.

In addition to the queen, one final yellowjacket mating season will occur during the fall, which is also the most aggressive time of year for yellowjackets. Female eggs will hatch and will also find safe harbor from the cold. After the dormant period ends, successive queens will venture out when spring arrives and begin to build fresh nests. 

In spring, the queen will emerge and begin to build a nest from plant fibers that she chews, making a type of paper. When the nest is started, she begins to lay her eggs. As adults, these first offspring are sterile female workers that expand the nest, search for food and care for the queen and her young.

After her first-generation matures, the yellow jacket queen remains inside the nest laying eggs for the rest of the summer. Again, if a nest has managed to thrive in temperature-controlled environments, the nest will remain intact, potentially for the entire year.

Related Questions

Why are Yellowjackets so Aggressive in the Fall?

Contrary to popular belief, yellowjackets are ubiquitous in the summer months – but this is not their most aggressive time of the year, that belongs to the early fall time period. The queen will typically begin to stop reproducing in the late summer, the first few weeks of September.

Once the reproductive cycle stops, the remaining worker wasps are now free to roam about and forage for food for themselves; the changing seasons and impending end of their life cycles will also disrupt their natural equilibrium, which in turn will make them much more aggressive.

Additionally, the worker yellowjackets are preparing the hive for the queen’s exit and scouting for a safe harbor to survive the winter months, which makes them much more prone to sting at the slightest disturbance or approach to their nest. The natural cycle that has been going during the summer months is suddenly interrupted with the changing of the seasons, therefore making the yellowjackets increasingly aggressive.

See: How to get rid of wasps

How Long Does it Take for Yellowjackets to Build a Nest?

Once spring arrives, queen yellowjackets will emerge from their harborage areas and begin scouting locations for a nest. Once a safe area has been found, the queen will begin working towards building a nest, which can take days or a week since the queen only needs a small nest at first to begin gestating her eggs.

Once the eggs begin to hatch, new workers will take over the building of the nest and have a full nest constructed in a matter of days, which will continually grow throughout the spring and summer.

This cycle occurs every year beginning in the spring and by late spring an entire nest of yellowjackets is actively working, caring for larvae, foraging for food, and continuing to build their nest. If a nest has remained formant in a warm climate, the nest will remain active and continue to grow year after year due to the absence of cold weather disrupting the life cycle of the colony throughout the year. 

In Summary

Yellowjackets are very industrious creatures and maintain a life cycle that is made brief only by the arrival of cold weather. With growing concerns about global warming, this life cycle could continue to gestate longer and longer. Yellowjackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures, which could include your attic or basement. 

Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After eggs hatch from the cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about two to three weeks. Larvae pupate, then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

See: Best dust to kill yellow jackets

Yellowjackets can become increasingly aggressive in the late summer and early fall as the natural balance of the nest cycle is disrupted with the imminent arrival of cooler weather. Extra care must be followed to avoid stepping on a nest or disturbing the wasps during this time period since their aggression is at an alerted level. Cooler weather signals changes that yellowjackets are in the process of dying off; however, it is important to remember that it will take freezing weather to kill yellowjackets and their nest and this cycle is null and void if the wasps have maintained their nest inside of temperature-controlled environments in the winter.

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