Yellow Jacket Life Cycle

The life cycle of the yellow jacket nest begins in winter, when fertilized yellow jacket queens go into hibernation. Queens hibernate in covered natural locations such as tree stumps and hollow logs, although they may also choose manmade structures for shelter.

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. After eggs hatch into larvae, the queen feeds her young with scavenged meat, fish and other insects. 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.

At its height, a colony may contain up to 5,000 worker wasps. In the fall, cells will contain larvae ready to become adult males and fertile females. These males and females will leave their colonies to mate. After mating, males die and the fertilized females go in search of hibernation locations. Worker wasps perish in winter, leaving the hibernating queen to begin anew in spring. While nests may last through winter if built in sheltered areas, they will not be used again.

An exception to the normal life cycle occurs in warmer climates that typically do not experience prolonged temperatures below freezing, such as Florida, Texas, etc. Nests can continue to grow in these warmer climates for more than a season and reach enormous nest sizes of 100,000 or more workers.