Are Yellow Jackets Poisonous?

Are Yellow Jackets Poisonous?
Israel Alvarez
Israel Alvarez

Owner @ Insight Pest Management

Table of Contents

No one wants to have their picnic or backyard gathering taken over by bees or wasps, but when these stinging insects do decide to invade, it is important that you know how to identify flying invaders and determine just how dangerous they may be. While yellow jackets are not poisonous, they do have the ability to inject venom through their stinger. Unlike bees, they can repeatedly sting, making them extremely dangerous to those that react to their venom. Understanding more about these insects helps to keep you and your family safe.

Key takeaways

  • Yellow jackets are a species of wasp. Unlike bees, they have a smooth stinger, meaning they cannot inflict multiple stings in the same attack.
  • Yellow jackets are extremely aggressive and will actively defend their territory. When one yellow jacket attacks, they release chemicals that draw in additional yellow jackets that will attack.
  • Bee and wasp venom contain different allergens, so even if you are not allergic to bee venom, you could still have an allergy to wasps.

How venomous is a yellow jacket sting?

Yellow jacket venom contains different allergens than that of bees. However, because yellow jackets have the ability to sting over and over again, they are able to deliver large amounts of venom in a single attack.

In addition, because yellow jackets are so aggressive and territorial, it is more likely that additional yellow jackets will come to the aid of the initial stinging insect, increasing your chances of additional stings. In fact, it is not unheard of for a person to be stung hundreds of times or more if they accidentally stumble on a nest. Even without an allergy to the venom, an attack that delivers more than 1,500 stings can deliver enough venom to kill an adult male.

Which sting is worse: the yellow jacket wasp sting or a bee sting?

Bees and wasps contain different allergens in their venom. While bee venom contains phospholipase A2 and melittin, wasp venom contains antigen 5. Both venoms contain hyaluronidases. Because they deliver different allergens in their venom, how bad an insect sting is will depend on an individual’s allergy. While you may be severely allergic to bee stings, a wasp sting may do nothing more than cause initial swelling. However, individuals with a wasp allergy are prone to severe reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Identifying yellow jackets

Because both are yellow and black in color, yellow jackets are often mistaken for honey bees. Learning how to identify yellow jackets and their nests can help you avoid potential stings and swarm attacks. Both yellow jackets are yellow and black in color. However, the honey bee is more amber, while yellow jackets sport a much brighter yellow appearance. While honeybees have tiny hairs or fuzz covering their body, a yellow jacket wasp is smooth and shiny. Honeybees tend to be rounder and plumper, while the yellow jacket has a thinner appearance.

In terms of nesting, honey bees or bumble bees build wax nests in elevated locations, such as trees or eaves. Yellow jackets most often build underground nests, with an entrance that is well camouflaged and difficult to detect unless you see the insects coming and going.

Why do they sting?

The old saying says that if you leave a bee alone, it will not sting you. Unfortunately, this rule does not always apply to yellow jackets. These stinging insects are fiercely territorial and will defend their nest to the end. Taking a wrong step during a hike or stumbling on a nest at the local park or even the backyard may appear threatening enough to the yellow jacket to initiate an attack and, in the case of defending a nest, it is unlikely to be an attack from a single yellow jacket, but rather a swarm of them.

In addition, these pests love a sweet drink in the warmer months, meaning make sure you keep your Coke or Pepsi can cover. Many yellow jacket stings occur when one becomes trapped in a can that someone is still drinking from.

What should you do if you get stung by a yellow jacket?

If you are stung by a yellow jacket, it is important to first leave the area where you were stung before more yellow jackets are drawn in to help. Once you are in a safe area, examine the site of the sting. While yellow jackets typically do not leave a stinger behind, you want to ensure there is not a stinger in place. If you see a stinger in the affected area, do not squeeze the area, as this can release additional venom. Instead, simply use a straight-edged item, such as a knife, to scrape away the stinger. Once you are sure the stinger is removed, follow these steps.

  • Thoroughly wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold pack or ice pack to the sting to help reduce swelling and pain
  • Keep the sting area elevated.
  • Apply a topical antihistamine cream or lotion to the sting
  • Take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to help reduce the swelling, as well as Tylenol or ibuprofen to help ease discomfort

Identifying an allergic reaction

If this is the first time a wasp has stung you, watch for potential signs of a life-threatening allergic reaction. This can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in the mouth or throat
  • Hives or a rash
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Chest tightness


If you know you have severe allergic reactions to wasp venom and you are stung, administer epinephrine with an EpiPen as directed and seek medical attention.

When to seek medical attention

While most cases of wasp stings will not require medical attention, there are some cases where you should seek medical care immediately. These include:

  • You are experiencing signs of an allergic reaction.
  • You have been stung in your mouth or throat, such as when drinking from a soda can.
  • You have received more than ten wasp stings.
  • Your wasp sting site has become infected. While this is rare, wasps do tend to feed in garbage cans and landfills, so a bacterial infection can occur. A secondary infection can cause increased pain and swelling, pus drainage from the sting area, and a fever.

Identifying and understanding the culprit

Being aware of the difference between bees and yellow jackets allows you to identify better which insects you may encounter, as well as how to avoid an encounter and reduce the risk of coming into contact with a yellow jacket nest. If you encounter a yellow jacket nest in your yard, it is best to call in professional pest control experts that have the equipment to eliminate yellow jacket nests without the risk of serious stings.

Addressing potential wasp or bee infestations

If yellow jackets invade your space and decide to call it home, it is not advised to try and eliminate them on your own. Because they are aggressive and territorial, the risk of multiple stings is very high. Our team at Insight Pest Management specializes in stinging pest removal. Our technicians come prepared to eliminate these dangerous pests safely.

To learn more about our services, contact us online to schedule an evaluation.

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