honey bee management predators robbing

Yellowjackets and honey-robbing bees go hand-in-hand

Late summer is the season when yellowjackets can be a problem for beekeepers. This is the same season that honey-robbing honey bees appear, and the miscreants can work together to produce a synergistic mess.

Yellowjackets are eusocial predatory wasps. An overwintered yellowjacket queen begins a new colony in the spring by laying a few eggs in a small nest, usually underground. Her progeny enlarges the nest, providing the queen more room to lay eggs. The daughter wasps care for the young, clean the nest, hunt, feed the young, and defend the colony. Both the nest and the colony continue to increase in size during the spring and summer months.

But just when the wasp colony is at its largest, the summer food supply begins to ebb. Less rainfall and higher temperatures mean foliage starts to dry and the insects that fed on the foliage are gone. You first notice the yellowjackets when they want to share your hamburger or sip your beer. They’ll go for soda pop, roast pig, or even corn-on-the-cob. These insects, previously in the background, suddenly come out of the woodwork. They are everywhere and they are mean.

Then, as the shorter and cooler days of autumn approach, even the alternative food sources dry up. But, although the picnic basket has disappeared, there is still fresh meat to be had . . . honey bees.

A well-populated colony of honey bees can successfully defend itself against a yellowjacket attack, but a small or weak colony can easily be overpowered by these aggressive and powerful wasps. Once in the door they will kill the bees. They will eat larvae, eggs, pupae, honey—whatever they can find. And they won’t give up until the hive is empty.

Several years ago a friend called to say that she saw some yellowjackets around one of my hives. I went over and watched in morbid fascination as three out of every four insects that went in or out of the hive was a yellowjacket. By the time I opened it, nothing was left. Even the comb was torn apart.

If a hive is weak, especially during a nectar dearth, other honey bees will often rob it of its honey stores. The fighting that ensues results in dead bees and open cells of honey—both of which can be detected by scavenging yellowjackets. If robbing gets well underway, yellowjackets are sure to follow.

So how do you prevent the carnage? In my experience, the best way to prevent an attack is to prevent robbing. As soon as nectar becomes scarce, close down the entrance to a size the colony can defend. A large and boisterous colony doesn’t need any restriction, but a small or weak colony may need its entrance reduced to one bee length. Make sure there are no alternate entrances where robbers or wasps can enter.

Also helpful are the plastic traps that contain a pheromone lure for yellowjackets. Hung in a tree or other structure, they attract the yellowjackets through a one-way entrance. Once inside, the wasps can’t find their way out. If you use these, hang them on the perimeter of the apiary but not too near the hives. The idea is to attract the wasps away from the hive, not toward it.

My other favorite yellowjacket control is to sweep them up in a butterfly net in the early spring. The very first ones you see may be queens. If you can get these, you can save yourself a lot of trouble later.


Yellowjacket eating a honey bee.
Yellowjacket eating a honey bee.

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  • I notice wasps in the spring are big and fat. Are those the queens? I squished a few of them hanging around an outdoor feeder I had set up earlier in the summer.

    I didn’t know the wasps traps were safe for honey bees. I figured they’d trap the bees as well as the wasps.

    • Phillip,

      Queens are the only wasps that overwinter in cold climates. So, yes, those fat early ones are most likely queens. They need to do everything by themselves in the early spring until the first batch of brood is raised, so that is why you see them out and about.

      Wasp traps that use a pheromone lure will not attract honey bees. I usually have several of them hanging in the bee yard and I have never caught a honey bee.

  • A great article Rusty. I didn’t know much about them at all. Thank you. I just squish them when I get a chance. The thing is, I bought a butterfly net to catch and kill those white butterflies that lay their eggs on my cabbages, then hatch and eat holes thru everything!

    I’ll be out there next spring scooping up the wasp queens! I’ve been practicing on wasps when things get slow, so I’m getting pretty good at snatching them out of the air, if I do say so myself. 🙂

    • Doug,

      Sounds like the Cabbage White butterfly. And you are right, the larval stage eats holes through everything.

      You are also right about the butterfly net–it takes some practice, but you can get good at it. I’ve gotten a lot of practice on yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets. Then I squish them.

  • Cabbage white butterfly can be controlled with cooking flour; my mom has been doing it for years. They eat it and can’t defecate any more larvae.

    • Hi Adam

      So last year I had a really bad problem with those “cabbage white butterfly” you speak of except they just eat my kale and lettuce… Anyways after doing a little research I’m pretty sure what I had to battle last year is the same butterfly as what you are talking about. Had just happened to be reading up on wasps because around my house I have them by the thousand’s, it seems, and I can’t remember the last time I seen a bee, so wanted to see if the wasps were what was keeping them away, and also if it wasn’t the bees pollinating my plants, then was it the wasps. So anywho read your post and was wondering where does your mom put the flower to feed them?… Like on or around the plant and is this preventative or a cure to just get them gone once there there? Would very much appreciate any info you could give me about her luck with this method.

  • I noticed more wasps around our hives for the past week. I’m sure they can smell the honey. It’s made the bees more defensive. I got stung on the back of the neck today just standing around minding my own business. I need a bigger back yard. I’m learning all the pros and cons of urban beekeeping these days.

    • I’ve seen a large increase in the number of yellowjackets in the last two weeks. Before that I had mostly hornets but yellowjackets have taken over. I was fixing a fence this weekend and got stung by a defensive honey bee–and I have a big yard.

    • I agree with you, but it’s a very unpopular position to take. I’m afraid some folks will find out the hard way.

  • Is there anything you can do to stop the yellow jackets once you see them going into the honey bee hive or is it a lost cause??

    I have reduced the entrance and closed off all other openings. We have killed the one big yellow jacket nest that we know of and I keep killing any yellow jackets I can smoosh around the hive. My hive is queenless right now–could the yellow jackets have killed her? I noticed about a month ago a large pile of dead bees outside the hive and yellow jackets around then.

    I just took the last honey super off early this week and there were a lot of bees but no eggs or queen so I would say they are weakened at this point. There were a few of those nasty yellowjackets on the combs too.
    I really don’t want to lose them.


    • Dawn,

      It sounds pretty bad. I have seen exactly what you are talking about. Once the bees more or less give up, the yellowjackets go in and take over the hive. They will attack and kill bees. They will also eat honey, brood, and eggs.

      It is very possible they killed the queen. I don’t think they will go after a queen specifically, but she is an easy mark. The dead bees may have been evicted drones or they may have accumulated from a robbing attempt–it’s hard to tell. But the smell of the dead bees and/or the smell of honey probably attracted the yellowjackets to the hive.

      Are you sure you are queenless? Often there is not much brood this time of year so it can be hard to tell if a queen is present or not. But if you are queenless you will have to get a mated queen quickly in order to overwinter. Your colony will not be able to raise a queen if there are no eggs and, in any case, the drones are mostly gone by now so a virgin queen would be unable to mate.

      I think the best you can do is get a queen and keep the hive reduced to a very small entrance. Make sure they have pollen. If you do get a new queen the colony will need both pollen and honey in order to raise brood. Do you have more than one hive? If so, you might be better off by combining this hive with another.

  • Well . . . this is my only hive but–we spent a lot of time killing yellow jackets today and I did reduce the entrance and added a 1/2 gal boardman feeder with Honey-B-Healthy in the syrup. When I checked again several hours later, there was only one yj to kill (which we did) and the honey bees had cleaned out the feeder!! I had more syrup and pulled the feeder out to refill and there were honey bees all over it!
    They were also back to the feisty little creatures that I usually have. They are lined up in the very small (about 1″) entrance they have and seem to be guarding it!

    I am so excited!! I watched for awhile and saw no more yj. We really worked hard to kill all of them.

    There were 2 capped queen cells a couple of days ago. I know she will be practically a virgin queen but I figure to replace her next season. There is a wild hive close by so I am hoping she will be able to at least mate a few times. There was some capped brood present and larvae but I did not see any eggs. I also had the hive vented, because it has been so hot here in Ohio but I closed all that up also. I intend to continue to feed them as they do not have nearly enough honey for winter yet. I have a great supplier close by and can get pollen patties and about anything else I need. I really enjoy my bees and want to be a good manager for them.

    I just am amazed at the difference in the general attitude of the girls by this evening! They really did seem like they had given up earlier but not now. I can’t wait to see what the morning reveals! Should be warmer and sunny here. We will be on yj patrol too.

    BTW-I really like your site and really appreciate your answer.

    • Good work, Dawn. It sounds like your bees had a reprieve.

      Are there any drones in your hive? That may give you an idea of whether or not the wild colony has any drones. Just be sure you have a fertile, egg-laying queen before winter sets in.

  • Just a small note . . . they are still feisty this morning and I even watched them fight off a yellow jacket that tried to get in the little entrance. They are literally sucking up syrup and seem to be out foraging in the asters which are just starting to bloom. (still lots of goldenrod)

    Just makes my day to see them carrying on like normal!!!

    I am learning to let the bees tell/show me what they need and do my best to provide the resource or make the situation manageable for them.

    Amazing little creatures!!

  • Jan 20th in Alabama; this morning around 50 degrees when I rode up to check the bees! It was total pandemonium up there. Poor hives are just beginning nucs from late summer so I feed them still. Yellowjackets everywhere. I closed off the entrances and killed as many as I could. Went back and put the reducers in and little ladies were dragging the yj out tearing their wings off!! Yahhhh victory!

    • Wow, that is scary. Up here in the cold and frozen north, yellowjackets don’t overwinter because they freeze to death. I would hate to have to deal with them in January.

  • I have befriended yellowjackets for more than 10 years since I was recuperating from a broken arm. In my ignorance I have never realized that my docile bee . . . or so I thought was a bee, is the enemy. I taught my daughter at a very young age to put strawberry syrup on her hand and 40-50 of them would eat it off very quickly.

    The bees seem to know me and land on me in the neighborhood whilst talking with neighbors. When I am indoors, they come in and buzz me till I go put another piece of fruit or more honey or syrup, but they never ever get aggressive. I have rescued the occasional drowning victim who will get into the stream of honey from the jar and get covered in honey until I put my finger in and push it to the side of the dish. So I wonder if a more friendly way of keeping them off of our life giving friends the honey bes, would be to put some syrup out on a dish till they come, then put fruit slices if you prefer the cheaper solution. Maybe they won’t go for your hives. I live in the San Francisco area; in case my species are different than those cited as aggressive. Mine are very friendly and helped me to teach my wife and kids not to fear based on ignorance.

    BTW I allowed them to build their nest the first year right next to my dining room window and when I went out to smoke right next to their hive they never did more than check me out. Even without a cigarette I would put my face right up to the hive… no problem. People would slam the sliding door right next to them and no aggression to the vibration or noise.

    Just trying to be helpful and be real. I am looking to be a keeper now based on this experience and have only now begun researching. Cheers

    • Peter,

      Adult wasps eat sweet things to give them energy, and you can attract them by providing syrup and/or fruit. But that will not keep them away from honey bee hives because the wasps need meat to feed to their young. They like bee hives because adult bees and bee larvae provide the nutritional requirements that wasp larvae need to grow.

  • We have been fighting off yellowjackets for a few weeks now, and this morning I found they have wiped out my bee colony. I had to shut up the hive and run because there were so many yellowjackets in it. Sad, as this was my fist hive which was only about 15 months old. What do I do with my hive now to prep it for a new nuc next year? And how do I even do anything with all the jackets? I do have a trap in the yard now, but we cannot get to the nest because it is under the shed an pretty accessible.

    • Brandy,

      You don’t say where you are, but if you are in a place that freezes in the winter, all the yellowjackets will die with the first freeze. That includes the ones in the hive and in the nest. As for your equipment, freezing also will kill wax moth infestations as well as small hive beetles. If it doesn’t freeze naturally, you can put used combs in the freezer overnight to kill those things and the inside of the boxes can be heated with a blow torch for the same reason. Then, in the spring, you can just put your new nuc or package in the old equipment. Avoid yellowjacket problems by reducing your entrances at the beginning of any summer or fall nectar dearth.

      • Thank you very much, Rusty. I live in Northern Colorado; I am not sure if yellowjackets can winter over here or not. Do you know?

        • Brandy,

          I would say they cannot overwinter there. It would take a warm, southern climate for them to overwinter—something like Georgia or South Carolina.

  • That is great news! I am from Alabama, and we have never had the kind of yellowjacket problem in Colorado that I saw in Bama until this year, so it struck a chord of familiar dread in me to have my yard overrun by them. I guess we will just start a new nuc next year and be more vigilant if we see signs of jackets again in 2014. The entrance reducer would have been helpful a week ago, I bet 🙁

  • Arrived in south of France, ten years ago. The Asian hornet is invading Europe. (Next year in UK) No enemies, and bees are dying, and no honey. We try to catch it with traps (wine, syrup, beer) but it’s a poor solution. I see you have the same problems with the yellowjacket, unknown here. What about synthetic pheromone traps?

  • I am in desperate need of a queen honey bee for one of my hives. Is there anyone who can deliver them at this time of the year. I live in south Texas. I am scared cause we have many yellow jackets.

    • Ludy,

      You should be able to get one locally. I hear you can get queens through the end of October down there. Anyone know where she can find one?

      • Why don’t you try to make your queen yourself if you have a another good hive. Look if you have very news eggs (1 or 2 days) and follow the good way to get it. About hornets, chicken eat its, but not bees.

  • Yes, we use pheromone traps here for many kinds of wasp. Could you give me more information about pheromone trap? You don’t really use it here, but I could buy in USA, if I know dealers. Merci beaucoup.

  • I had a hive that seemed weak with quite a few dead bees at the entrance a week ago so i have been keeping an eye on. I have had an entrance reducer on for quite a while. But now I just checked it and the hive is dead. I think my bees were killed by wasps as there are a few wasps flying out of the hive when i opened it up. There is lots of capped and uncapped honey stores,and larva in various stages in the supers. What do I do with them? I just have 2 hives and the other seems ok so far. Although I did see a few wasps around it today. I klled some but there are still some around and I even saw one or two coming out of hte hive. It has a reducer on. I thought it would be too cold for those nasty things but I’ll get a wasp catcher up and see if I can get the last of them before there ruin my other hive. I would be happy for any other suggestions and advice what to do with the honey/larva frames from my dead hive. Thanks

    • Kathy,

      Put the extra honey, capped and uncapped, on your good hive. There’s nothing you can do with the larvae, because it hasn’t been kept warm. You can leave it out and hope the wasps stay busy with it instead of your other hive. But if you do that, put it a distance away from the other hive, or else just store it somewhere inside a garage or shed. Yellowjackets coming out of your good hive is not a good sign. When you put the honey on them, check for a queen if you can. Sometimes the wasps kill the queen.

      Next year put out pheromone lures early in the year to catch the spring queens and buy robbing screens for the fall. Up here in Washington, I now reduce entrances as early as August and I put robbing screens on all but the largest hives. It doesn’t take the wasps long to completely decimate a hive.

  • I read your article and this appears to be what just happened with us-what did you do afterwards? We have 5 supers of honey and no bees-about 100 dead ones after realizing that yellow jackets were around it..not sure how long this went on and closed down entrance but too late. Just 5 days ago bees seemed to be defending their hive. Did you bring in a new queen and package? This is fall-November and we are in NC. No yellow jackets within the hive now. Pretty sad actually-we had a good group of gentle bees. Do we harvest honey now (which we had not planned to do till spring as it was a new hive started this past Feb) and wait to replace the bees this spring? This has been an eye opened-thanks for all the comments and help

    • Theresa,

      I answered your e-mail before I saw this so, like I said, you can add a new package and queen in the spring. If you are going to extract the honey, do so now, but save a few frames so you can get your next colony off to a quick start. Also, since you have lots of yellowjackets, I would buy a robbing screen for next fall. You can get one at Brushy Mountain. Also, in the spring, put up yellowjacket pheromone lures. If you can get the queens in early spring, it will save you a lot of trouble in the fall.

  • First year in Nashville — 3 acres outside of the city, and YJs are everywhere. As soon as it got cold, I spent an hour knocking little nests out of the garage and shed ceiling. I couldn’t mow past a specific part of the yard after being attacked twice.

    I’d like to start a hive or two, but I don’t know the ups and downs of it. Would this HELP the YJ problem? Or would I find myself at a disadvantage from the start (and potentially fail)?

    • Kev,

      Yellowjackets are a perpetual problem for beekeepers, but I wouldn’t let them discourage me from having some hives. The thing is, you have to be proactive with them. In my opinion, beekeepers should think of them in advance instead of waiting for the wasps to clean out the hives. Proactive management means putting out pheromone lures in early spring. If you catch the queens early, life will be easier. Next, be ready to lock down your hive with entrance reducers as soon as the summer nectar dearth begins. You will know it has begun when the wasps, lacking food from flowers, start attacking your hives. By locking down, I mean use entrance reducers, robbing screens, close upper entrances, and be careful not to spill honey or syrup in the vicinity of the hives. If you do those things, your honey bees will be fine.

  • Some people have mentioned killing (squashing) yellowjackets around their hive entrances.

    I read that you should NOT do this near the hives, because when a yellowjacket is smashed or killed it releases an attack pheromone that signals to other yellowjackets to come to their defense. The last place you would want more yellowjackets coming to is your apiary.

    I do not know if this is true or not. But I’m not willing to risk it.

    I have been trying to figure out how to get yellowjackets away from my apiary or killed altogether. I have been hanging non-pesticide traps around the apiary, but I see after reading this great blog post that I may actually be making the problem worse as the attractant pheromone in the traps attracts even more yellowjackets.

    I’m going to move the traps further away, and then also purchase several more and put them in my neighbors’ yards. The yellowjackets I am seeing hover at the ground, tear bees in half, enter the hives and come back out dragging pupa, other bees, etc. They’re HORRIBLE.

    • Clay,

      You bring up a good point. I don’t know much about yellowjacket pheromones, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that squashing one emits a distress signal. Sometimes after I catch them in my butterfly net, I squash them and leave them in the driveway. Usually within about a half hour, another yellowjacket or bald-faced hornet comes along and carries them off, probably for food. So there’s that aspect as well: if it smells like fresh meat other wasps will come.

    • Have a look about APISHIELD, a new trap, very clever.
      In France, we have a problem with the asian hornet, and it is a good solution.

  • i live in Kentucky and around the end of July the nectar plants begin to fade. What do you recommend for food sources at this time?

    • Donald,

      If your colonies are healthy and have lots of stores, you shouldn’t have to do anything. In nature, they use some of their spring supplies to get them through the rough patches. They will make up the deficit in the fall. If the colony is new and doesn’t have much stored yet, you could feed them syrup, but be careful not to start a robbing frenzy.

  • Thanks for the informtion.

    I have a honey bee hive in a small roof over a bay window on my house. Initially I was going to destroy the hive but I know that honey bees are scarce so I let it go. I figured I’d wait till fall and tear off the roof and possibly transfer the hive to a bee frame. Well, 2 days ago I noticed larger more aggressive bees and now the hive seems to be under full attack. The larger bees are bringing in carrion. I still see some honey bees but the entrance is too wide. I don’t really have a way to reduce the entrance size, really don’t want to get stung, don’t want a hornet nest. Am going to spray foam wasp killer today. Shame.

    I’m going to buy the necessary equip. And set up a proper hive out back because I did enjoy watching the honey bees come and go. Such a beneficial insect.

    • Ed,

      You say, “The larger bees are bringing in carrion.” The carrion tells you that they are wasps and not bees. The primary difference between them is that wasps are meat-eaters and bees are vegetarians. What is happening, most likely, is the wasps are using the bee nest as a ready supply of fresh meat. I agree, it is sad. I do hope you get into beekeeping. If you do, you will never look back. Honey bees are fascinating.

  • New beekeeper here. My husband and I started a Warre hive in Eugene, Oregon. Italians. The hive was thriving and looked great all summer. A couple of weeks ago we noticed the dreaded yellow jackets hanging around. We put up some traps. In the last week or so the YJs have come on strong. We reduced the entrance. Our bees do seem to be resisting and are still actively foraging. The YJs are super aggressive. We’re also feeding the bees but just began. When we look through the viewing pane at the back of the hive the number of bees seems greatly reduced. We haven’t opened the hive to check any further. The bees are active and guarding the hive and we continue to defend against YJs. I’m concerned there are now not enough bees to survive the winter. Any suggestions? Thanks for your time.

    • Rebecca,

      The number of bees in a hive will start to drop after the summer solstice (about June 21) and continue to drop until the winter solstice (about Dec 21) and then it will start to increase again. If the yellowjackets are not getting in, you may just be noticing the natural fluctuation in population. Remember too that the drones are expelled in August and September, which further lessens the hive population. A decrease in population of the colony means it can survive with less stored food, even though it is more difficult to keep warm. But Eugene is warm in comparison to places like North Dakota and Alberta, but even those bees can pull through. Here near Olympia, I have overwintered baseball size clusters, so don’t give up hope.

  • We thought we had bees behind the siding on our home and was told to leave them alone until spring then a beekeeper would come get our the hive and bees but now we notice what we thought were bees are now yellowjackets. Will the yellowjackets destroy everything in the hive and how do get rid of them because some are coming into our home?

    • David,

      Yellowjackets can easily overrun and destroy a honey bee colony that is not strong enough to defend itself. So if your honey bee colony was small, or if the openings to it were large or numerous, the yellowjackets could easily take over. They feed the honey bees to their young. Yellowjacket colonies do not overwinter in cold climates, so they should soon disappear. Only the queens survive to begin a new colony next season.

  • I got my first colony mid-May this year. There was a delay due to the weather. I live in CT. I followed instructions and tried to check for the queen on day 5 and day 10 (TBH). The queen was released by day 5, but both times the little comb that was created fell off within seconds of trying to lift the top-bar (not even an inch off of the hive frame – straight up). I reattached the comb. I decided to not go in and look for the queen/eggs for a few weeks. When I went back in the comb built went across three bars. I tried to fix it by reattaching one comb to one bar. The bees kept attaching the combs across three bars. The bees were not happy and it wasn’t a very large colony (drought this year). I tried feeding but this caused robbing. I decided to live and let live.

    In September, despite everything, the colony had grown and seemed happy and bustling. Because the combs were built the way they were I could never really check honey, brood etc. The hive was only about 1/3 full of comb. I decided to try and feed again the end of September (inside the hive), but this caused robbing again. I reduced the entrance, added vics vapor rub and put a sheet over the front. The robbing didn’t stop and yellowjackets joined in.

    About 2 weeks ago as I was trying to kill yj and figure out where the nest was, the queen came out the hive and landed on my lap ( I was sitting in front to the side of the hive). Before I fully registered this was the queen, I was too slow to try and capture her. It was a very bright warm afternoon, so I couldn’t follow where she flew to. I didn’t see other bees follow.

    Even though the queen left I decided to still try and kill/keep yj away from hive. There are still some bees in there but can’t tell how many. The bees hadn’t defended the colony very well soon after her leaving, but today (warm weather) I have seen some signs of defending. I did look to see if I could get a new queen a couple of weeks ago, but wasn’t successful.There is still at the activity at the entrance (but not normal)…. and there must be 5 different looking types of honey bees. I did find and kill the yj nest a couple of days ago. Needless to say from everything I read, the colony will most likely die? Very bummed indeed. Any suggestions what to do? Just wait to get new pkg in spring?

    • Janet,

      This is a good example of what happens when you can’t open and inspect a hive. You don’t know what’s going on because you can’t see, and I can’t help you much either. That queen you saw may have been a virgin attempting a mating flight, but it would be helpful to know whether there were queen cells in there. Any yellowjacket going in or out of a hive is a very bad sign, too.

      Did you start your colony with starter strips in the hive? I have started a number of top-bar hives and always had perfectly straight comb by using starter strips. Now that yours made crooked comb, new bees will attempt to put comb in the same place the old comb was. I would completely scrape every bit of wax off the bars and then put in starter strips that are a little longer than usual to try to get them off on the right foot. If you see even a little crosswise comb, go in there in fix it. Until you get combs you can inspect, you will continue to have have problems managing your colony.

      • Thanks for responding. I had thought about a mating flight, but what ever the reason for her leaving, neither is any good, since both mean the demise of the colony (pretty sure no drones were around to mate with). I built the hive, but I didn’t have the tools to make the topbars with the “v” starter, so I bought them off of the internet from a topbar bee keeper. The “V” was not very deep, which I was concerned about. I had already decided to flip the bars over for next year, put a grove in and insert large popsicle sticks. This would be a better guide. What do I do with the bees that are still in there? Just let them die?


  • Hi,
    I’m in Texas and we have a lot of Paper Wasps, which look like YJs but are larger and build nests that look like open paper comb which hangs from the eaves. Paper wasps are considered beneficial, and I worry that our mosquito and other nuisance insect population would be much higher without them. I am a new beekeeper. We bought a house on small acreage in December, and there are ferrel bees living in the exterior walls. After a swarm, I purchased a deep brood box with frames, lid, etc, and a good set of tools in order to be ready for the next split. It happened sooner than I expected, so I actually had captured a swarm before I really knew what to do with it. Fortunately, I saw a flier for an introduction to beeekeeping course about 10 days later, and it was followed with an intermediate course which I’m about to complete. The hive is strong; not docile but not too aggressive. Since they’re ferrel bees from stock that has survived on its own on this land for at least a few years, I expect they’ll do well. Back to the question at hand – I have seen a few YJs around the house recently, but there are a TON of paper wasp nests and mud daubbers around. I think the previous owner would just spray them all, so this is probably the first or second season where the wasps have been allowed to propogate unhindered by man/woman. I started worrying that the wasps, being polinators, would harm the bee colony by taking polen and nectar that the bees might be used to having. Now that I’ve been reading about the threat from YJs, I’m concerned that the wasp population might pose a direct threat to the hive(s). We are new to country life, and while we let Paper Wasps build & live on our city home, we had just .13 acres of land & about 32 linear feet of eaves. So the population never grew to the level we’re seeing here. We also didn’t have hives to consider. YJs are predatory and aggressive, PWs are parasitic and typically are not aggressive to humans. Both are beneficial to farming. Are both dangerous to bees & hives? Or is it only the YJs I need to worry about?

    • Dwayne,

      Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never heard of paper wasps being a threat to honey bee colonies. I have lots of paper wasps and mud daubers, but I’ve never seen them around the honey bee hives, only the yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets. If I were you, I would just watch and see what happens. If the yellowjackets start to bother your hives, then using a robbing screen will protect the hive from all types of wasps. But if you have a strong hive and no one bothers it, then you are home free.

      Paper wasps generally have much smaller colonies than yellowjackets, so I don’t anticipate a problem. When a yj finds a food source, it reports back to the colony much like honey bees do, and hoards can descend on a hive. But with the smaller paper wasp colonies, there would hardly be enough to overpower a honey bee colony, and one paper wasp nest would not alert another paper wasp nest of a find.

  • Thanks so much Rusty!

    I haven’t seen any issues with the hive yet. I just happened to start wondering whether the bees were having to compete with the wasps for food. Once I started searching and kept finding horror stories about hives being attacked by YJs, I became concerned that they posed a direct threat. However I haven’t found anything on the impact of other wasps or mud daubers on beekeeping (if any).

    As I said we’re new to the country environment, and we want to be as respectful and educated as possible before we start interfering with it.

    I really appreciate your quick reply. It’s nice to find a blog that’s actively monitored.

  • Rusty,

    First year beekeeper and I have been having issues with yellowjackets. I cannot find the nest anywhere. It must be in a neighbor’s yard. I have tried yellowjacket traps store bought and homemade. They don’t work so good. So I got thinking about this.

    I have a flowtron bug zapper. So I got a chicken carcass and made a little hole for it about 10 feet from my beehive put the chicken carcass in the hole then put the electric bug zapper on top of it. It works great at killing yellow jackets. My girls don’t go near it.

  • Do you know anything about meat eating bees? I was told that meat eating bees were part of the wasp family. Are meat eating bees really meat eating wasps or yellowjackets? I live in California and it is the end of September and I have a meat eating wasp nest in my Italian cypress that is next to my front steps. I am trying to reseal my front steps and railings and these wasps are coming after me. They attacked my cousin last week because she was trimming the Italian cypress branches away from the steps and railing. I have sprayed wasp and hornet bug spray at night into the holes the wasps have been coming out of but they are still around and surviving. The beekeeper that came out said to put sugar water into a wasp trap. Will this catch the wasps this late in the season? I don’t want my neighbors or myself to get stung by the wasps. Is there anything else that you can suggest that I could try to kill the wasps? Also will the freeze kill all the wasps in the Italian cypress or will they continue to use it as a hive for future generations of wasps? I hope you can answer these questions for me. Thank you.

    • Laurie,

      “Meat bee” is a term used to describe wasps, including yellowjackets. An actual bee doesn’t eat meat. Instead, bees eat pollen and nectar.

      So yes, they are wasps. The colony will not live year to year if you have a hard freeze. The freezing weather will kill the entire colony including the old queen. However, if you live in warmer parts of California, they can survive from year to year.

      In the spring new queens, which overwinter in some protected spot away from the nest, will begin a new nest. Although a queen might choose the same spot, she probably will not.

  • Hi Rusty:

    Just lost what I thought was my strongest hive to yellowjackets. When I took the hive apart there was nothing left–no honey or bees and lots of torn comb. I have three other hives, two of which have a single super. The one without a super is next to the hive which was invaded. The others are at least 6-8 feet away. So far the three hives do not appear to have been invaded by the yellowjackets. I am not sure if I should leave the supers on for winter or take them off. If I remove the supers I would probably have to feed syrup. I have been leery about putting syrup out for fear that it might attract the yellowjackets to the other hives. If I leave them on should I put the quilts on on top of the super and should I leave a shim in-between the super and the quilt box for feeding candy if needed? Please let me know your thoughts.


    • Peg,

      If you want an answer, you need to say where you are.

      In most areas with winter, the yellowjackets should be gone by now, in warmer areas maybe not. How much honey to leave on also depends on your location. Quilts go above supers. You can leave a shim in place or add one when you need it.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Great info. I should have read this information sooner, then perhaps I wouldn’t have lost this hive.

    Have been seeing yj around in increasing numbers. Saw them coming and going in another hive that was weak and then combined that hive elsewhere. Today the weather in Western NC was a perfect, warm day, ahead of a really plummeting cold snap. Took the opportunity to breakdown and combine my last weak hive. When I went in, I was ready to smash a yellowjacket that I saw on top of my frames, but suddenly realized it was my queen, a marked yellow queen that was the only bee in this hive…. no eggs, brood or bees… no yj either. I had to dispatch this queen. Two hives are left and one entrance reducer closed on bottom and opened on the small top setting as of now.

  • Thanks for posting on this thread, very useful and helpful info that I will continue to follow. I had a wild honey bee colony in a willow tree that I was observing. I have a hive set up but have not yet gotten started and found it ironic that Mother Nature put one right in my backyard from which to learn. I spent many hours observing and checking on this wild colony. In late summer it was robbed by some mammal as the first few rows of comb were completely missing. I put 1/4” mesh over the 3-inch diameter knot hole. However, the colony must have been weakened (and I’m learning now from your posts that the entrance was too large to defend) such that the next time I checked yj were going in and out as they pleased.

    Interestingly, there were also honey bees going in and out as well but none of these honey bees had pollen on their legs, etc so I am thinking that these were bees from another colony coming to gather alongside the creepy yj. It was end of summer here in Northern IL but still plenty of flowers around with bees on them. Also, it was fast, but I am pretty sure one of the honey bees left carrying something white: comb, pupae? When I order a queen/nuc this spring to get my own hive started, I was thinking of ordering an extra queen and placing in the willow. I will think of something to make the hole smaller as well.

    Questions: do you think that indeed those honey bees were from another colony or even this colony trying to get with another honey bee colony by bringing food? Do you think introducing a queen to this hole in the tree will work? Do you have any ideas regarding materials to use to reduce the hole size but be safe for bees?

    Thank you so much for this thread as I have learned quite a bit!

    • JMom,

      It certainly sounds like the colony was getting robbed by both yellowjackets and other honey bees. Unfortunately, that is a common situation. If they cleaned out the stored food, the colony is unlikely to make it until spring. If they do make it, trying to put a new queen in there without first removing the old queen will most likely result in the death of the new queen. If they don’t have a queen, they probably won’t make it till spring.

      If you want to make the hole smaller, just add a piece of wood or something solid over part of the hole, but leave enough space for the bees to come and go.

  • I have a honey bee nest under my slabs on my path leading to my house it’s been there 2 years but I have found these tiny wasps attacking them and there are so many how can I get rid of these wasps I have killed 2 big wasps but these tiny ones are still coming and there are lots of them plus it’s now hard to walk up my path as there are so many tiny wasps.

    • Michaela,

      I sincerely doubt you have a honey bee nest under the slabs on your path. You may have something like Andrena bees and the cleptoparasitic bees that invade their nests. There is no way I can tell from your description.

  • Hello Rusty,

    When the wasps (yellowjackets) start to become a pest I put up bait stations in my apiary with sweet feed to attract the wasps, after a week and a steady flow of wasps I shut the station down to single wasp hole only and replace the bait with fishy cheap cat food with four drop of Frontline cat flea treatment which contains fipronil. The wasps take the food back to the nest to feed the larva and queen, problem sorted and the bees don’t go near the meat and the hole being so small only the wasp enter so nothing else can feed on it. The dose is very small in the over the counter flea treatments but enough to kill the wasps.

    • Sean,

      That’s a solution I haven’t heard before. Interesting, too. I might give it a try—the wasps were crazy around here this year.

  • Hi Rusty, I don’t know if you had an unusually bad problem with yellowjackets fall 2018 but we sure did in eastern WA. This is despite putting out traps for the queens this spring. I just heard through the local grapevine that the local forest service has introduced “parasitic wasps’ locally and so I did some research. I couldn’t find anything about local efforts but did find some in other locales. I don’t think these bother honey bees but I hold my breath every time they do something like this. Unintended consequences. Have you heard anything on your end? Thank you. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/army-tiny-chinese-wasps-save-colorado-trees-emerald-ash-borer/ http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/20/asian-wasp-species-could-combat-invasive-beetle.html

    • Elena,

      I knew they were looking at this wasp, but I didn’t know they were going through with it. I don’t think it will hurt honey bees as they have an entirely different lifestyle, but introductions always make me nervous. Who knows what they may ultimately affect?

  • I’m sorry. One more related question. Somewhere in your plethora of good info, I read that you’d gone to just one upper entrance. I did that and have a strong colony, but did see traffic jams during nectar flow and very warm days. Am I creating an unnecessary stressor? Do you think I should open up a little more, even is yellow jackets are on the prowl?

    • Elena,

      I close off upper entrances during nectar dearths and in the fall, and I keep a robbing screens on the bottom entrance all year long.

  • Great thread Rusty.

    So, I don’t keep honey bees (yet). We have wild bees (or someone locally keeps them) and they are not a problem to us at all.

    However I wanted to share my story about learning about yellowjackets and what I do about them.

    I live on Vancouver Island (Canada) and about 5 years ago we had a HUGE yellowjacket hive in the attic, the attic was unused at the time and there was the odd sting to the kids when eating outdoors in the late summer. As identified earlier in the thread, this is the time that most of the colony is just waiting to die and are just jerks. We would kill them when we could with the electric zapper rackets which is terribly inefficient and didn’t know any better.

    A couple of years ago one of my twins developed an anaphylactic reaction and ended up in hospital which changed my attitude to the little menaces! They picked a fight with the wrong dad.

    Here is what I learned:

    At the end of the season YJ’s send out a large number of potential future queens and they find new places to hide through the winter, our winters are fairly mild so the survival rate is high, while typical YJ’s have a radius of 300+ feet between hives I have been finding them 50 feet from each other. Last season within a 900 foot radius of my home I terminated 9, yes 9 hives. And yes these were ALL YJ’s.

    I have become very good at tracking them, we have all heard of the bee line, well this comes unsurprisingly from our little winged friend that when they are ready to return home they go in a straight line to the hive, well not surprisingly YJ’s do the same thing, once the first brood start hatching they become a lot more busy scraping 2X4’s to increase the hive size and bringing home the bacon (I find sausage the most effective attractant personally) so to speak, we’re talking mid July.

    I see a lot of comments about taking out YJ’s one by one, no no no, give them a nice greasy meat to go after (soda, honey, whatever give them a smorgasbord to choose from if you want) NOW comes the important part. Which way do they go? track them! After you find the hive wait till dusk and take out the whole colony.

    If you have the same over growth that we experience in our mild winter climate then this may take a few times as they may be coming from a number of different hives, and may have different times of day that each hive visits. Yes they take turns here and if YJ’s from another hive cross over times there will be mini battles and if you see YJ’s battling the you can be sure there are competing hives and social structure says “it’s our turn at this hummingbird feeder” (or smorgasbord trap).

    DO NOT wait until September or the future queens will be starting to scout wintering locations and you’ll just have to start over again, like me this season. I knew there was still an active hive nearby at end of last summer and just have more hunting to do now 🙁

    Try this, let me know how it goes for you and eradicate these invasive wasps. When you find this works very efficiently share the technique, take the credit for all I care, just crush these little evil characters, there are enough mud wasps and paper wasps that aren’t menaces and much more efficient at tending your garden.

    Tracking can take time without the meat because they rip it off and carry a bunch home I found sugary stuff made them a little unpredictable when leaving like a kid at a birthday party after the cake, kinda ‘all over the place’ meat is business, they eat some and carry some home and come back quick with friends.

    Follow the bee line and you will find the hive, I promise.

    • James,

      Very interesting account. I never thought of bee-lining them, but I will have to give it a try.