What Do Yellow Jackets Eat and Drink?

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When talking about wasps, few create more fear than the yellow jacket.

These aggressive critters will attack without mercy if their nest is disturbed.

But these pests don’t drink blood like mosquitoes or biting midges, so just what do yellow jackets eat and drink, and how can you use this info to protect yourself?

Before we answer these questions, it’s important to look at a few myths about these stinging insects.

Some Common Yellow Jackets Myths

what a yellow jacket looks like

There are several key myths about these critters that need to be addressed before we can talk about food.

This is because most people don’t understand what a yellow jacket colony does for a living – and sometimes fail to identify them completely!

Myth #1:  Yellow Jackets Are Bees

When you look at photos of this critter, it’s easy to mistake it for a bee.

The common species tend to have yellow and black stripes just like a bee.

However, these critters are actually a type of predatory social wasp.

While you may not want to get close enough to check, wasps have no hair while all bees have at least some hairs (and many are quite furry).

Myth #2:  All Yellowjackets Are Yellow

This is a very common myth, mainly because the most notable exception isn’t even called a yellowjacket.

This species is instead known as the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) and is black with white markings.

Myth #3:  There’s Only One Species of Yellowjacket

As you might have guessed by the previous myth, there are actually quite a few species out there.

In fact, there are two different genera, Vespula spp. (28 species) and Dolichovespula spp. (23 species), that are known as yellowjackets.

Myth #4:  Yellowjacket Nests Are Underground

This is only partially true.

Vespula yellow jacket nests are usually underground while Dolichovespula nests tend to be aerial.

How These Myths Affect Yellowjacket Diets

When talking about yellowjacket diets, it’s important to acknowledge how diverse this type of wasp actually is.

By understanding that they come in different colors and only some have underground nests, it’s easier to see why their diet is also quite varied.

See Also: What Do Baby Wasps Look Like?

What Do Yellow Jackets Eat and Drink?

yellow jacket drinking

So now that we understand there are different kinds of yellowjacket, let’s take a look at their diet.


It may sound strange, but wasps won’t pass up a good meal, even if it’s a carcass.

They can often be found harvesting roadkill and other meats alongside flies (and sometimes harvesting the flies as well).


Many species, such as the Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) are avid insectivores.

They hunt a lot of common pests, such as caterpillars, crickets, earwigs, flies, and grubs.


These wasps are actually valuable pollinators.

As they travel from one plant to another, they’ll drink plant nectar or tree sap.

While they don’t actually eat plants (with the occasional exception of fallen fruit), they will chew wood fiber to make a building material for their nests.

Scavenged Goods

Unfortunately, this habit can get them (and you) in trouble.

Many human foods can attract yellowjackets, especially sugary foods and drinks.

They don’t mean to crash your picnic, the smell just reminds them of their regular diet.

Sadly, this often leads to yellow jacket stings and the risk of allergic reactions when adult yellowjackets get a bit too close to your lunch.

It’s also one of the reasons yellowjackets are often confused with sweat bees.

Related: What Do Wasps Eat?

Living With Yellow Jackets

yellow jackets nest

Nobody wants a yellow jacket nest on their property, but these wasps are actually quite beneficial.

They’re good for your garden, both as pollinators and as pest predators.

Unfortunately, they’re also attracted to human food sources such as garbage cans, pet food, and any drippings left on your barbecue grill.

Even worse, if you accidentally threaten or harm one of these social insects, the entire colony’s female worker population will attempt to swarm you.

Aerial nests pose less risk than a ground nest under your lawn.

Thus, it’s a good idea to find out where the nest is and decide whether or not the nest will pose a threat to your family.

If the answer’s yes, it might be best to hire a pest control professional rather than try to fight these aggressive little bugs yourself.

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