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'Twas the month of December when all through the nest
Not a creature was stirring not even a pest;

The honey was stored in the super with care in hopes that St. Ambrose soon would be there;

All little bees were nestled all snug in their hives while visions of honey drops danced in their eyes;

And Queen in her crown and I in my hat had just settled down for a long winter’s nap; when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter I sprang from my house to see what was the matter.

Away to the bee yard I flew like a flash tore open the lid and threw it in the grass.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear but yellowjackets and robbers buzzing around my ears!

More rapid than honeybees and a lot less tame, I shouted and called them by name;

"Now yellowjackets and robbers starting this brawl Dash away dash away gone with you all!"

With my hive tool and knowledge of beekeeping at hand I made traps and reduced entrances so these thieves would disband.

And putting my suit away feeling the victor I feel much safer now going into winter!

Photo Credit:

Yellowjackets: The Unwanted Guests

If only it were that easy! These thieves of the day are more than just pests for sure. It's interesting to learn that yellowjackets can soon follow a robbing frenzy. Who knew?

With winter knocking at our door and nature's food resources getting scarcer, robbing can become a huge problem! One of these unwanted robbing pests are yellowjackets. These yellow and black 'stripey things' aren’t sweet like our little honeybees. On the contrary, they are MEAN! And to top it off they have it out for our bees!

Yellowjackets are in the wasp family and feed on our bees' larva, brood, bee bread, and pretty much anything they want inside our colonies.

Ironically the robbing from other bees tends to start first and then the yellowjackets take the opportunity to go in while our bees are distracted.

We do have ammunition though. You can purchase yellowjacket bait traps commonly found at your local box store or make your own.

DIY Yellowjacket Traps

yellowjacket trap
Photo Credit:
  1. Fill a 2-liter bottle with about a cup (give or take) of sugar syrup (light or heavy). Or if you don’t want to accidentally trap honeybees - meat, fish, chicken, or some rotting fruit will also work. Sugar syrup seems to be the preferred method because it’s easily made and the container can be cleaned and reused time and time again.
  2. You can either leave the bottle intact or cut the top third of the bottle off (the neck portion) and place the inverted cut top back down into the cut opening downward.
  3. This is a rather elementary trap. The pest enters through the funnel top and can’t manage to get back out. Cheap and easy!

Proactive Measures Against Robbing

A proactive approach to robbing can be achieved by reducing your hive entrances. We typically suggest reducing them during colder weather anyway. Or some beekeepers use robbing screens year-round as a nonstop means to stop robbing before it even starts.

I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your woodenware in good condition. Robbers, no matter the species, will take full advantage of any opening available (e.g., separating seams or worn places where boxes meet). Take the time during the cold weather to do maintenance on your hive boxes.

yellowjacket beehive
This box needs repair and painting

Tracking Yellowjackets

You can actually track the yellowjackets to their nest! I know— if you’re really bored, right?

Take a clear plastic cup and put a small amount of powdered sugar in the bottom. Then catch a yellowjacket in the cup and quickly cover it with something it can’t sting through. Give a quick shake to coat it in the powdered sugar and then release it. The now white yellowjacket will quickly fly away, hopefully to its nest. Your job is to follow it!

It may take 20-30 attempts but eventually you’ll locate the nest, giving you the opportunity to destroy it. Unlike our bees, they build their nests in trees, shrubs, or places like flowerpots, as well as in soil cavities in the ground, tree stumps, etc. Also they don’t use wax to build their comb but instead the nests are made from wood fiber chewed into a paper-like pulp to form cells.

Always have Robbing Screens available!

Dealing with Yellowjacket Nests

In the event you find the nest you can either use a pesticide rated for wasps and yellowjackets or take a pot of boiling water and pour it down the entrance to the nest. It is really important to be well suited for this event and it’s even suggested to do this at night.

Author's caution: I’ve made light of tracking yellowjackets but please understand there is danger of serious stings from these very mean wasps. They can and will sting you given the opportunity. I’ve seen pictures of huge nests and you would not want to go unprepared.

Giant yellowjacket nest
Photo by Andrew R. Jenson 1953
Giant yellowjacket nest located four miles north of Tennille Florida


Now that you know about the yellowjacket and its mission you can better calculate your current position.

Protecting our bees and their honey although hard work is sure to save us money!

With determination and commitment to healthy thriving bees as our plight, ‘Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.’

Next article Dead Hive: What do I do?