common aerial yellowjacket

(Dolichovespula arenaria)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

not yet assessed


No Image Available


NNR - Unranked


not listed








Total Length: to ¾


This is a medium-sized, predatory, social wasp. Adults are to ¾ long. The stout body is slightly wider than the head.

There are two large compound eyes, one on each side of the head; and three small simple eyes (ocelli) at the top of the head between the compound eyes. The distance between the rear ocellus and the hind margin of the upper surface of the head (vertex) is no more than the diameter of one ocellus. The gap between the jaw (mandible) and the compound eye is broad, about two times the diameter of one ocellus. The upper (dorsal) space between the compound eyes is entirely black—there is no yellow “eye loop”. There is a yellow band behind the compound eye. It is continuous to the mandible, not interrupted, but is usually narrowed or notched in the middle. The face is yellow with a single black spot variable in size and shape.

There is an elevated ridge (carina) around the pronotum. It is yellow and is interrupted at the apex (nearest to the head). The dorsal surface of the thorax (pronotum) is black with no stripes down the middle.

The antennae are long and black.

The abdomen of the female has six segments, while that of the male has seven segments. The upper plate (tergum) of each abdominal segment is yellow with black markings. On the first and sometimes the second tergum the yellow hind (posterior) margin is broken by black in the middle (medially). On workers there are no isolated black spots on tergum 2 through 5. The queen has isolated black spots on tergum 2 through 5 but also has the characteristic broken yellow margin of tergum 1.

The legs are yellow.

The wings are smoky and clear.



Larval Food

Pre-chewed fragments of caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects.

Adult Food

Live arthropods, including caterpillars and lady beetles; young hummingbirds; plant nectar; juices of ripe fruits.

Life Cycle

In the spring a queen emerges from hibernation, mates, and chooses a nesting site. In early summer she builds a papery nest above ground into which she deposits eggs. When the eggs hatch she feeds the young and continues laying eggs. These young become workers and take over the care of new young and the expansion of the nest. Nest size peaks in mid-summer and dwindle in size through the late summer and fall. In Minnesota the nests do not survive the winter. Males die soon after mating. Old queens and workers are killed by cold weather in the fall, while new queens hibernate.


Workers of this species are able to spray venom in the presence of a threat. This is thought to release pheromones that attract other workers to attack the threat.

Distribution Distribution Map  

Sources: 29, 30.





Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies)



Apocrita (wasps, ants and bees)


No Rank:




Vespoidea (vespoid wasps)



Vespidae (wasps)



Vespinae (hornets and yellowjackets)


Vespula arenaria


aerial yellowjacket

common aerial yellowjacket

sandhills hornet








An elevated ridge of a body wall of an insect, as in the pronotal carina of many grasshoppers.



Simple eye; an eye with a single lens. Plural: ocelli.



The saddle-shaped, exoskeletal plate on the upper side of the first segment of the thorax of an insect.



The upper (dorsal), hardened plate on a segment of the thorax or abdomen of an arthropod. Plural: terga.



The upper surface of an insect’s head.






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  Common Aerial Yellowjacket
Dennis Cheasebro
  Common Aerial Yellowjacket  



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Other Videos
  Dolichovespula arenaria

Published on Jun 19, 2012

  Common Aerial Yellowjacket (Vespidae: Dolichovespula arenaria) on Blossom
Carl Barrentine

Uploaded on Aug 8, 2010

Photographed at Itasca State Park, Minnesota (06 August 2010).

  Inside The Wasp's Nest Vol. 1 - Aerial Yellowjacket - RE-UPLOADED IN HIGH QUALITY
Andy Wehrle

Uploaded on Feb 5, 2009

I am re-uploading this video so that the "Watch in High Quality" option will be available.

This is a movie I made using footage of a tree nest a friend found across the street from his house in 2003, and the nest built under our deck out back in 2004. The aerial yellowjacket, species Dolichovespula arenaria, looks very similar to the pesky ground-nesting yellowjackets in the genus Vespula, and builds aboveground nests very similar to those of the larger baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata.

The video ends with the complete footage from the short disturbed-nest clip I used to have up, "Yellowjacket Attack". It shows the entire duration of the swarm and the yellowjackets beginning to calm down.

Here is an excellent close-up video of another disturbed nest of this species taken by someone much braver than I (they stayed behind the camera during the assault):

  Very Large Aerial Yellowjacket nest (Dolichovepula Arenaria)

Uploaded on Mar 29, 2009

this is a nest i found built under the roof over my friends mobile home. I found this nest when it was the size of a nickle and watched it grow all summer. it is now part of my collection.




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