What types of wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets live in Alaska?
It’s no secret that these insects are the leading cause of screaming at outdoor events! Most of the species below can’t resist investigating a soda or sugary treat. 🙂
Despite their negative reputation, wasps and hornets have fascinating lives. In addition, many are beneficial because of the amount of pests they eat in your yard. They are also important pollinators!
But you do need to be careful around most types of wasps and hornets, especially if you approach their nest. They can become VERY aggressive when defending their home.
3 COMMON Wasps & Hornets in Alaska:
#1. Bald-faced Hornet
- Dolichovespula maculata
Also called the Bald-faced Aerial Yellowjacket, Bald-faced Wasp, Bald Hornet, White-faced Hornet, Blackjacket, White-tailed Hornet, Spruce Wasp, and Bull Wasp.
- They have black bodies with ivory markings on their faces, legs, thoraxes, and abdomens.
- Look for three white stripes at the ends of their bodies.
Bald-faced Hornets are named for the ivory markings on their face. Despite the name, these insects aren’t true hornets. They’re actually a type of yellowjacket.
Bald-face Hornets don’t have a pleasant reputation in Alaska.
They aggressively defend their nests and can sting repeatedly. But while their appearance and nests can be scary, they’re pretty handy to have around (as long as the nest isn’t close to human habitation).
First, the adults feed on nectar and help to pollinate flowers. In addition, they also kill and eat other types of yellowjackets! Sometimes, in early summer, a nest will be so full of yellowjacket remains that it will have a yellowish cast! Unless their nest is somewhere you’ll come into contact with it, it’s best to leave them be.
I’m sure you have spotted one of their nests before. They are large, papery, and football-shaped. The queen builds these nests by chewing wood material and mixing it with her saliva to make a paste.
Bald-faced Hornet queens usually hang their nests from shrubs or trees. Sometimes, they’ll use other spots, including rocks, buildings, and other artificial materials. The queen typically continues creating workers into the summer until the nest has 100 to 400 individuals!
#2. Common Aerial Yellowjacket
- Dolichovespula arenaria
Also called the Sandhills Hornet and Common Yellow Hornet.
- Black with yellow markings and smoky, clear wings.
- They have stout bodies that are slightly wider than their heads.
Common Aerial Yellowjackets can adapt to various habitats in Alaska. Typically, you’ll spot their papery nests on trees and shrubs, but they will sometimes build them on the side of homes in urban and suburban areas.
These wasps are formidable defenders of their nest and can sting multiple times like other yellowjackets. But this species also has another trick up its sleeve:
Common Aerial Yellowjackets can spray venom at attackers. This venom contains an alarm pheromone, which also helps alert other workers to help defend the nest.
The nest is made from saliva and chewed-up woody material turned into a paste.
These yellowjackets commonly feed high in the trees. In the spring and summer, they prey on various insects, including lacewings, lady beetles, caterpillars, spiders, flies, grasshoppers, and crickets. They will also occasionally eat young hummingbirds and carrion. Much of this protein-rich food is given to the larvae.
Later in the summer and fall, Common Aerial Yellowjackets spend more time going after sugary foods. They’re common sights feeding on fallen fruit in orchards, visiting trash cans, and hovering around sugary drinks and foods at picnics.
#3. Alaska Yellowjacket
- Vespula alascensis
Also called the Common Yellowjacket.
- Black and yellow bodies with yellow legs.
- Yellow eyerings, which have dark interruptions on the tops and behind the eyes.
- They have broad black bands leading from the base of their antennae to the tops of their heads.
Our knowledge of this species has taken some interesting twists! The Alaska Yellowjacket was first described and named by American entomologist and paleontologist Alpheus Spring Packard Jr. in 1870. Unfortunately, the information he gathered on this species was lost just a year later in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871!
After this point, the Alaska Yellowjacket (Vespula alascensis) was treated as a synonym for the similar-looking European Wasp (Vespula vulgaris). The Alaska Yellowjacket wasn’t recognized as a separate species until 2010!
Like many yellowjacket species in Alaska, they typically build underground nests, which may help shelter them from hot or cold temperatures. They often build nests around areas of human habitation.
The adults are attracted to all things sweet, which is one of the reasons they’re often closely associated with people. Human food and garbage make for excellent food sources in addition to the nectar they gather from flowers.
Learn about other creatures in Alaska:
Which of these wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets have you seen before in Alaska?
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