Yellow jackets aren't just annoying members of the wasp family that ruin picnics and pool parties, they contribute their fair share to the approximately 90 deaths a year caused by serious allergic reactions to insect stings. Dealing with these small wasps is easier when you know the facts about their behavior instead of believing the myths that surround them. Bust these four common myths so you can protect yourself, whether you have a life-threatening allergy or not.

Yellow Jackets Only Sting When Provoked

It is true that most wasps, hornets, and bees only sting when their nest is threatened or they're angered by a swatting hand. This means you can largely avoid them by being careful. However, don't apply this rule to yellow jackets. They're one of the most aggressive members stinging insects found in North America, and they absolutely will sting you without provocation. If you love being outdoors in the summer and live in an area with a high concentration of these wasps, try some basic safety precautions like:

  • Hiring a pest control company to treat your yard to eliminate ground and hanging nests
  • Staying away from sources of either sugar or protein, like grills and trash cans full of soda cans and candy wrappers
  • Sticking to shaded areas, since yellow jackets are more active and aggressive when in full sun.

Yellow Jackets Only Sting Once

All bees and some wasps only sting once and then die because their stingers stick into your skin and damage their bodies in the process. However, the yellow jacket keeps its stinger and a single insect can keep pumping venom into you. This makes it crucial to kill the insect as quickly as possible after the first or second sting to limit the amount of venom and therefore control the reaction. Of course, destroying the insect releases a pheromone that attracts other yellow jackets, so you'll need to flee the area and find an insect-free place to hide at the same time.

Yellow Jackets All Cause the Same Reaction

It's a common misconception that all small yellow and black wasps are yellow jackets, and that they're from a single species. In fact, there are many different yellow jacket species, and each once has a unique venom with its own set of side effects. This means you can have little to no reaction to the sting of one species, then suffer from a severe or even life-threatening reaction when stung by a different type. This myth is particularly dangerous for people who assume they aren't allergic to bee and wasp stings because they've experienced yellow jacket stings without a serious reaction.

Yellow Jacket Venom Changes in Potency

Another myth claims that yellow jacket stings are weaker during the spring and early summer, then grow in strength or venom level as the summer turns to early fall. Researchers have shown that this simply isn't true. A sting in April is just as likely to cause an allergic reaction as one in September, although the chances of being stung at all do change throughout the year. Don't assume that you're safe to be stung just because the yellow jackets are newly emerged from their nests.

Yellow Jacket Allergies Go Away with Exposure

While some forms of allergy treatment do use controlled exposure to the allergen to tone down the body's natural response, this doesn't mean you should let yourself get stung to get rid of your allergies. Being stung by a yellow jacket does nothing to condition your immune system. Immunotherapy treatments for patients with life-threatening systemic allergies involve very low doses of the venom that gradually increase over long periods of time, not a few high doses spread far apart.

For more information to dispel these and other myths, visit resources like