Why are These Yellow Jackets Dying in My Garage?

The Question: I first noticed in my garage that a lot of small bugs that look like small yellowjackets were lying around dead around the windows inside the garage. First I thought that the spiders that live there were catching them, but I’ve never seen these yellowjackets in this area before.
I don’t know where they might be coming from and why they are congregating to die. Now I’m finding them inside my house. Where might they be coming from and why are they all dead? I’m very happy they are not alive and stinging inside my house, but I would like to know what the situation means.

Submitted by: Manuel, Atlanta, GA

The Not So Short Answer: These are almost certainly the Eastern Yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons, one of our most common yellowjackets, and the smallest yellowjacket (about 0.5 inches, 1.3 cm) in North America. I zoomed in on one part of your photo to show the characteristic shape of the black coloration on the first abdominal segment. According to Sam Droege, a biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, this typically takes a “boat anchor shape” in the Eastern Yellow Jacket. The two other common yellowjackets in Georgia would be the introduced German Yellowjacket (Vespula germanica – also called German wasp), which is slightly larger and has more of a diamond shape on the first abdominal segment, and the Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa), which usually has a connecting line in the first abdominal segment, and has two lengthwise yellow stripes on the thorax.

As to why you have Eastern yellowjackets in your garage, that’s something of a puzzle. Yellowjacket colonies die out each year, with only newly mated queens living over the winter. But September is a little early for a colony in Georgia to be calling it quits for the season. Some yellowjacket species nest readily in houses and garages, but the Eastern Yellowjacket generally doesn’t. They build paper nests in holes excavated underground. Mr. Droege wonders if you have a nest right near your house or garage. “This time of year, the colonies are at their peak but may be running low on available food. They may simply be moving into the house and garage while searching for yummy things (likely there is something that smells attractive in both places).  They then get disoriented and end up trying to get out near the window.

“Inside they won’t sting unless you accidentally sit on one…which can happen as they become weak and may end up crawling on the floor or on a chair or bed. Best bet is to go out in late afternoon when there is a strong sun and take a stroll around the yard.  There should be a parade of yellowjackets going in and out of the nest and the light at that time of day makes them stand out. If you feel you need to get rid of the colony, fill a gallon jug with water add a large amount of dishwashing soap, go out at night, dump it down the hole, put a rock on top and that should do it.  No need for dumping gasoline or poison down the hole during the day, which often just ends up with people getting stung.”

Given gasoline’s potential as a groundwater pollutant, it should never be dumped in the ground, and if you are allergic to bee stings, you should hire a professional to remove the colony, of course, but otherwise, you might just enjoy watching the yellowjackets coming and going, knowing that their days are numbered. And they don’t generally nest in the same place the next year, so whether you destroy the nest or not, they’ll be gone soon. (Although apparently, Southern Yellowjacket queens will sometimes take over an empty Eastern Yellowjacket nest.)

More Information: This question spurred me to look up something I’ve always wondered about: how to tell a bee from a wasp and how to tell a wasp from a hornet. So here’s the story:

Bees – generally plump and furry looking. Their legs usually don’t show when they’re flying. Examples are the familiar honeybees and bumblebees. Their food is nectar from flowers.

Wasps – generally thinner, without the furry look. Usually have two legs dangling when flying. Examples include yellowjackets and paper wasps. Most wasps are predatory or parasitic. Yellowjackets also go for fruit and human food, especially sugary drinks and meat.

Hornets – some species of wasps, usually fairly large ones, are called hornets. Examples include Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata – white and black) and the European hornet (Vespa crabro).

The Interesting Science: What do ants have to do with wasps? Well, funny you should ask, because ants are really a type of wasp. As the phylogeny (evolutionary history) below shows, the insect order Hymenoptera includes two Suborders, the Symphyta (sawflies) and the Apocrita (wasps). Within the Apocrita, there are the Parasitica, which includes a vast number of parasitic wasps, and the group of more interest to us right now, the Aculeata. If we go further into the Aculeata we find the Superfamily Apoidea (which includes the familiar honeybee, bumblebee and various bee-like wasps), the Superfamily Chrysidoidea (other wasps), and the Vespoidea. The Vespoidea includes the Family Vespidae, in which we find yellowjackets, paper wasps, and some other common wasps. And also within the Vespoidea is a very important family, the Formicidae – the ants.

So, nested down inside the evolutionary tree of wasps we find all the many species of ants. Traditionally, “wasp” has referred to any member of the Apocrita that is not a bee or an ant. So ants have not been considered to be wasps. That is largely because the original traditions of naming and categorizing animals were not based on evolutionary history (which was unknown at the time). More current conventions try to take evolutionary history into account. You may have heard people say, for example, that dinosaurs are not extinct because birds are really dinosaurs. That’s because if you look at the evolutionary tree of birds, you find that they are nested inside the evolutionary tree of dinosaurs – just the same way that ants are nested within the evolutionary tree of wasps.

Under a system of naming that takes evolutionary history into account, ants would be a variety of wasp – a very successful offshoot of the Vespoidea wasp lineage that includes those yellowjackets.

Hymenoptera Phylogeny

Thanks: My thanks to Sam Droege for his generous help. Mr. Droege is a researcher at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Station, operated by the United States Geological Survey, which despite the “Geological” in its name, is the federal government’s primary agency for wildlife research.

Cite this article as: Pelletier, TC. (September 26, 2010). Why are These Yellow Jackets Dying in My Garage? Retrieved from http://askanaturalist.com/why-are-these-yellow-jackets-dying-in-my-garage/ on November 12, 2019.

79 thoughts on “Why are These Yellow Jackets Dying in My Garage?”

  1. Hi,
    Have you had a chance to look at them and figure out if they are one of the species I talked about?

    Tom

  2. Interesting, I live in Black Mountain, NC and I’m seeing the same problem right now. We’re getting a ton of these suckers stuck in the house each day. I’m not sure where they’re coming from, but they end up dead around various windows around the house. I’d say I find 2 or 3 of these guys a day. When we do see them alive in the house, they seem rather lethargic and occasionally we see them buzzing around the recessed lighting.

  3. I’m glad that I’m not the only one to see this phenomena. I’ve never seen this before. Like Mike says. When we see them alive they seem lethargic (which is good), anyway, I’m more concerned with finding out where they are coming from. BTW, I lived in Fletcher and Mills River, NC before and never saw this there either.

  4. I’ve been having this same problem for about 3 years now. The first year, I found about 15 dead yellow jackets on the living room floor in one day. I’d find numerous ones about every other day for a few weeks. Now, it’s not so bad. About 5 total in one week. The first year I had an exterminator come by and he couldn’t figure out why they’re dead inside. He did remove a few nests from the eves of the house. He said there’s probably some nests inside the walls but I don’t want to rip open the walls because I don’t know exactly where they are. Any advice would help. I’m just thankful they’re not flying inside the house and stinging anyone.

  5. Christine,
    Can you take a close-up picture of the dead yellow jackets? It would help if we knew the species because some are known to nest in walls and some rarely do. What state are you in?

  6. Raleigh, NC
    I am seeing many yellowjackets in my bedroom this month of December and cannot find where they are coming from. Some are dead and some are lethargic and I am thinking about calling an exterminator, although I have been reading that they won’t live over the winter. It may not freeze here so I am worried that they may live through the winter and be more prevalant in the spring. I am also wondering if they bore through the siding and into the interior walls.

  7. Hi there. I also encountered a yellow jacket that i witnessed come out of my recessed light in my bathroom the other week! in the beginning of March… could there be a nest in my attic or a straggler that may have survived the cold winter in the attic above the recessed lighting.. i have no idea where this wasp could have come from since it is still pretty cold here in NY…any help would be appreciated.

  8. Michele,
    Have you seen any more? Are you pretty sure the one you saw was a yellow jacket? What state do you live in?

  9. Hi,we liven in a condo and have yellow jackets in our bedroom.we have everything sealed,new windows and yet,they are still coming inside 3-5 a day. We have no idea where are they coming from.no halls no cracks.they are only in this room. What can I do??? Please, let me know.

  10. Jz61, I don’t have an answer for you. If they are continuing to come in and they are bothering you, your best bet might be to call an exterminator. Sorry I can’t be over more help.

    Tom

  11. I’m pleased to have found this thread but it didn’t answer my concern. About two weeks ago, ALL of the paper wasps around my house abandoned their nests and vanished. The nest in my unused newspaper box, the numerous nests hanging from the eves of my house and even the nests in my unused storage building. All abruptly abandoned in mid August.

    Perhaps there is a spraying program for mosquitoes that is killing them but if so, it isn’t public knowledge. Hopefully, it is a local issue and not something that needs immediate study but feeling that I should report this someplace, this seems like a good place to start.

    I live inside the city limits and am located in the north east corner of Tennessee. I’m still seeing yellow jackets eating my fallen pears and apples but the number of wasps and bees seems to have dropped substantially.

    Is there a reasonable and natural explanation for this or have I observed the beginning of something that deserves attention ?

  12. Hi,Im having the exact same problem as finding the wasps,maybe one or two of them dying daily on my bathroom windowsill(never downstairs).I’m thinking then that there maybe a nest near the guttering.also I’m from Cardiff in south wales in the u.k and our wasps look exactly like your ones.

  13. I found one (seemed to be the German yellow jacket) in my shower about a month and a half ago, thought it was random. I then found a very small nest on my porch. Today I found another wasp in my shower.. I am confused. If they sneak in my patio screen… They pass the kitchen, a bathroom with a semi leaky faucet, 2 bedrooms, and through the master into the bathtub. My husband thinks they come in through the patio, but I don’t think there is any way they could randomly travel to the same place. There are really high ceilings in that bathroom with a skylight.. Just really confused. Any ideas? I can post a picture of the first wasp if needed. (I live in northern California)

  14. It could be that they are getting into your house randomly, but there’s something about the bathroom, maybe the skylight, that makes them think that’s the way back out. Have you seen any more?

  15. I have found dead yellow jackets in my living room I. Connecticut . I have no idea where they came from . They are on the windowsills.

  16. We have found numerous yellow jackets in our upstairs bedroom and bathroom over the past 4 days – 7 yesterday alone in the bedroom. Today we found 1 in the downstairs bathroom. This is mid-march in NJ…. Do you think this activity is worth an exterminators visit?

    It looks like we have the Eastern version with an anchor shape at the top of the second abdominal section.

    Pic here:
    https://www.icloud.com/photostream/#A5JtdOXmJEd7lU

  17. Hi Parker,
    I think what you have is actually a paper wasp. It’s a bit tricky, but what you’re seeing on the abdomen isn’t quite wide enough to be the “anchor” shape of an Eastern Yellowjacket. Also, note the orange/red end of the antennae, and the narrower body.

    Because I think this is a paper wasp, you should look under your eaves to see if there is a hanging nest. That’s where they usually nest and there might be some hole or gap where they are getting into the house. The good news is that they make smaller colonies than yellow jackets. If you find a paper wasp nest, you mgiht want to call an exterminator.

    I use the “knock it down with a long pole and run method” but it’s risky to be sure. And often, the wasps will just rebuild in the same location. They’re hard to discourage.

    The other option is to just leave them alone, or try to close the gap that is allowing them into the house. They don’t generally sting unless you bother them … by doing something like knocking down the nest with a long pole.

  18. Thank you Tom for the response and the identification!!

    Looking now I definitely see that we are looking at the European paper wasp. (Found another 7 today around the windows). I can’t see a nest around the outside if the house, need to get a ladder and look closer, but I think from my google searching and the timing of this emergence that maybe these are females looking to start new colonies?

    I found this quote here : http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05611.html

    “Female wasps that were fertilized the previous fall survive winter in protected sites in and around a yard. When they emerge from overwintering shelters, they may be seen on warm days as they seek sites to establish new nests. Earliest activity is sometimes seen in the first half of March.”

    Today was a very sunny day, not too warm, but warmer than we have had and inside the house is already that much warmer….

    Just a thought, and one that disturbs me not a little to think about multiple colonies developing inside of our home!

    Going to call an exterminator tomorrow, hopefully this kind of hunt (maybe capture and release?) is not unfamiliar.

  19. Parker,

    Thanks for that link. I don’t think the paper wasps really want to be IN your house. There’s little food for them there, after all. You might be right that these are overwintering females waking up for spring. If so, they’re looking for a way OUT. The best solution might be to deal with these females as best you can and then find whatever access the wasps are using to get into your house and have an exterminator close it. That might keep them from building a nest again this year.

    My own feeling about yellow jackets and wasps is that they aren’t dangerous enough to warrant spraying toxic pesticides all over my house, but I’d make that judgment differently if a member of the family were allergic. And I’ve used pesticides to kill termites that were trying to EAT my house, so I’d be a hypocrite if I said don’t ever use pesticides. Everyone has to decide that balance for themselves. But I always first look for physical methods of preventing insects and rodents from accessing my house.

  20. Hi, help, I don’t know if I need to call an exterminator or not. Over the summer I saw yellow jackets flying up by the roofline of my home. I know, should have done something but just kept putting it off. It’s now November and I keep finding them IN my home. Typically in our downstairs bathroom and on the curtains by the dining room large window. All but one thus far have been pretty lethargic, but it’s scaring me as I have small kids!! I thought come the cold weather they would die, but it’s the middle of November and now they come in the house? Will they die on their own, or do I need to call someone?

  21. Hi Jennifer,

    I’m not an expert on yellow jackets, but I think they all do tend to go dormant, at least in the northern half of the country. But I can’t be sure of that. You might want to call an exterminator if you continue to find them over the next couple of weeks.

    Tom

  22. Hey I’ve had 8 yellow jackets in my room, so far, in the past hour, I think I hear more but I can’t figure out where they are coming from, I live in SC, does anyone have any ideas

  23. Hi Jordan,

    If you can’t figure out how they are getting into the house and plug the hole, you might want to call an exterminator.

    Tom

  24. I live near Seattle, WA. It is early August. I was stung in bed overnight, started investigating the next morning and found 54 dead yellow-jackets in window sill behind bed, about 10 dead in various locations around on the floor. THEN JACKPOT–a pile of what I can only guess must’ve 100 in the other bedroom window sill. About a half dozen (I’d guess) were still alive but all others dead and seemed in a heap. Gladly they were mostly dead, but can you say what may have caused them to die and in such a heap in one location? We keep the curtains drawn during the day to keep the room cool and normally keep a side door open at night for same reason. I’m guessing that’s how they came in–either late evening or early morning. And I found a nest in the eve.
    How long does it normally take a YJ to die in a window? How long could they have been there?

  25. When you say you keep a door open, do you mean with no screen? You’re probably right that that’s how they’re getting in, and then some of them are flying towards the light of the window, trying to get back out. When you ask how long could they have been there, are you asking how long this might have been going on, or how long can a yellow-jacket last in a window, or both? As for how long it has been going on, probably since whenever you began opening the door. As for how long an individual yellow-jacket would last in a window, I’m not sure. What’s probably happening is that without any refueling, the effort to escape probably depletes their energy supply and then then collapse. I would guess maybe a day, but that’s just a guess. I’ll see if I can find out if anyone knows that.

  26. I live in Northern Virginia. We are seeing yellow jackets inside our home in different areas of the house, but especially at the front windows in the living room. We don’t know how they are getting in and there is a vent right above those windows. I haven’t seen one come in through the vent (yet). I checked outside and I discovered a crack in the bricks just a few moments ago and observed them flying in and out of it. This crack is in the bricks that surround the area where the windows are located, which is where our living room is on the inside. I have noticed the lethargic ones turning up and there were a few dead yellow jackets at the window and wondered why so many were dead. Turns out that there is a also a spider living somewhere behind the blinds that made its presence known this morning. We are trying to figure out a safe way to treat them from the outside without bring the rest of the hive inside. Should we use sprays or powder? We have 2 dogs and don’t want to expose them to pesticides. Once we have our answer, we’re either headed to the hardware store or will call an exterminator. Our neighbor with the same problem last year said an exterminator charged her $400.00!

  27. Hi Sheila, I’m afraid I’m not really qualified to tell you whether to use sprays or powders. I think you might need to either put up with the yellow jackets and hope they move. Supposedly, they rarely nest in the same place two years in a row. Or, if you can’t bear to have them in the house, you might need to call an exterminator. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  28. I just went to my basement to put away some summer decorations (its August 24th) and I discovered on the floor, by a wall underneather a window and window well, about 100 dead yellow jackets or paper wasps! They are all along that wall but the concentration is at one spot below the window. I had never noticed them in previous years BUT my husband DID spray the house foundation with Home Defense. I guess that could’ve done it but why are they INSIDE my basement??

  29. Hi Susan,

    You might have a crack in the foundation, maybe. Or a gap in the wall somewhere. Assuming they are yellow jackets, they typically nest underground or in other dark places. There might have been a nest in the ground next to your foundation and when your husband sprayed, they tried to escape through a crack in your foundation. I’m just speculating, of course.

  30. Yellow jackets have accessed an interior wall in my home through a small hole from which wires powered a light next to my front door. I was able to spray wasp spray and foam through the whole for 3 straight nights until I no longer heard the yellow jackets moving or buzzing in th adjacent interior wall. I then plugged the whole. While I no longer hear the bees we continue to find 1-2 lethargic or dead yellow jackets on the floor in our home or near a sliding door that leads to the outside. Will this eventually stop or should I re-open with the hope that any remaining bees or in hatched eggs will eventually find their way out through the whole rather than in our house. Not sure what to do next?

  31. Hi Vin, not sure what to tell you. I’m not really an exterminator. Depending on where you live, yellow jackets do calm down when the weather begins to turn cold. But you might have killed them all already anyway. I’d leave the hole plugged and just wait it out, but I’m not really sure I understand what your situation is.

  32. Every year at about this time, late summer, early fall, I get lots of comments about yellow jackets. Just want to make sure everyone knows that I’m not an expert on yellow jackets and I’m not an exterminator. In my own life, I almost never use insecticides. I prefer a combination of physical removal, sealing holes, and a live and let live attitude. I’m not allergic, so I don’t find yellow jackets particularly threatening. But I know that’s not how most people feel about them. I’m just letting you know this, so you understand that I may not be best person to ask for help in eradicating a yellow jacket nest. 🙂

  33. We had yellow jackets flying behind our siding so we had the exterminator come out to spray. Two days later and we’re finding dead and lethargic ones inside our house. Why in our house when we didn’t have any before spraying.

  34. I live in central NYS. I feel like I’m in a Hitchcock movie. The yellow jackets are buzzing on the front porch and they are dying everywhere in the house. If they were honey bees I’d think they are swarming. Have never had this before.

  35. AL! I live in Seattle and I have the same scenario! I was stung in the middle of the night. Keep finding dead or lethargic hornets in my room, only my bedroom window area, no where else in the condo. Can’t find the source. Any suggestions??

  36. Hard to say. If you’re finding them mostly around a window, that could be because they are coming in there, but it could also be because they are trying to get out there. It might mean that the problem is in your bedroom, though, since if it were elsewhere in the house, you might expect to find dead yellow jackets randomly distributed to all the windows.

  37. I live in Detroit, MI and found several dead yellowjackets in my living room today, near the fireplace and a nearby window, on the floor. This home has been in my family for over 45 years and we’ve never experienced this. I’m thinking wear and tear on the house after a particularly harsh winter and bad wind and rain has given them access. I’m terrified after reading some of the comments on this site. I’m going to have someone go up replace wood and seal possible access points!

  38. Well ran across Your site looking for info on wasps etc. have been getting one or two each day in the bathroom. no windows, no opening, so far only one flying by the light, all others have been dead laying right behind the faucet, so I
    really looked for any small openings well only thing is ceiling exhaust fan. other wise don’t understand why they are behind faucet.

  39. Hi guys , reading your comments, I am from london u.k and I have this problem, it’s the first time ever and I find these dead. wasps on my son’ s window sill every day, there is about 10-12 a week and a few in the other front bedrooms, I also find them on the stairs and landing, dead of course, these wasps are buzzing around but I know they are about to drop dead , there are not interested in exiting an open window, but want to die on a window sill. I don’t know either where they are coming in from as I have walked around the outside of my home in the daytime and I can’t see or hear any buzzing. I am so puzzled as everyday we are still finding them dead around the home. This has been going on for the last 2 months and we keep thinking , this must be the end now……… And then we find more the next day.

  40. Roan Mountain, TN
    So glad I found this! We have been having bee problems for a few days but this evening when we came home and there were 6 laying in our floor and they seemed very weak. We were so confused! Now if we can just figure out where they are coming from!

  41. Hi, We’ve had a problem with wasps coming into the house and we’ve found a small opening in the brickwork so assume that there’s a nest in the cavity wall, As they’re likely to die off soon we’ve managed to avoid them. We just wondered why they seem to be writhing in agony and contorting their bodies.Do they suffer pain?
    Jay

  42. I live in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada and I have the same problem. I live in a condo and often leave the patio door open so my cats can go outside. I end up closing the patio screen door because I have wasps coming in all the time. I was confused because they are so lethargic which makes it easy to catch them and flush them down the toilet. I also find them dead on the living room window sill all the time. I haven’t seen any nests in my patio area but I’m now understanding that they may be nesting in spots that I can’t see. I’m not allergic to them but I was concerned they might sting one of my cats as the cats will try to paw them if the wasp is on the floor. This is a very interesting thread. Lots of info, glad I found it.

  43. July 27, 2015 – Hello, I have a coop in Great Neck, Long Island, NY and about a week ago I noticed 2 dead yellow jackets on my kitchen window sill and since then every day there have been several found dead also in the Kitchen and 1 or 2 sluggish on the sill, 2 dead on the floor in my bedroom. All windows are tightly closed, there is a gas dryer vent leading to the outside vent. I suppose they may be getting in that way or there may be a nest in the wall. Do you think a professional exterminator will be able to resolve the problem?

  44. Hi Anythony, Exterminators almost always use pesticides. I don’t like to have pesticides spread around my house, and especially in my kitchen, so I would be inclined to just wait a few days and see if it ends. I might give a different answer if people were getting stung or if someone there is allergic to bee-stings. If that’s the case, or if you just can’t stand them, then I would call an exterminator.

  45. I found six dead yellow jackets in the window sill of my kids room. It just appeared one day. I also found one outside underneath another window in their bedroom. Like everyone else’s, I have no clue how they are getting in. There is a spot on the wall and floor in the same bedroom that suddenly developed a huge sticky gooey brown stuff. I can only describe it as looking like honey. It took over two hours to clean it. At first I thought it was mold but now that I just found all these dead yellow jackets I wonder if they could be because of the yellow jackets. I know they are not honey producing but what a coincidence. I can’t seem to find where they are getting in. The room is on the second floor. Any suggestions?
    I have also been finding dead yellow jackets in my pool everyday. I can understand them being outside but not inside. Will they come back next year? Do they return to previous locations? Btw I am in NY in Long Island.

  46. Betty, I’m afraid I don’t have any ideas as to a connection between the sticky brown stuff and the yellow jackets. In terms of the yellow jackets, they don’t usually nest in the same place two years in a row, but there’s no guarantee they won’t nest somewhere else in your yard or house.

  47. I have been having the same problem. They are always by the patio door and are always dead or very sluggish. I have looked outside for a nest but there are none in sight. I have found one on the kitchen floor but every other time they have been on the rug by patio door. I am hoping that they will go away as the weather changes. I have been spraying indoor wasp spray as a barrier around the patio door. They are still coming in but not as many.

  48. Wow ! I never really get involved in internet chat, but this was really interesting and worth commenting on. I live in Northern Virginia and we have problems with Yellow Jackets too! It’s so frustrating, and my daughter is petrified to say the least. All of a sudden two years ago we started to notice them in my daughter’s bathroom. Her bathroom door is usually closed, so the only thing I can think of is that they came in through the exhaust fan or the light fixture. This year they are back ! In the kitchen (sitting their butts up on my cabinets), bathroom, family and formal dinning room. It’s crazy ! When I went to paint and took the electrical plates off the light switches, a few dead yellow jackets fell out. We have been having trouble with our wiring (door bell ). This may sound strange, but I wonder if those bees damaged some of the wiring in our walls.

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