Dolichovespula arenaria

Taxonomy

Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Vespidae
Subfamily: Vespinae
Genus: Dolichovespula Rohwer, 1916
Subgenus: Dolichovespula Rohwer, 1916
Species: Dolichovespula arenaria (Fabricius, 1775)
Common names: common aerial yellowjacket, sandhills hornet, or common yellowjacket

Background

Dolichovespula arenaria is a species of social paper wasp that is widely distributed across North America.

How to separate from Asian giant hornet

  • The common yellowjacket is much smaller than Asian giant hornets
  • This species has yellow and black markings typical of many types of yellowjackets
  • The head is black from above and the face is yellow

Distribution

The common yellowjacket is abundant throughout boreal North America, Alaska to New Mexico and Arizona at higher elevations. It is one of the most common yellowjackets found building aerial nests in eastern North America.

Distribution map of Dolichovespula arenaria by GBIF: https://www.gbif.org/species/1311820

Diagnostic characteristics

To identify the genus:

To identify the species:

Diversity

The genus Dolichovespula contains 18 species worldwide (Archer 2006). Four species are found in the Nearctic region, including D. alpicola, D. arenaria, D. maculata, and D. norvegicoides (Kimsey and Carpenter 2012).

Host/prey associations

This yellowjacket is a predator of other generally large-bodied arthropods, including grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, spiders, flies, lacewings, and even lady beetles. They will sometimes scavenge from vertebrate carcasses as well.

Nesting and general behavior

Dolichovespula arenaria nests can be arboreal or subterranean (Moisset 2005). Nests are initiated in the spring by an overwintering queen. Nest building starts as early as March in California. The nests are usually built above ground, from a few centimeters high to the tops of trees, houses, or sheds. However, some individuals build nests in cavities in the ground. Dolichovespula arenaria nests are built from paper-like material made from plant fibers and saliva. The brood cells are all enclosed in an outer paper shell. The queen lays her eggs in the cells, and when they hatch she feeds the larvae until workers can take over foraging and nest construction. The colony continues to grow to about 1,000 cells until mid-summer. Colony lifespan is usually 3–5 months depending on latitudes. Colonies usually produce fewer than 2000 adults (Archer 2006). Colonies of D. arenaria tend to specialize in either producing males or queens, though sometimes colonies will go through a male phase followed by a queen phase.

<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>; photo by Dan Mullen, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>; photo by Dan Mullen, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>, dorsal view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>, dorsal view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>, lateral view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>, lateral view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em>, anterior view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Dolichovespula arenaria</em> (left) compared to <em>Vespa mandarinia</em> (right), dorsal view; photos by Hanna Royals and Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>