Akre, R.D., A. Greene, J.F. MacDonald, P.J. Landholt, and H.G. Davis. (1981). Yellowjackets
of North America, North of Mexico. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. Handbook
Vespula vulgaris (common yellowjacket) is a Holarctic species transcontinentally distributed in the Nearctic Region (fig. 64). In western North America, this species is prevalent in heavily forested areas. In Hawaii, V. vulgaris occurs only on the island of Maui (Howarth, 1975). It also occurs in Mexico (Ebeling, 1975). Detailed biological studies of this species, such as those of Archer (1972a, b, c, 1973, 1977b), Guiglia (1972), Kemper (1961), Kemper and Dohring (1967), and Potter9, were done in Europe. These data and much of his own have been summarized by Spradbery (1973a). No in-depth biological study of this species in America is available, but Balduf (1968b) made some observations on nests and seasonal development of colonies in Minnesota.
In Europe, most V. vulgaris nests are subterranean, although some nests are constructed in the walls of houses or even in aerial locations (Spradbery, 1973a; Weyrauch, 1935). In the Western United States, this species usually builds its nests in rotten logs or stumps, in forest duff, or in the soil (fig. 65). Entrance tunnels to nests vary from 4 to 100 cm, usually 10 to 15 cm, with most nests found about 10 cm below the soil surface. Some colonies, especially in western Washington, construct nests between the walls of houses. Similarly, in New York, 11 of 21 nests located during 1977 were between the walls of a building (R. Keyel, Cornell Univ., personal commun.). The nest envelope and combs are usually constructed of decayed wood fibers and are red- to tan-brown and very brittle.
In England, the nest is initiated in May and ultimately contains an average of nine combs when the colony peaks development in September (Spradbery, 1973a). In Washington, northern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon, the nest is also initiated in May or early June, and colonies peak in September. Some colonies are still active in October, but rarely in November; however, nests are comprised of only three to five combs.
The maximum number of cells in a nest analyzed by Spradbery (1973a) was 16,832 including 3,888 queen cells. In Germany, Kemper (1961) reported a nest with 21,692 cells, including 4,028 queen cells. Duncan (1939) illustrated one large nest of V. vulgaris in California constructed by a perennial colony that had 22 functional queens at the time of collection. The nest had 21 comb levels, and was 46 by 40 by 30 inches. No count was made of the adult population but they filled four 1-gallon jars. Four gallons of V. pensylvanica, a larger species, would be over 60,000 workers. Another California colony contained 2,951 workers when killed. Analyses of 19 mature nests collected during 1975-77 in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon showed them to be much smaller, averaging 2,100 cells, with 10 percent reproductive cells. The largest nest contained 4,972 cells. No study has been made he nest associates of V. vulgaris in North America however, 7 of the 19 nests mentioned contained cocoons of the pupal parasite, Sphecophaga vesparum burra. Behavioral interactions inside the nest were studied by Montagner (1966) and Potter.’ Potter’s studies included foraging behavior and daily activities of the members of the colony, whereas Montagner studied social dominance (hierarchy) among the workers of the colony with certain individuals being dominant and demanding food from foragers.
V. vulgaris workers are predators on a wide variety of prey, similar to that attacked by V.
pensylvanica, including a variety of caterpillars, small beetle larvae, hemipterans, homopterans, and flies. In addition, workers of this species are notorious scavengers attracted to nearly any protein or sugar source. This species is a nuisance in food-dispensing facilities in Germany (Kemper and Dohring, 1967), is described as being the most annoying to humans of any yellowjacket in Norway (Loken, 1964, and is second only to V. pensylvanica as a pest species in western North America (Ebeling, 1975). In San Mateo County, Calif., these yellowjackets are the subject of control programs nearly ever year (Grant et al., 1968). The 1973 outbreak of yellowjackets in the Pacific Northwest included high populations of V. vulgaris in forested areas such as western Washington and northern Idaho. In 1974, severe problems were caused by high populations of this species in Alaska (Davis. 1978).
Reprinted with permission from: Miller, C.D.F. 1961 Taxonomy and Distribution of Nearctic Vespula. The Canadian Entomologist Supplement 22.
Color.—Black with yellow markings.
Structure.—Malar space less than half as long as the penultimate antennal segment (Fig. 1); occipital carina complete (reaching base of mandible) (Fig. 3); apex of seventh tergite of male depressed, in profile the base gradually sloping (Fig. 6); shaft of aedeagus with a sharp tooth on each side close to base of terminal spoon (Fig. 12).
Abdominal color Patterns.—As in Figs. 23, 26, 29.
Facial Color Pattern.—As in Fig. 69.
This is a Holarctic species which is transcontinentally distributed in the Nearctic region.
Vespula vulgaris (Linné.) is one of the commonest of the yellow jackets. It is a Holarctic species that is relatively stable over its entire range. Two types of variants were observed. The first, a xanthic form with a large yellow spot on each side of the propodeum, seems to represent intraspecific variation. It is rare and is sporadically distributed throughout the population. When found in nests it made up less than five percent of each colony. The second, a xanthic form without yellow spots on the propodeum, seems to be the result of hybridization between V. vulgaris and Vespula maculifrons (Buysson). This variant is more common than the intraspecific one but is restricted to the area where the two species occur together. Two nests from Ottawa, Ontario, contained males, females, and workers of both species and intergradients between them. Also some netted males, females, and workers from other localities in the area where the species occur together were intergradient between them.
It is difficult to explain with the evidence available the evolutionary significance of these variants in the population of V. vulgaris. The rarity of the intraspecific variant suggests that it has at the moment little evolutionary effect on the population. The appearance of numerous interspecific variants in the area where V. vulgaris and V. maculifrons appear together indicates that the genetic barrier between the two populations is not complete.
Ecological Notes.—The nest of this species is terrestrial.