Yellowjacket Wasp Traps

- Can be used to alter scavenger wasp activity -

Summary: Yellowjacket wasps can be a real nuisance at outdoor events during late summer whenever exposed food is present. Yellowjacket wasp traps can be used to temporarily move wasp activity away from outdoor events and guests.  The traps are not, however, useful for eliminating nests.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Synthetic attractants vs. sweets and proteins

Certain yellowjacket wasps (wasp family: Vespidae, genus: Vespula) are attracted to odors that can be used to trap or confuse these insects. Both meat and sugar-based foods are attractive to certain species, at certain times of the year. A few wasp species can also be lured by a synthetic chemical called n-heptyl butyrate which mimics the odor of rotting fruit. Heptyl butyrate traps (see photo right) are especially useful in the western US for the western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica.

Yellowjacket wasps that are attracted to non-living food baits such as sugary liquids and meats are referred to as the scavenger species (see Which yellowjacket wasps are the scavenger or "problem" species?). Most yellowjacket wasps, on the other hand, are predatory and only attracted to live prey so are generally not bothersome at outdoor events like picnics. The scavenger species also tend to be more aggressive and prone to sting than their non-scavenger relatives.

yellowjacket trap

A commercial yellowjacket trap that uses a heptyl butyrate lure.

Can traps alone eliminate wasp nests?

No. Traps are most effective as decoys to temporarily move wasp activity away from human activity such as a backyard picnic (see below). Traps are not effective for permanently eliminating wasp nests. Even mass-trapping with multiple traps is generally not effective for eliminating nests.

Use traps as wasp "decoys"

You can use either food-based traps or those that use the synthetic lures to temporarily move wasp activity away from an outdoor activity where there will be exposed food. You'll probably need several traps placed on the border of your picnic area.

Place traps early in the day to "train" wasps away from the area. Recharge traps with fresh attractant each time you need to set up your decoys. After the outdoor activity you can take down the traps, place them in the freezer for a day to kill any wasps inside then empty and clean. Be careful when approaching "live" traps (see Using Wasp Traps as Decoys for more information. This is a pdf file.) .

You can use the combination trap and attractant (photo above) for those species that are attracted to synthetic lures. Place traps so as to lure wasps away from the outdoor event no more than a few days before the day of the event. The traps should start attracting yellowjacket workers within a few hours. If traps are successful at attracting wasp activity add more traps until you achieve the desired decoy effect.

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