Yellow jackets are social insects and live in nests or colonies. The adults are represented by workers which are sterile females, queens, and males which come from unfertilized eggs and usually appear in late summer.
Typically, only inseminated queens overwinter and do so in sheltered places. In the spring, she uses chewed-up cellulose material to build up a paper carton nest of a few cells which will eventually consist of 30 to 55 cells covered by a paper envelope. One egg is laid in each cell and the queen feeds the developing larvae arthropod protein material and nectar. After about 30 days, the first 5 to 7 workers emerge and shortly thereafter take over all the work except egg laying. The nest will eventually consist of a number of rounded paper combs which are open ventrally and attached one below another, and are usually covered with a many-layered paper envelope. Nest size varies from 300 to 120,000 cells, averaging 2,000 to 6,000 cells, and usually contains 1,000 to 4,000 workers at its peak. Later in the season, larger reproductive cells are built in which queens will be reared; males are usually reared in old worker cells. The colony is then entering the declining phase. The newly emerged queens and males leave the nest and mate. Only the inseminated queens hibernate and survive the winter. The founding queen, the workers, and the males all die.