Bald Faced Hornet vs Yellow Jacket vs Yellow Jacket: A Battle of Stingers Explained

Bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are two commonly encountered stinging insects. They both belong to the Vespidae family but have different appearances and behaviors.

Understanding their distinctions can be crucial for dealing with potential threats they pose.

A bald-faced hornet is characterized by its black and white markings, while a yellow jacket has a distinct yellow and black pattern.

They both have the ability to sting multiple times, although their nesting habits vary. Bald-faced hornets build nests above ground, often in trees or bushes, while yellow jackets prefer underground nests or cavities in structures.

In terms of aggression, bald-faced hornets are known to be more defensive when their nests are disturbed.

However, yellow jackets can also become aggressive, especially around food sources. One common example is during outdoor picnics, where yellow jackets are attracted to sweet or meaty food items.

Bald Faced Hornet Vs Yellow Jacket Overview

Appearance

Bald Faced Hornet

  • Black and white markings
  • White face
  • Grows up to ¾ inch

Yellow Jacket

  • Black and yellow markings
  • Yellow face
  • Size varies by species

Bald Faced Hornet

Behavior

Bald Faced Hornet

  • Social insect
  • Aggressive when defending the nest
  • Can sting multiple times

Yellow Jacket

  • Social insect
  • Usually aggressive
  • Can sting multiple times

Nesting Habits

Bald Faced Hornet

  • Builds large papier-mâché type nests
  • Nests can be the size of a basketball
  • Nests above ground

Yellow Jacket

  • Builds nests in various structures
  • Ground-nesting and aerial-nesting species
  • Nests can be in tight spaces, like wall voids or underground

Possibly Aerial Yellowjacket

Bald Faced Hornets and Yellow Jackets, both social insects, have differences in appearance and nesting habits.

The Bald Faced Hornet is a type of yellow jacket but has a distinct black-and-white appearance, notably the white face. Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, have black and yellow markings.

In terms of behavior, both insects can be aggressive, especially when defending their nests. They can also sting multiple times, posing a risk to those who come too close to their homes.

Nesting habits differ between the two species. Bald Faced Hornets build large papier-mâché type nests above ground, which can be the size of a basketball.

Meanwhile, Yellow Jackets build nests in a variety of structures, with some species being ground-nesting and others aerial-nesting. Their nests can be found in tight spaces like wall voids or underground.

 Bald Faced HornetYellow Jacket
AppearanceBlack and white markingsBlack and yellow markings
FaceWhiteYellow
BehaviorSocial, aggressive if provokedSocial, generally aggressive
StingCan sting multiple timesCan sting multiple times
Nesting HabitsPapier-mâché type nestsVarious types of nests
Nest LocationAbove groundGround-nesting or aerial-nesting
Nest SizeBasketball-sizedVaries, often in tight spaces

Characteristics and Size

Color and Markings

Baldfaced Hornet

  • Color: Predominantly black
  • Markings: White or “baldface” head with white stripes on abdomen

Yellow Jacket

  • Color: Mostly black and yellow
  • Markings: Yellow bands or stripes on abdomen

Bald Faced Hornet

Size of Workers, Queens, and Males

Baldfaced Hornet

  • Workers: Around 3/4 inch long1
  • Queens: Similar in size to workers but slightly larger2
  • Males: Information not available

Yellow Jacket

  • Workers: Varies, but generally smaller than baldfaced hornets
  • Queens: Larger than workers
  • Males: Smaller than queens
SpeciesWorkersQueensMales
Baldfaced Hornet~3/4 inchSlightly larger than workersNot available
Yellow JacketSmaller than baldfaced hornetsLarger than workersSmaller than queens

Nesting and Habitat

Location and Types of Nests

Baldfaced hornets and yellow jackets have distinct nesting habits. Baldfaced hornets build aerial nests, typically found in:

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Under eaves of buildings

On the other hand, yellow jackets mostly build underground nests or inside wall voids.

 Baldfaced HornetsYellow Jackets
NestsAerialUnderground/Wall Voids
 Trees, Shrubs, EavesSoil, Wall Voids

Nesting Materials

Both species create nests using a papery material known as “carton.” They collect wood fibers from sources like:

  • Dead tree branches
  • Logs
  • Weathered wood on buildings

These fibers are then mixed with their saliva to form a pulp that they mold into hexagonal combs.

Yellowjacket

Nest materials:

  • Carton (papery material)
  • Wood fibers and saliva

Nest structure:

  • Hexagonal combs

Examples:

  • Baldfaced hornet nest: A large, circular, papery structure in a tree.
  • Yellow jacket nest: Smaller, papery hexagonal combs found underground or in wall voids.

Diet and Foraging

Food Sources

Both bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are considered social wasps and share similar food preferences. They mainly forage for:

  • Nectar: Both feed on nectar from flowers as a primary energy source.
  • Soft-bodied insects: They are predatory and hunt for soft-bodied insects, such as aphids and caterpillars.
  • Meat: Yellow jackets are also attracted to meat, particularly in late summer.

Here’s a comparison of their food sources:

Food SourceBald-faced HornetYellow Jacket
NectarYesYes
Soft-bodied insectsYesYes
MeatNoYes (seasonal)

Foraging Behavior

Bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets exhibit distinct foraging behaviors:

  • Bald-faced hornets: These wasps are generally less aggressive and tend to focus more on hunting insects.
  • Yellow jackets: They exhibit stronger scavenging behavior, seeking out sugary substances, such as soda and fruit, and meat at outdoor events.

In summary, both bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets forage for nectar and soft-bodied insects, but yellow jackets exhibit more opportunistic behavior towards meat and foods found in human environments.

Bald Faced Hornet

Defensive Behavior and Stings

Aggressiveness

Bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are both known for their defensive behaviors. They can both become aggressive if they perceive a threat to their nests or themselves.

  • Bald-faced hornets: Known to be more aggressive than other species of yellow jackets
  • Yellow jackets: Usually less aggressive than the bald-faced hornets, but they’ll still defend their nests vigorously

Venom and Sting Effects

The venom of both bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets can cause painful stings. The effects of their stings can vary depending on the individual experiencing them.

  • Sting reactions: Can range from mild discomfort to severe allergic responses
  • Allergic reactions: Possible symptoms include difficulty breathing, hives, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis

Comparison Table: Bald-Faced Hornet vs Yellow Jacket

AspectBald-Faced HornetYellow Jacket
AggressivenessMore aggressive (especially when nest is threatened)Less aggressive (compared to bald-faced hornets)
VenomCan cause painful stings and, in some cases, allergic reactionsSimilar effects as bald-faced hornets
Sting Pain LevelPainful, but intensity may vary among individualsComparable to bald-faced hornets

In conclusion, both bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are defensive and can exhibit aggressive behavior when they feel threatened.

The venom from their stingers can result in painful and sometimes allergic reactions.

Control and Management

Deterrence Methods

To deter bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets from nesting near your home, take these steps:

  • Maintain proper sanitation: Keep garbage cans clean and securely closed.
  • Seal entrances: Close any gaps or cracks in your home’s exterior.
  • Limit food sources: Avoid leaving food outdoors and clean up spills immediately.

Examples of both natural and chemical deterrents:

  • Essential oils can be used as a natural deterrent. Peppermint, clove, and lemongrass oils are examples.
  • Insecticide sprays can be applied to affected areas by following label instructions for safety.

Professional Pest Control

When dealing with aggressive stinging insects, such as bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets, the best course of action is often to call a pest control professional.

They possess the necessary equipment, knowledge, and experience to safely eliminate nests and provide advice for preventing future infestations.

PestAppearanceNest LocationAggressiveness
Bald-Faced HornetStout, black body with gray or white bands, up to ¾ inch longHanging aerial nestsHighly aggressive
Yellow JacketYellow and black banded body, up to ½ inch longGround or enclosed spacesVery aggressive

Key points to remember:

  • Both pests are highly aggressive, especially when threatened.
  • Nests are typically found in out-of-reach locations.
  • Home remedies can be dangerous; it’s often safer to call a pest control expert.

Beneficial Aspects of Hornets and Yellow Jackets

Despite their reputation for being aggressive, both bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets play crucial roles in the ecosystem. They are considered beneficial insects. Key benefits include:

  • Pest control
  • Pollination

Bald-faced hornets are particularly adept at controlling pests like ground-nesting yellowjackets1. Entomologists have noted substantially yellow nests, hinting at their efficacy in preying upon these pests2.

On the other hand, Yellowjackets, a term that sometimes refers to wasps that build large papery nests, are known to hunt a variety of insects, including flies and caterpillars3. This makes them effective natural pest control agents.

Both social wasps, such as yellowjackets, and solitary wasps, like the white-tailed hornet, are known to have pollinating properties4.

Green June Beetles and Bald Faced Hornets feeding on sap.

Their foraging habits cause them to inadvertently transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping plants reproduce.

Members of the Vespidae family like bald-faced hornets (also known as bull wasps) and yellow jackets, share common characteristics5:

  • Large papery nests
  • Aggressive behavior towards intruders
  • Stout bodies

Comparison of Bald-Faced Hornet and Yellow Jacket:

Bald-faced HornetYellow Jacket
Largely black color, mostly white face6Yellow and black banded body7
Mainly prey on ground-nesting yellowjackets8Feed on various insects like flies and caterpillars9
Nest above ground10Nest both above and underground11

Additional Species to Consider

The baldfaced hornet, although commonly called a hornet, is actually an aerial yellowjacket.

On the other hand, the only true hornet found in the United States is the European hornet, Vespa crabro L.

The term “hornet” is often used to refer to many of the wasps such as the baldfaced hornet and several species of yellowjackets.

When discussing baldfaced hornets and yellow jackets, it’s helpful to consider other relevant species like the European hornet, honeybee, and paper wasp.

The European hornet is an accidentally introduced species in North America, whereas honeybees are crucial pollinators essential for agriculture.

Paper wasps are different from hornets and yellowjackets that typically build exposed, non-aggressive nests.

European Hornet

Characteristics of common species:

  • Baldfaced hornet: Aerial yellowjacket, black and white body, above-ground nests.
  • European hornet: Vespa crabro, large and active species with ground nests.
  • Yellow jackets: Vespula sp., multiple species, aggressive when provoked, nest near the base of trees or underground.
  • Honeybees: Apis mellifera, vital pollinators, not aggressive unless defending their hive.
  • Paper wasps: Polistes sp., build exposed nests, less aggressive than hornets and yellowjackets.

Comparison table of selected species:

SpeciesNest LocationAggressivenessAppearance
Baldfaced hornetAbove groundModerateBlack body, white face
European hornetGround nestsHighLarge, reddish-brown and yellow
Yellow jacketsBase of treesHighVarious, mostly black and yellow
HoneybeesHivesLowAmber-brown and black
Paper waspsExposedLowSlender, long legs, brown

Knowing the differences between these species can help you take proper precautions and make informed decisions when encountering them. Be cautious around unknown nests and wear protective gear if necessary.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both Bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are common types of wasps that can pose a threat to humans and animals.

They have different appearances, behaviors, and nesting habits, but they share some similarities as well. They are both social insects that feed on nectar and insects, and they both have smooth stingers that can sting multiple times.

Their stings can cause pain, swelling, itching, and inflammation, and sometimes serious allergic reactions. Therefore, it is important to know how to recognize them, how to treat their stings, and how to prevent them from stinging you in the first place.

By following the tips and advice in this article, you can protect yourself and your family from these aggressive insects and enjoy the outdoors without fear.

Footnotes

  1. Baldfaced Hornets – Clemson University  2
  2. Baldfaced Hornet – Penn State Extension  2
  3. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/controlling-bald-faced-hornets-and-yellow-jackets-in-and-around-structures 
  4. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2022-02-10-baldfaced-hornet-dangerous-bug-or-beneficial-insect 
  5. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/baldfaced-hornets/ 
  6. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/occas/hornet_yellowjacket.htm 
  7. https://extension.unh.edu/resource/controlling-wasps-bees-and-hornets-around-your-home-fact-sheet-0 
  8. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2022-02-10-baldfaced-hornet-dangerous-bug-or-beneficial-insect 
  9. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/controlling-bald-faced-hornets-and-yellow-jackets-in-and-around-structures 
  10. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/occas/hornet_yellowjacket.htm 
  11. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/occas/hornet_yellowjacket.htm 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about boldfaced hornets and yellow jackets. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Bald Faced Hornet

bald facedhornet
This is a hornet gathering wood fibers from an old shed in our yard in Lancaster county, Pa. Every summer, they come to eat! There are usually 3 to 4 there at any given time.

The cool thing is you can hear the scraping noise as they gather wood fibers. They don’t even mind if we get close- they’re too focused on their job. Enjoy the photo- we sure enjoy the website!
Lee Weber

Hi Lee,
Nice photo. As a point of clarification, Bald Faced Hornets do not eat wood. They feed on nectar, fruit and other insects. Pre-chewed insects are fed to the larvae. They are gathering wood to chew into pulp for their nest.

Letter 2 – Bald Faced Hornet

Subject: Large black wasp/bee?
Location: Ajax, Ontario, Canada
August 11, 2015 12:29 pm
Hey there, I seem to have quite a few of these rather large insects enjoying the flowers on the backyard.
Other than some white markings on either end, they are all black, about 1 to 1,1/4in long very solid body.
I have never seen anything like these before, so I’m not sure if they are yet another ‘import’ or I’ve just never really noticed them in the past?
Signature: Mr. Ashley Mills

Bald Faced Hornet
Bald Faced Hornet

Dear Mr. Ashley Mills,
Your images are of native social wasps known as Bald Faced Hornets.  In the spring, a mated Queen Bald Faced Hornet begins a new nest by chewing wood into pulp and constructing the nest from paper. 

By the end of the season, the nest is quite large and populated by hundreds of worker Hornets.

Letter 3 – Bald Faced Hornet

Subject: Hornet ID …
Location: Monetville, Ontario, Canada, which is south of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
August 11, 2016 10:56 am
We saw these “hornets” August 11, 2016 in the area of Monetville, Ontario, Canada, which is south of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
They were operating like dive bombers attacking and carrying away flies.
Accurate attacking the flies but did not appear to be bothering people.
Signature: Paul Kehoe

Bald Faced Hornet
Bald Faced Hornet

Dear Paul,
This is a Bald Faced Hornet, a species of social wasp.  Most adult wasps feed on nectar and other sugary substances, like ripe fruit or sap.  We suspect the Flies they were catching are being taken back to the nest to feed the larvae. 

According to BugGuide:  “Adults are common on flowers and take nectar. Adults feed pre-chewed insects to larvae. Also are carnivorous and eat fruit.”

Comment from our Facebook Page
Brenda Russell Armstrong
August 12 at 2:30pm
One of my favourites. Many years ago living in northern BC by the Stikine River we were cutting fish for drying and the black flies, horse flies, etc. were bad. Then the BF Hornets arrived and began capturing and processing the flies for their winter larder.

There were catchers, and others that trimmed the various (inedible?) bits and others that wrapped the carcass into a leaf from a nearby wild apple tree and then turned the bundle over to other hornets that flew them off to the nest for storage.

Not making this up. Would find it hard to believe if I hadn’t seen it myself. Any one else see something similar?

Letter 4 – Bald Faced Hornet

Subject: Hoverfly,
Location: Columbus Ohio
September 12, 2016 5:33 pm
Found this on a brick wall outside our middle school in Columbus Ohio. It was big, like a horsefly. The picture looks smaller.
Signature: Thanks, S Zuza

Bald Faced Hornet
Bald Faced Hornet

Dear S Zuza,
Though many Hover Flies mimic stinging bees and wasps, this Bald Faced Hornet is the real deal.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

Leave a Comment