Yellow jackets and paper wasps look alike, but their nests are different. Here, we cover the difference between yellow jacket nest and paper wasp nest.
Do you know that are well over a hundred thousand described species of wasps around the world?
Out of these species, there are two that are commonly found in the United States, the yellow jacket wasp and the paper wasp.
Neither of them are solitary wasps, so you can often find their nests around your house or garden.
These two species look very much alike, and one of the only reliable ways to differentiate them is to look at their nests.
So if you ever find a paper wasp nest or a yellow jacket nest, here is how to identify them or get rid of them safely.
Nesting Behavior of Paper Wasps vs. Yellow Jackets
Compared to paper wasps, yellow jacket waps live in much larger colonies; as a result, their nests are comparatively much bigger than that of paper wasps.
Although both have honeycomb-like chambers in their nest, the shapes are completely different. On top of that, both these species prefer opposite locations for building their nests.
Paper wasps colonies are small (only about 200 per nest); therefore, they build smaller nests that resemble an umbrella or an upside-down honeycomb.
They use wood pulp mixed with saliva to form the paper-like material to make the nest. These social wasps prefer to build aerial nests in areas under tree branches or eaves of houses.
A mature paper nest contains around 200 well-built hexagonal cells. They hunt by stinging insects and paralyzing them.
The paralyzed prey are kept in these hexagonal cells, which the larvae feed on to grow. You should also know that European paper wasps build nearly spherical nests.
Their nests are built in protected places such as the eaves of buildings, under porch roofs, and under bridges and other such constructions.
Yellow jackets live in big colonies (each nest will have 2,000 to 4,000 yellow jackets) and are known to build big nests.
These nests have a complicated yet regular network of hexagonal cells with one opening that is often hard to track.
Similar to European hornets and baldfaced hornets, these wasps build an outer wall of paper on their nests.
They also create the nest using wood pulp mixed with saliva. But they prefer to develop nests closer to the ground.
You can often find a yellow wasp nest in hollow trees or some pre-existing rodent burrows.
How To Get Rid of a Paper Wasp Nest?
Usually, paper wasps don’t pose any threat to humans, but still, it can be tricky to deal with a bunch of these wasps loitering around your house.
If the nest is smaller, you can leave it be. But if it is big, follow the steps mentioned below to get rid of it:
- Buy an aerosol insecticide that has an active ingredient like Cyfluthrin, D-trans Allethrin, or Phenothrin.
- Mix this insecticide with soapy water.
- Build an escape path for yourself just in case these wasps attack.
- Wear proper clothing and try to cover as much skin as possible. Wasps generally go for exposed skin when they sting. Wear a helmet with a screen to protect your neck and face.
- Carefully spray the nest with a mixture of insecticide and soap water and clear the area immediately.
- Knock the nest down when the wasps are dead or have vacated it.
How To Get Rid of a Yellow Jacket Nest?
Yellow jackets are dangerous, and their nest should be immediately removed if spotted near your house or yard. Here are a few hacks to help you do so:
- Make a 50/50 mixture of peppermint castile soap and boiling water. Carry this mixture to the nest and locate the opening. Once yOu locate the opening, pour the solution in it. This will kill most of the wasps in the nest and make the rest of them abandon it.
- Spray a mixture of peppermint oil and water on the wasp’s nest. Since these wasps hate the spell of peppermint, they will be forced to vacate the nest.
- To quickly destroy a nest, dump some dry ice into the ground nest and cover the entry and exit holes with dirt immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many yellow jackets are usually in a nest?
Since yellow jackets are highly social and prefer to live in huge colonies, a complete nest will have around 2,000 to 4,000 workers, about 50 queens, and a few drones as well.
The numbers can keep fluctuating according to the size of the colony and the nest.
How can you tell a yellow jacket from a paper wasp?
Paper wasps are slightly bigger than yellow jacket wasps.
Also, a yellow jacket is almost covered with vibrant yellow patterns, while the paper wasp has a black colored body with some yellow or orange stripes.
Moreover, yellow jackets have bigger nests which are usually built underground or in some pre-existing cavity. The paper wasps build aerial nests and live in smaller colonies and nests.
Which sting is the worse yellow jacket or paper wasp?
According to the Schmidt pain index, a paper wasp sting has a pain level of 1.5, while a yellow jacket sting is about a 2 out of the highest possible (which is 4).
Therefore we can say that the yellow jacket stings are likely to be slightly more painful. However, neither of these gets close to the highest slots, which are reserved for the tarantula hawk and bullet ant (4 out of 4)
How many paper wasps are in a nest?
You can usually find lessthan 200 wasps in paper wasp colonies. Although paper wasps are social wasps, they live in smaller colonies and build a small nest that looks like an umbrella.
Other social wasps, like yellow jackets, usually have more than 2000 wasps residing in a nest.
Both yellow jackets and paper wasps are capable of delivering painful stings. While the latter is less aggressive but it is always good to be careful around them.
Approaching their nest recklessly can be deadly. Therefore we hope you will use the tips mentioned in the article to move the nests.
Thank you for taking the time to read the article!
Identifying the right insect to match the nest is important. Several readers have asked us such questions, and here is a sample for your reference.
Letter 1 – Dramatic Polistes Paper Wasp Photos
dramatic yellowjacket photos
Hello, I found your site while trying to find a definitive identification for the species of yellowjacket in these photos. Western, German, Californian or ?? Anyway, I thought you might appreciate these photos (taken in Sunnyvale, CA)
While we agree your photos are very dramatic, we do not agree that they are of Yellow Jackets. We believe these are Polistes Paper Wasps. We found a matching image on BugGuide, and it seems to look the most like the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus, but would like to get Eric Eaton to confirm our identification.
Hi there, I am a paper wasp researcher, currently working on introduced populations of Polistes dominulus across the US, and I found your site while doing a web search. On your site you have a couple of photos of this species — one with the title “Dramatic Polistes Paper Wasp Photos”, taken 3/23/06. I’m not sure if you’ve already sought confirmation on this, but I wanted to let you know that these are indeed Polistes dominulus females, and they appear to be doing an aggressive behavior called “grappling”, which sometimes escalates to the point where it becomes a “falling fight” as the grappling wasps fall to the ground in a writhing ball. The females do this mostly in early spring when initiating new colonies, which they can do either solitarily or in groups. A group of nesting females eventually forms a linear dominance hierarchy, and this type of aggression may help determine who gets the top spot. I hope you don’t mind my unsolicitied comments! The photos on your site are a great resource, and I thank you.
Letter 2 – Australian Paper Wasps
We live in Central Qld Australia and can’t identify these wasps my mother found in this Casuarina tree. We have been looking on the net all morning trying to ID them. Sorry I couldn’t get any closer but they are right up the top of the tree. They are quite large being around inches long.
Your photo is not detailed enough to clearly identify your Paper Wasps, but we believe they are in the genus Polistes. Eric Eaton wrote in with this information: ” Check this out: http://www.geocities.com/brisbane_wasps/VESPIDAE.htm I’m thinking that the image submitted to your site is a nest of Polistes tepidus. Maybe? Great link for Australian insects in any event. Eric”
Letter 3 – Australian Paper Wasp
Need Id please
Hi Mr. Bugman,
Are these a type of Hornet or wasp please? Out to lunch today (always with camera!) and these beautiful beasts were very busy and didn’t bother us. Same weather conditions as yesterday in Halls Head W.A. I have searched your site but can’t seem to identify them. Please advise and thankyou for the info on the ‘bicolour’ Cheers
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes. At first we thought it might be a Yellow Jacket, but Eric Eaton corrected us: “That Australian yellowjacket is not in the genus Vespa. Looks suspiciously like Polistes dominula. Eric”
Letter 4 – European Paper Wasp
paper wasps and alien fungal spaceship?
Location: Ocean Beach, CA
July 27, 2011 6:18 pm
JULY 27, 2011
This is the 2nd year our yard is well-populated by old-bamboo-fiber-stripping lawn-level cruising maybe paper-wasps of some sort judging by looks and behavior.
Visually back-tracking them to their apparent home in a 30+ ft high mature date palm a half block away we discovered a very disconcerting structure.
We don’t know if the structure is related to the wasps or not because we can’t get up there (and frankly don’t want to without hazmat gear), but – well, you can see in the images that it’s highly coincidental.
So, omniscient entomologistas: Paper Wasps? European neo-bauhaus nest? Alien fungal growth?
ps: the city vector crew were nonplussed and apathetic, equally.
First, though we are flattered, we make far too many identification mistakes to ever accept the superlative modifier “omniscient”. Your wasp is in fact a European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, and it matches this image on BugGuide, but as you can see from this photo on BugGuide, the nest of a paper wasp is nothing like the “thing” in the date palm, so we will address that in a different posting. BugGuide notes that the European Paper Wasp is: “An introduced species from Eurasia, often mistaken for a yellow jacket. First reported in North America by G.C. Eickwort in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts. There are reports of it replacing native species of wasps in some areas.” While we acknowledge that introduced species can be beneficial with regards to insect control, when they displace native species, that seriously compromises species diversity in the local ecosystem. For that reason, we feel we need to tag these European Paper Wasps as Invasive Exotics.
Letter 5 – European Paper Wasp in the Snow in January!!!
Subject: Wasps or Hornets in winter
January 28, 2016 7:58 am
A couple days ago, I was walking in my front yard and I saw a wasp/hornet/yellow jacket walking on top of the snow…
I live in central Connecticut, so it seemed a bit odd because I’ve never seen that before in my 44 years here.
Is this normal?
We suspect this unusual sighting of a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes in the snow is related to the unseasonably warm weather experienced by much of the eastern U.S. through the end of 2015. We are relatively certain this is an introduced European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, which is described on BugGuide as: “No other species of Vespidae has mostly orange antennae.” Because of the snow, your images were underexposed, but if the images are lightened, the antennae do appear to be orange. BugGuide also notes: “Only females are able to overwinter. Some ‘workers’ of previous season are able to survive and act as auxiliary females for the foundresses, provided the quiescent phase has been short enough. ” You did not indicate what the temperatures were like on the day you took the images, but we are suspecting it was a warmer day, with temperatures above freezing, despite snow still being on the ground. If the late start to winter allowed the nest to remain active considerably later in the season, and this individual survived a short “quiescent phase”, then it is possible she set out from the nest on a warm winter day. BugGuide also notes: “An introduced species from Eurasia, often mistaken for a yellow jacket. First reported in North America by G.C. Eickwort in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts. There are reports of it replacing native species of wasps in some areas,” which is prompting us to tag this as an Invasive Exotic, especially since the BugGuide range in quite extensive in North America considering the species has been reported here for less than 40 years.
Letter 6 – European Paper Wasp and California Mantidling in Mount Washington
Subject: Paper Wasp and California Mantid Nymph found among the primrose plants
Location: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
May 30, 2016 6:30 PM
We were out working in the yard on Memorial Day and we noticed a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes resting on a tall primrose stalk, so we decided to take a few images to identify the species. Well, as often happens in the garden, we got distracted and we remembered as the light was beginning to wane. Upon returning, much to our glee, we found a young California Mantid on the same stalk. The Mantid has more than doubled in size since we first discovered hatchlings back in early April. We couldn’t help but to be amused that in a few more months, the Paper Wasp might have to worry about becoming a meal for the Mantid. We are relatively certain that the wasp is a European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, which we identified on BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “An introduced species from Eurasia, often mistaken for a yellow jacket. First reported in North America by G.C. Eickwort in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts. There are reports of it replacing native species of wasps in some areas” which may be a problem as it has spread throughout much of North America in less than forty years, according to BugGuide.
Letter 7 – European Paper Wasp
Subject: Wasp, maybe a queen
Geographic location of the bug: 20min North of Boston
Time: 05:33 PM EDT
This was outside in late November temp was probably 45 degrees looks to be a queen … Note the red antennas
How you want your letter signed: William Mundy
Based on images posted to BugGuide, we are confident this is a European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, and introduced species. According to BugGuide: “mostly orange antennae diagnostic” and “Only females are able to overwinter.” Considering the time of year, this is most likely a female that will overwinter. BugGuide also notes: “First reported in North America in 1978 near Boston, MA Replacing native wasps in some areas.”
Letter 8 – Bug of the Month September 2021: Paper Wasps in Taiwan go for motorbike ride
Subject: 2 wasps nesting on motorbike fork
Geographic location of the bug: Taipei City, Taiwan
Time: 12:38 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This afternoon I found these 2 guys nesting off the lower end of the fork of my motorbike that I had had covered and not ridden for a couple of months. Over the past 3 days I rode the bike several times, including once after I had discovered them. They seemed unfazed by the 50 kmph speeds, winds, vibration, etc., never letting go of the nest or taking flight, although they moved about on the nest.
1. What type of wasp/hornet is it?
2. Can I just cut the rope-like thing that it hangs off and then run? Would they attack me/give chase? How long would they stay around the nest, and irritated?
I wouldn’t like to endanger their lives nor my own.
How you want your letter signed: Tauno
We love, love, love your letter and we are making your nesting Paper Wasps the Bug of the Month for September 2021. We have even posted a submission in 2014 of Paper Wasps in Taiwan. Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes are found in many parts of the world. They are social wasps and according to the North American site BugGuide: “Mature colonies have up to 30 adults.” If you cut the nest, with only two Paper Wasps, one the queen, protecting the next, we doubt you will be stung, but we can assure you the Paper Wasps will abandon the nest. The queen may attempt to build a new nest. We can’t believe you rode the motorbike at 50kmph and they stayed with you and the nest.
UPDATE: September 2, 2021
I am deeply grateful for your answer and, on behalf of the biker wasps, overwhelmed by the honor of being featured on your website.
An update:Your prediction was absolutely correct: the wasps abandoned the nest. I parked my bike, this time in a more open area and without covering it; on the first night at least one of these guys was still there, dozing off, but by the evening of the next day they were nowhere to be seen. For all the lack of privacy, I’d probably have moved, too.
I waited until the next afternoon and then mustered up the courage to pluck off the (really a beginning of a) nest with bare fingers, kind of expecting to see an empty shell (wouldn’t you finish building your home first and only then move your family in?), but to my surprise a little beady face was staring at me from almost each of the compartments (see the pic), some apparently trying to wiggle me to bring them high tea. Thinking the actual family might come back for them I took the whole bundle to the park across the alley and left it under a bush.
From your email it seems that this will probably not happen- so that was a bittersweet goodbye- but I can now say I’ve met a real queen.
Hope they’ll find a place for a more peaceful home soon.
Thank you for the wonderful update Tauno. Regarding moving the family in before the home is finished: The queen constructed the beginning of the nest and she produced her first generation of workers, and by your account, there were only a few. For that first generation, the queen also had to do all the hunting. Once she had several workers, she began producing her second generation of workers and there were more helpers so it can be a bigger brood.