Are yellow jackets the same as wasps? What are the differences and similarities? In this article, we will compare the two.
Yellow jackets and wasps are two insects that can confuse people when it comes to identifying which is which.
Both have similar appearances and behavior and belong to the same order – Hymenoptera.
The following article will discuss the characteristics that can help you identify and differentiate between these yellow insects.
What Are Yellow Jackets?
Yellow jackets are predatory insects found largely in North America. They belong to the order Hymenoptera and the family Vespidae.
These insects are almost the same size as bees and have black and yellow markings on their body. Despite resembling honey bees in appearance, yellow jackets are a type of wasp.
These carnivorous insects feed on other insects, such as bees and flies. They also feed on fruit and nectar.
Yellow jackets are often known to be social insects because, just like bees, they have a queen and build and live in colonies annually.
They have strong mandibles and stingers.
Even though they are slow to sting, the venom can be dangerous if a yellow jacket stings a human several times or you have an allergic reaction to it.
Otherwise, their venom is not always harmful, but the sting is excruciating.
What Are Wasps?
Wasps also belong to the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita.
However, compared to other insects of Apocrita, wasps have a narrower body and lesser body hair.
Wasps are either predatory or parasitic, and their food habits differ depending on which species is species.
Wasps are further divided into social and solitary segments.
The former live in colonies. Yellow jackets and hornets fall under this category of social wasps.
A vast number of other wasp species are largely solitary wasps.
Only the females are equipped to deliver a sharp sting among the species of stinging wasps.
They do so using their ovipositor, modified to sting and have venom.
Critical Differences Between Yellow Jackets and Wasps
Even though yellow jackets are a type of wasp, there is a significant difference between yellow jackets and wasps.
Although, at first glance, yellow jackets and wasps appear to be similar, there is a great deal of difference in their physical appearances.
Yellow jackets tend to have the same black and yellow color variation, with the yellow markings being more prominent than the black.
They also have thicker bodies and shorter lengths as compared to wasps.
Wasps, on the other hand, can have any number of color variations depending on the species.
You can find wasps in colors ranging from orange to red, yellow, and even blue. They also have slender and longer bodies and thin waists.
Yellow jackets are also called picnic pests; hence, you may spot them in orchards and meadows. They are also commonly spotted in urban areas.
Yellow jackets prefer nesting underground or in enclosed spaces.
Hence you will see them in habitats where there are plenty of closed areas to build a nest, i.e., in places with lots of trees and shrubs and plenty of soil, making woodlands and meadows an ideal living habitat.
Wasps, on the other hand, are commonly spotted in forests and rock faces. They are also abundant in woodlands, meadows, and gardens.
Wasps build their nests above ground, usually hanging from surfaces such as roofs and eaves, making them a common garden pest.
How the insect flies can help you identify if it is a wasp or yellow jacket. Many wasps, especially paper wasps, fly with their legs dangling in the air.
On the other hand, yellow jackets will fold their legs inwards when flying. Yellow jackets also tend to have shorter legs than wasps, making them almost invisible during flight.
Yellow jackets are aggressive insects and will sting even when not provoked. If their nest is threatened, they tend to attack in swarms.
Secondly, Yellow jackets are also known as picnic pests because you can often spot them in picnic spaces drawn to protein sources like meat.
They are also attracted to sweet liquids like juices.
Wasps, on the other hand, are far less aggressive. They are considered to be docile. Wasps will attack only if their nest is threatened.
When it comes to food habits, wasps generally feed on fruits and flower nectar.
You can determine if it belongs to a wasp or yellow jacket based on the kind of wasp nests you see. Their location is the primary way to determine which insect or pest you are dealing with.
Wasps nest above ground and build their nests on visible spots like roofs, beams, eaves, or any other man-made structure.
They also tend to have an open comb nest resembling a honeycomb or a large inverted cone.
Yellow jackets, on the other hand, build their nests in protected areas such as inside a wall cavity, burrows, tree stumps, tree branches, and other closed spaces.
Yellow jacket nests only have one opening, which might have a paper-like covering.
Despite being aggressive, stinging insects, yellow jackets often fall prey to larger animals and reptiles.
Raccoons are known to be among their top predators. Besides raccoons, skunks and black bears also hunt and feed on yellow jackets.
Surprisingly, most yellow jacket predators are mammals much larger than wasps.
On the other hand, wasps’ main predators include other larger insects like dragonflies, spiders, moths, and centipedes.
Other larger species like birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians also hunt them.
A major reason why wasps have a wider range of predators is that their bright colors often draw attention to them.
This makes them far more vulnerable to being hunted than yellow jackets, which have only one color variation, mainly black bodies with yellow stripes.
Wasp is any insect that belongs to the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita but is not a type of ant or bee.
By this definition, yellow jackets have become one type among the several species of wasps worldwide.
However, the variation in their appearance, behavior, habitats, predators, and nesting styles make wasps different from yellow jackets in many ways.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do yellow jacket wasps bite or sting?
Yellow jacket wasps are known to sting, not bite.
They have a smooth stinger which they use to inject venom into their prey or any perceived threat.
Unlike bees, yellow jackets are capable of stinging multiple times and can be very aggressive.
Their sting can be very painful and can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
It is important to avoid disturbing yellow jacket nests and to take necessary precautions when dealing with them.
What is the difference between a yellow jacket and a hornet?
Yellow jackets and hornets are both types of wasps, but there are some notable differences between the two.
Yellow jackets are smaller and more slender than hornets, with brighter yellow and black stripes on their bodies.
They are also more aggressive and tend to be more social, living in large colonies with a queen and workers.
Hornets, on the other hand, are larger and more robust, with thicker bodies and reddish-brown stripes.
They are less aggressive than yellow jackets but can still pack a painful sting if provoked.
Hornets tend to be more solitary, building their nests in trees or on buildings rather than in underground colonies like yellow jackets.
How serious is a yellow jacket sting?
A yellow jacket sting can be quite serious, especially for those who are allergic to insects.
The symptoms of a yellow jacket sting can include pain, swelling, redness, and itching at the site of the sting.
In some cases, people may also experience hives, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylaxis, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms after being stung by a yellow jacket.
Additionally, if you know that you are allergic to stinging insects, it is important to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times in case of an emergency.
Are yellow jackets called wasps?
Yes, yellow jackets are a type of wasp.
They are a common type of social wasp that can be identified by their bright yellow and black striped bodies.
Yellow jackets are often seen buzzing around picnics and outdoor events during the warmer months, and they can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
While they may be a nuisance to humans, yellow jackets play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to control insect populations.
There are many doubts regarding the differences between normal wasps (the solitary ones that we often see) and yellow jackets.
Over the years, our readers have been sending us pictures and questions asking about such issues, and that was the primary reason behind writing such an article.
We have collected some of the emails from our readers in the section below, along with our responses.
Please go through it!
Letter 1 – Cachicamas or Carton Wasps from Costa Rica
Subject: Wasp or hornet Location: Costa Rica near Arenal Volcano April 7, 2016 9:31 am Could you tell me what type of bug this is? Wasp or hornet? What kind? Does it sting? Thanks! Signature: Paige Dear Paige, Upon researching your request, we first encountered out own posting of Warrior Wasps, Synoeca septentrionalis, and we believe your images depict the same species. Alas, not all websites have the longevity that we enjoy, and several of the links from our 2014 posting are no longer active. We did locate new images on American Insects that identify two members of the genus, Synoeca septentrionalis or S. surinama, as Carton Wasps, and this information is provided: “Synoeca species are distributed from Mexico to Argentina. The genus is a small one, with five described species (Andena et al., 2009). Wasps in this genus are swarm founders, with a queen and a number of workers moving together to a site for a new nest. Swarm founders (which also include other genera such as Agelaia and Polybia) make large and elaborate nests, usually inside an envelope. In certain other paper wasp genera, nests are founded by a queen without the help of workers, and typically the nests are smaller and exposed (Nadkarni and Wheelright, editors, 2000). Two species of Synoeca are yellowish overall: S. chalibea and S. virginea. The other 3 species are bluish to blackish. Wings are dark. Nests house about 200 individuals and are often attached to a leaning tree; if disturbed, the wasps inside making a drumming noise. As the nest grows, its external surface has transverse corrugations looking like an armadillo’s back, hence these wasps are locally referred to as ‘armadillos’ or ‘cachicamas.'” According to the National Science Foundation: “In some areas of South America, the local name for this species is ‘armadillo wasp,’ in reference to the form of the nest. When mildly disturbed, the workers will produce an ominous rhythmic sound by rubbing against the nest paper. In Costa Rica, they are euphemistically called ‘guitar players.’ Upon further disturbance, they are capable of mounting a ferocious attack, and the stings are reputed to be exquisitely painful. The sting apparatus is barbed, and will often embed in the skin of the unlucky nest predator. This wasp is mimicked by many less-dangerous insects, presumably to gain protection from the resemblance.” We really enjoyed researching your request.
Letter 2 – Stinging Wasp from Costa Rica
Subject: Costa Rica wasp or hornet with really painful sting Location: Manzanillo, Costa Rica (small town on the southern Caribbean side) June 1, 2016 12:46 am Dear Sir, Currently I am on a holiday in Costa Rica. Unfortunately today I bumped head first into a nest of black wasps or hornets, by accident. I have been stung in my head a dozen times and it was extremely painful. The nest was hanging underneath a tree on the beach of Manzanillo. I jumped in the water. The bugs died after the sting and left their piercer behind. The piercer was hard and light yellow. I think I managed to get them all out, but it is difficult to tell since the stings are in my hair. So now I am wondering: what are those little devils from hell and how dangerous are the stings? Do I need to get medical attention? I do not think I am allergic (it happend 10 hours ago and I am still not really swollen) but it still hurts a lot. Thank you very much in advance for your time! Signature: Unlucky tourist Dear Unlucky Tourist, Though your insect sure appears to be a Wasp, we are not aware of any Wasps that lose their stingers upon stinging. That is a characteristic of Bee stings. According to the Boston Globe: “For a bee, a sting is all or nothing; the bee loses its stinger and injects a relatively large volume of venom — typically about 50 micrograms. A wasp, which retains its stinger, injects from 2 to 15 micrograms — but it can do it many times.” The nest is that of a social Wasp, and unlike solitary Wasps that are relatively docile, social Wasps will defend the nest. We believe we may have discovered the identity of your Wasps. In Discover Magazine we found an article entitled “Stung” that states: “One morning not long ago, an American entomologist named Justin Schmidt was making his way up the winding road to the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica when he spotted Parachartergus fraternus, social wasps known both for the sculptured architecture of their hives and the ferocity with which they defend them.” Then we found an article on America Pink that states: “For a wasp species, Parachartergus fraternus is average in size. A typical Parachartergus fraternus forager is about 11 mm long, 3 mm wide across its thorax, and weighs about 0.05 g.” The Sting of the Wild does not describe the sting, but rather the ability of the wasps to spray venom. Dear Daniel, Thank you so much for your response. It is strange that they lost their stinger. I am questioning right now if it was in fact their stinger, or maybe the venom had some reaction with the sea water and turned hard? I most certainly pulled something hard out of every sting. It remains a mystery. I do not know if they sprayed any venom since it all went so fast. Hopefully this information might help you in the future with similar cases. Thanks so much! Best regards, Renske Anna
Letter 3 – Sand Wasp from Costa Rica
Subject: Wasp from Costa Rica Geographic location of the bug: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon Date: 02/17/2018 Time: 01:26 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman: Hi, I found this wasp in the beach. I think is a kind of digger wasp or mud dauber but I would like to know exactly name. How you want your letter signed: Bichos Dear Bichos, Based on images posted to BugGuide, we feel pretty confident that this is a Sand Wasp in the tribe Bembicini, but we are not able to provide you with an exact species identification.
Letter 4 – Male Tiphiid Wasps
Curious gathering of hymenopterans These guys congregate on the roots of my vanda orchids in central Florida every year. Who are they and what do they want? I am very impressed by your website and the service that you provide. As an amateur botany and entomology student for the past few decades, I have a great appreciation for the effort required by your admirably positive contribution to the information highway. Excellent work! Thanks, Jeff Smith Hi Jeff, This is a group of male Tiphiid Wasps in the genus Myzinum. We are including a comment Eric Eaton provide for a similar aggregation earlier in the year. Update: (07/10/2007) Eric Explains Daniel: The wasps in the image are all males. Males of many kinds of wasps form “sleeping” aggregations like that depicted in the image. It may also be that these male wasps form “leks,” meaning they occupy a small area (lek) that the females will visit to select a mate. While the genus of these wasps certainly is Myzinum, species determination is difficult even with specimens, and certainly cannot be concluded from a photo alone. Eric
Letter 5 – Tiphiid Wasp
A BIG WASP. DUNNO RON D. HERE AGAIN FROM CENTRAL ILLINOIS. I SAW THIS LARGE WASP AND TOOK IT’S PICTURE. IT’S ABOUT 1 1/4″ LONG AND QUITE PRETTY. HAVE ANY IDEA?? I’M SURE YOU DO. Ron Hi Ron, This appears to be a Tiphiid Wasp in the genus Myzinum, possibly the Five Banded Tiphiid, Myzinum quinquecinctum.
Letter 6 – Aggregation of Tiphiid Wasps
HUGE swarm of… Mr. Bugman, I was out about an hour before dusk photographing a dragonfly when I stirred up what I thought was a huge swarm of mosquitoes especially considering the hour. However upon closer inspection ( What possessed me to want to get CLOSER to such a large swarm…I don’t know) anyways, they appear to be some form of wasp. They behave just like mosquitoes though, in that, I couldn’t locate any central “nest” they were simply perched on all the branches and leaves of the plants, when stirred up it just looks like a dense swarm of mosquitoes. I’m not sure if the photo is clear enough to ID from but that’s as close as I could get without stirring them up. They are approximately 1/2″ to 3/4″ long. By the way, by a HUGE swarm, I mean they were collected on the plants like in the photo covering an area about 75ft by 10ft. I found these in Southeast Alabama, almost to the Florida Border. Thanks in advance, Clayton Hi Clayton, This is a aggregation of male Tiphiid Wasps, probably the Five Banded Tiphiid, Myzinum quinquecinctum. Over the years, we have received two other reports of this behavior with photos. The nonstinging male wasps form “bachelor parties” when bedding down for the night, though the reason is unclear.
Letter 7 – Five Banded Thynnid Wasp
Help identifying this “long skinny bee”? June 10, 2010 Hello, These flying insects just began to appear last week. I have some children’s toys (inflatable pool, large molded plastic slides, large molded plastic playhouse) and these insects just appear to be swarming around them. There’s about 15-20 bugs around each toy and they never appear to really land on them, they just fly around them. I looked inside the playhouse and under the slides and couldn’t find any nests. It has been very hot and humid, 90+ degrees lately. The insects look like long skinny bees, and they don’t fly like a wasp. I’m no expert, but it looks like a stinger poking out of the end of the body. I found a dead one in the kiddy pool and attached some pics. Thanks! Hernando, Mississippi (northwest mississippi) You have Five Banded Tiphiid Wasps, Myzinum quinquecinctum, a solitary wasp that sometimes forms aggregations of males like this example on BugGuide. Of the genus BugGuide indicates “Adults found on flowers, take nectar” and “Larvae are parasitoids of white grubs (scarab larvae), especially May Beetles, Phyllophaga. Female lays one egg per grub in soil. Larvae hatches, penetrates host, first feeding on non-essential tissues, later feeding on essential organs and killng host. Pupae overwinter in soil and adults emerge in early summer, with one generation per year.” Of the species, BugGuide indicates: “Males are more slender than the females and have an upturned black hook at the end of the abdomen.” Based on that description, we believe your specimen is a male, and male wasps cannot sting. Eric Eaton ponders on a BugGuide posting: “Is it possible male wasps are social because they have no defense mechanism, like a stinger, thus need ‘group’ protection?“
Letter 8 – Public Humiliation or Not?: Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp
Ed. Note: Moments after posting this letter, WTB? received a comment that chastised us for making negative remarks. Please let us know if we have failed in our mission to educate by adding your own comment. Whats this bug Location: Florida November 5, 2010 4:24 pm I was just wondering what kind of bug this was. I got home from school and it was under my shirt??? But I have never seen one before. Signature: Dont make no diffrence Dear Dont make no diffrence, We surely hope you were not sending this email immediately after your English class because there is no evidence of grammatical retention. In the interest of contributing to your knowledge of science and your appreciation of nature, we researched your request and we have determined that this is a male Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp, Myzinum quinquecinctum, which you may verify on BugGuide. According to BugGuide, the Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp is: “A slender, shining black wasp, with yellow crossbands. Males are more slender than the females and have an upturned black hook at the end of the abdomen. There are 5 yellow bands on the abdomen of the female (the second is broken in the middle) and 6 narrow, more regular ones in the male. Both head and thorax are marked with yellow. Legs of the males are strongly yellow, but they are reddish in females. Wings are brown.” Male wasps are incapable of stinging.
Letter 9 – Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp
Whats this bug? Location: Gaines, Michigan July 24, 2011 11:01 am These wasp looking bugs cloud around our yard, they never seem to land they just fly in circles. We caught one and it is less than an inch long, and it has weird antennas. They just appeared this month, please help! Signature: Alan Rodgers Hi Alan, This is a male Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp, Myzinum quinquecinctum. According to BugGuide: “A slender, shining black wasp, with yellow crossbands. Males are more slender than the females and have an upturned black hook at the end of the abdomen. There are 5 yellow bands on the abdomen of the female (the second is broken in the middle) and 6 narrow, more regular ones in the male. Both head and thorax are marked with yellow. Legs of the males are strongly yellow, but they are reddish in females. Wings are brown.” This is not an aggressive species, and males form “Bachelor Parties” like this one we posted in 2007.