Is a Yellow Jacket a Wasp or Hornet?

By Kristie Karns

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Wasps and hornets often look a lot alike. This is because they are technically the same type of insect. Hornets are a larger variety of wasp, which is where the separation between the two types of insects seems to take place. Yellow jackets are a form of aggressive wasp that are smaller than hornets. One way to identify wasps from bees is that bees are generally hairy insects while wasps are smoother, yet still colorful.

Identifying Hornets

Hornets are very large wasps, that can reach sizes from 1 to 2 inches in length, depending on the type. Hornets generally make large, football-shaped paper nests in trees or under eaves on homes, which they defend rather aggressively if under attack. Hornets will eat tree sap and also prey on other insects, but they do not sting humans unless provoked. The sting of the hornet is very painful and commonly causes severe allergic reactions.

Identifying Wasps

There are three types of wasps. They include parasitic wasps, where the wasp lays her eggs on another insect, which then becomes food for her young; solitary hunting wasps, which is a single female who captures a live insect and traps him inside her nest to become food for her young; and social wasps, who live in large colonies that break up at the end of the warmer seasons and reassemble each spring.

Three Types of Social Wasps

The most common social wasp is the yellow jacket. These insects are responsible for the majority of stinging attacks on people. Yellow jackets eat other insects and they hang around dumpsters, where they eat sweet-smelling garbage. The second type of social wasp is the hornet, which often ignores people and eats other insects. The third type of social wasp are the umbrella wasps, which get their name from the way they make their nests, umbrella style.

Yellow Jacket Nests

Unlike hornets and other types of wasps, yellow jackets typically nest in holes in the ground, such as abandoned rabbit holes. They can be seen swarming from the hole during the warm months. These wasps live in huge groups consisting of thousands of individuals that get very aggressive when someone disrupts their nest. These insects attack in groups and will chase people for long distances if they get provoked, plus they have a vicious sting.

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