All About Wasps, Yellow Jackets & Hornets

waspThe Vespidae family includes nearly 5,000 species of wasps. They have spread all over the world, except for the polar regions. With powerful and painful stings, these insects are usually not welcome near households. They like to build their nests in many of the same places people usually spend their time, and there is a good chance you’ll encounter them at some point, so it’s important to know the difference between the most common species.

Paper Wasps and Yellow Jackets

Paper wasps are similar in appearance to yellow jackets, but different when it comes to behavior. Both species are black and yellow, and can sting. Paper wasps have a longer body, 1.8 to 2.5 cm long, significantly more black color, and with darker wings. Their wings are thinner and their legs always point downwards while they are in flight. With 10 to 16 mm in length, yellow jackets are smaller insects than paper wasps. Prior to landing, they do a recognizable, rapid side-to-side pattern.

Their Nests

Yellow jackets usually build their nest in holes in the ground, like under porches, in sidewall cracks, at the base of a tree, or around railroad ties. The tallest places they will build a nest are low-hanging branches and bushes. Paper wasps build large aerial nests made of chewed wood pulp. Their nests are attached to surfaces via a small stem, and are recognizable since they don’t build outer walls, but leave nest cells open. The size of one paper wasp colony is 100 or a bit more, while colonies of yellow jackets are always larger than 100 insects.

Behavior and Diet

Yellow jackets and paper wasps both eat fruit, nectar, and insect prey. Paper wasps usually eat more insect larvae and only some kinds of nectar, while yellow jackets prefer sweeter meals. Both of these insects are capable of delivering a venomous sting. Yellow jackets are much more aggressive since their nests are more exposed and they tend to sting on a moment’s notice. Paper wasps only sting in self-defense or when someone is actively disturbing their nest.

European Hornets and Bald-faced Hornets

Hornets are distinguished from other vespine wasps by a large top margin of the head and by the rounded segment of the abdomen behind the waist. The European hornet has spread throughout Europe, America, and Asia, while bald-faced hornets are native to North America. Bald-faced hornets are 15 mm long and black and ivory in color, while the European hornet is around 25 mm long with yellow and brown coloration.

Their Nests

The nests of European hornets are located in wall voids or hollow trees, while bald-faced hornets build nests in bushes and shrubbery, about three feet off the ground, and in trees as high as 60 feet or more. The European hornet’s nest will rarely appear freely suspended. The football-shaped bald-faced hornet’s nest is usually more exposed and easier to notice. Both species can have colonies with more than 300 workers.

Behavior and Diet

Both European and bald-faced hornets feed on other insects and nectar. They don’t die after stinging their victim; in fact, they can sting repeatedly when defending their nest, which makes them dangerous and hard to handle on your own.

Proudly serving the greater Chicagoland area in Illinois and southeast Wisconsin, the professional exterminators at Aerex Pest Control understand the habits of wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets and use that knowledge when developing a pest control program that is best suited to your home and your particular problem. Our technicians are professional, state certified, licensed applicators. Call today for your free consultation 847-255-8888 or click here for a free quick quote.

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