Hornets vs Yellow Jackets – What’s The Difference?

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The Hornets vs Yellow Jackets wasps are two common insect species that live in close proximity to each other. Both wasps are members of the same family, Vespidae, and share many similar characteristics. The Hornets are larger than the Yellow Jackets, but they both have distinctive colors and habits.

What biological classification do bees, hornets, and yellow jackets fall under?

hornet vs yellow jacket

The Hymenoptera order includes bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps. These insects are widely distributed and have a complicated relationship with humans. They play an important role in the ecosystem but can also be pests.

Interestingly, there are more than 150,000 different species of Hymenopterans– which is the biological classification that bees, hornets, and yellow jackets fall under. This diverse group of insects has a lot in common- such as their two pairs of wings and their four membranous legs.

This is obviously not a difference between hornets and yellow jackets, but it is important to understand the very basic biology of these bugs before you understand the differences!

Hornets vs. yellow jackets in terms of their diet.

hornet vs yellow jacket

Hornets and yellow jackets are two different types of bugs that get their names from the things they eat.

Hornets are mainly predators that feed on insects, while yellow jackets are mainly scavengers that feed on carrion. This means that hornets mainly hunt down their prey, while yellow jackets will take advantage of dead animals or other leftovers.

Hornets, which are larger than yellow jackets, generally feed on nectar, while yellow jackets scavenge for food around dumpsters and roadkill. Yellow jackets are also the most likely to sting humans, while hornets will only attack if they feel threatened.

Interestingly, the diet of hornets and yellow jackets also affects their social interactions and fighting tendencies.

As I’ve mentioned, hornets are scavengers that mainly eat other insects, while yellow jackets will prey on a variety of small animals. As a result, hornets are more likely to retreat from a fight, while yellow jackets will be more likely to attack.

Hornets vs yellow jackets – All you need to know

Now, getting to the basic social structure, habitat, and defensive mechanisms employed by these two bugs, you will understand that they are vastly different.

Yellow jacket wasps behave like bees.

yellow jacket wasp

Both yellow jacket wasps and bees are social organisms. This means that they live in colonies where each member has a specific role to play. The colony is typically divided into three types of members: workers, drones, and queens.

The yellow jacket wasp is very similar to the honeybee in its behavior. Both of these insects build combs, but the yellow jacket’s nest is usually found in places such as underground, in a tree hollow, or near cracks in exterior walls.

This is because the wasp needs a protected place to lay her eggs and raise her young.

Nest types of hornets and yellow jacket wasps

Hornets vs Yellowjackets

There are two types of wasps that are commonly referred to as hornets and yellow jackets- the European hornet and the common yellow jacket.

These two bugs can be differentiated by their nests. Hornets make their nests by chewing up pieces of wood pulp, while yellow jackets typically build nests underground.

In fact, yellow jackets are comfortable with occupying burrows that have been dug by other animals. Sometimes, yellow jackets will build their nests above the ground in hollows of tree barks and cracks in walls.


Interestingly, hornets and yellow jacket wasps use their nests for different purposes. Hornets will build their nest in an old tree or other sheltered location and will store food there.

Yellow jackets, on the other hand, will build their nest close to people and animals so that they can have easy access to their prey. The nests are also used as a place to lay eggs and raise their young.

Differences in the color of hornets and yellow jackets

Hornets and yellow jackets are both fairly similar, but they have different colorations on their abdomens. Hornets typically have a black and yellow pattern, much like yellow jackets. But, they can be easily distinguished by their markings.

Hornets have red markings on their head and thorax, while yellow jackets simply have black and yellow stripes.

Differences in levels of aggression of hornets and yellow jackets

Both hornets and yellow jackets have a stinger that they use to inject venom into their prey or attacker. The venom can cause pain, swelling, and irritation.

The level of aggression hornets and Yellow Jackets display can vary depending on their environment. Hornets are typically more defensive, while yellow jackets can be more aggressive.

However, if a nest is disturbed or there is food scarcity, the hornets will become more aggressive, and the yellow jackets will become more defensive.

In general, hornets are less aggressive than yellow jackets and will usually only sting humans if they feel threatened. Yellow jackets, on the other hand, are more aggressive and will sting humans and other animals without provocation.

Differences in average flying speeds of hornets and yellow jackets

Interestingly, hornets can fly up to 14 mph, while yellow jackets typically fly between 6 and 7 mph. This means that hornets can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time, making them better suited for traveling long distances.

Yellow jackets, on the other hand, are better at navigating tight spaces.


The fact is that hornets and yellow jackets, despite belonging to the same biological classification, are vastly different in terms of their behavior. Not only that, but they also differ in terms of their nesting habitats and levels of aggression.

Now, bear in mind that hornets are less likely to harm you without provocation, but yellow jackets have been known to become aggressive without reason. Therefore, I like to live by a simple rule – if you see a hornet, just continue doing your work. But, if you see a yellow jacket wasp, run.

About the author

A biotechnologist by profession and a passionate pest researcher. I have been one of those people who used to run away from cockroaches and rats due to their pesky features, but then we all get that turn in life when we have to face something.