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What is the Difference Between Wasps, Hornets, and Yellow Jackets?

What is the Difference Between Wasps, Hornets, and Yellow Jackets?

What is the Difference Between Wasps, Hornets, and Yellow Jackets?

Posted August 13, 2020

The difference between these creatures can be pretty confusing. Knowing how they are different won’t save you from a sting, but understanding these creatures can help us appreciate them.

These are the main types of flying stinging insects called wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets and their differences. 


Wasp Definition #1 

The term “wasp” refers to any flying, stinging insects in the order Hymenoptera. Wasps are not bees or ants. 

The term “wasp” also includes all the insects in the taxonomic family Vespidae and certain species outside the family Vespidae

That means hornets, yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers, and insects in the family Vespidae are all considered “Wasps.”

In General, all wasps:

  • Can fly
  • Sting multiple times
  • Eat meat
  • Live in colonies or are solitary

Wasp Definition #2 

The term “wasp” also refers to specific species, including paper wasps. 

The term wasp is also used to describe stinging, flying insects that are not in the family Vespidae.

Wasps that are not in the family Vespidae include:

  • Tarantula Hawks. This is a type of spider wasp that eats plant nectar and preys on tarantulas for its eggs. The sting does not kill the tarantula but paralyzes it. The wasp drags the immobile spider to its nest and lays its eggs on or inside its body. Over the course of weeks, the eggs hatch and feed on the living spider, avoiding its vital organs to keep it alive for as long as possible. Gruesome, but true.
  • Spider Wasps. Like tarantula hawks, these wasps sting spiders and feed them to their eggs and larvae. Tarantula hawks are one of many species of spider wasps.
  • Mud Daubers. Mud daubers also can feed on spiders, usually their body fluids. However, the bulk of their diet consists of plant nectar. There are many species of mud daubers.
  • Sand Wasps. Sand wasps are similar to mud daubers that belong to the same family Sphecidae.

Yellow jackets

Definition of Yellow jacket

Yellow jackets all belong to the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula. Like many wasps, they belong to the family Vespidae

All yellow jackets are eusocial, which means they live in colonies. They build nests in trees, in the ground, on man-made structures, or other protected areas.

Yellow jackets may be yellow and black or white and black. 

Yellow jackets are often referred to as “Wasps” because they are all in the family Vespidae. 

Common Species of Yellow jackets:

  • German wasp
  • European yellowjackets
  • The common wasp
  • Bald-faced hornets. Turns out, these were misnamed years ago. Bald-faced hornets aren’t hornets at all but a white-and-black species of yellow jacket. Because they are white and black, they are usually not considered a yellow jacket.


Hornets are insects in the genus Vespa. They are eusocial, which means they build colonies. They are the largest of all the types of wasps. 

Most species of hornets come from Europe and Asia.

Common Species of Hornets:

  • European Hornet. Originally from Europe and introduced into the United States in the 1840s, this is the only true hornet that lives in North America. Many North American species that were once believed to be hornets, such as the bald-faced hornet, are actually yellow jackets.
  • Asian Giant Hornet, (or “Murder Hornet.”) These were found in the Northwest United States in 2019. They are considered to be one of the largest species of wasp in the world, measuring around 2.5 inches. They specialize in killing and eating entire honeybee colonies to feed their hornet larvae.

Bonus Fact: Origin of the Word “Wasp”

Here are a few interesting facts to note about the words “Wasp” and “Vespidae”:


  1. Vespidae comes from the Latin word “vespa”
  2. Vespa in Latin means “wasp”


  1. “Wasp” in English comes from an Old English word that developed from German
  2. “Wespe” is German for wasp, pronounced VEH-spuh, or vespa
  3. The German word for wasp “wespe” (VEH-spuh) comes from the Latin word for wasp, “vespa.” 

Conclusion: Vespidae is a good name for the wasp family since it literally means “wasp.”

Okay, So How Do I Get Rid of Wasps?

When it comes to wasps, Fox Pest Control has your back. Especially if you are allergic to wasp stings, you may want to seriously consider hiring the professionals to keep these dangerous stingers away.

While there are ways you can help prevent wasps, the professionals can keep them away for good.

We have all the tools and equipment to protect you and your family from the dangers presented by all kinds of wasps. 

Call today to benefit from our expertise and to make your home safe and comfortable again. 

Fox Pest Control. 

No Bugs. Simply Better.

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