Difference between a Yellow Jacket and a Paper Wasp

By: | Updated: Nov-19, 2021
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Although yellow jackets and paper wasps look very similar because of their yellow banded black bodies and their ability to sting, they actually have several differences. Their behavior, nests, and appearance are very different. So what is the difference between the two? Read on and find out.

Summary Table

Yellow Jacket Paper Wasp
Has a fat, hairless black body with yellow bands, usually 0.5 to 1 inch long Has a longer body with a length of 0.75 to 1 inch; also has an orange-tipped antennae
Stings aggressively and repeatedly Stings when provoked or threatened
Builds covered nest underground and other hollow areas Builds coverless nest in cavities or in sheltered areas
Feeds on insects and human food; does not carry pollen Feeds on insects, nectar and pollen


Wasps comparison

The term yellow jacket applies to all raptorial wasps found in North America, specifically the ones that belong to the Vespula and Dolichovespula family. A yellow jacket wasp usually has a hairless black body with yellow bands. Because of its size and sting, it is sometimes mistaken for a bee or even a paper wasp. However, it is far from similar to a bee when it comes to its contribution to agriculture; a yellow jacket does not carry pollen.

The colony of yellow jackets is led by a queen bee who is followed by thousands of worker bees who tend to all tasks around the nest. The worker bees perform most of the tasks around the nest, including feeding, defending, building new nests and tending to larvae that are growing into pupae stage.

A mature worker yellow jacket wasp is usually about half an inch long while the queen is, of course, bigger in size with a length of almost an inch. This social insect’s sting is painful, and it has the tendency to attack repeatedly and aggressively. It primarily preys on insects and garden pests during the spring and summer but will hunt for more sugary food as the season changes. Yellow jackets dwell in trash bins and even feed on people’s food, which is why they are considered a hazard.

Their wood fiber nests are covered and are usually built underground (burrows), but can also be found in trees and in man-made structures.

On the other hand, a paper wasp is of the family Polistinae. It is sometimes called an “umbrella wasp” because of the shape of its nest. The European paper wasp is the most popular type of paper wasp and considered as a biological pest control in agricultural field. A paper wasp is slender and 3/4 – 1 inch long. Its body is black or brown with yellow bands and it has orange-tipped antennae. In the late summer and fall, males and new queens of this type of wasp are produced. The queen paper wasp will lay one egg per paper nest. The newly hatched paper wasp larva looks white and has no legs.

A paper wasp feeds on nectar, but it will also hunt garden pests to nurture its young. Because of this, they are considered beneficial to society. They do not attack aggressively unless their nests are in danger or when provoked.

Additionally, their coverless nests are water resistant. They are made with wood and plant fibers mixed with saliva, which looks like paper mache (thus the name “paper wasp”). They build their nests in sheltered areas like gutters, spouts, eaves or door frames.

Yellow Jacket vs Paper Wasp

What, then, is the difference between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp?

Both Yellow Jacket and Paper wasps belong to the Vespidae family, which also includes hornets. Yellow jackets and paper wasps also have a similar life cycle. Both insects go through five stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult, and finally, the adult dies. Yellow jackets hatch from eggs laid by females in their nests. The eggs hatch into larvae which develop through five stages before they emerge as adults. The female paper wasp will lay one egg at a time inside her nest, which she places inside a cell constructed out of mud packed together with plant fibers and small twigs

When it comes to appearance, both of these stingers also look similar. Polistes paper wasps are often mistaken as yellow jackets. Both yellow jacket and paper wasp are black with yellow markings. A paper wasp, however, has a longer body than a yellow jacket, which has a shorter and fatter body. If you look closely, a paper wasp also has an orange-tipped antennae while a yellow jacket does not. The paper wasp also has a thinner waist and long legs that hang loose when flying.

Both yellow jacket and paper wasp are two social wasps that will sting if disturbed. Yellow jacket, however, is considered as one of the most dangerous stinging insects compared to other stinging insects (such as honey bees, paper wasp and bumble bees). In yellow jacket nest or hives, thousands of individual wasp are eager to sting humans as a nest defense. Yellow jackets are known as more aggressive, able to sting repeatedly and can be life-threatening to hypersensitive people, while paper wasp colonies only attack when threatened. Some yellowjackets become aggressive scavengers around food and drinks. Both yellow jacket and paper wasp feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the garbage cans or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, act as pollinators and feeds on pollen, nectar and insects such as small caterpillars as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered yellow jacket nest underground, attics, wall voids or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless paper wasp nests in a tree, eaves or spouts. The holes they make are made by chewing away wood until they find a cavity that is large enough for them to live inside. The yellow jacket’s nest is similar to that of a paper wasp’s nest; however it is not constructed by chewing away wood but rather by boring holes into hardwood trees. Once the hole has been drilled into a tree trunk or other object large enough for them to live inside, they build their nest out of mud packed together with pieces of leaves and grass. Yellow jackets construct their nests in the fall, when it is warm enough for them to build their nests. Paper wasps construct their nests in the spring or summer when it is warm enough for them to dig a tunnel out of a tree trunk.

What is the best way to remove a wasp or yellow jacket from your home?

It is no secret that yellow jackets and wasps are annoying pests. Their nests can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your home and garden. Fortunately, you can eliminate suitable nest sites without having to resort to toxic chemicals. The following tips will help you remove wasps from your home without harming them.

If the nest is out in the open, you can use a pesticide spray that kills wasps on contact or use other chemicals that are designed for wasp control. During late evening or early morning, you can use an insecticidal pesticide to destroy the nest.

If the nest is hidden inside your home, you can call a professional pest control company for help with removing it from your home. Do not disturb the nest after getting rid of it because this will cause more problems for you later on. Take precautions before getting rid of the nest by wearing gloves and long sleeves so that if there are any workers present in the nest, they will not sting you. Be careful not to touch them as any broken eggs so that you do not get stung as well.

When removing nests from around your house, you can also try using items such as plastic bags or old t-shirts to collect the nests and remove them from your home. Be careful not to breathe in the nests while they are still inside the bags. Make sure that you do not allow the nests to fall into any of your garden plants or flower beds.

If you want an easier way of getting rid of wasps, try using non-toxic glue traps that are designed to catch wasps. The wasps will get stuck in the glue, and then you can dispose of them safely.

Another option is to use traps that kill the worker wasps and then set up a kill box to get rid of the queen wasp. The best time to do this is in the morning when there are fewer wasps around, because this will prevent other workers from getting inside your home and causing more damage. You can place a plastic box or a cardboard box with holes in it outside your home so that they will be attracted to it and get trapped inside. After about two weeks, the nest will be empty, and you can dispose of it properly so that you do not harm any bees or other insects.


Yellow jackets and paper wasps are very similar insects. They both have the same social structure and sting when threatened. The differences between the two species lie in their coloration, size and nest locations.

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