Difference between a Yellow Jacket and a Paper Wasp

By: | Updated: Aug-15, 2019

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.

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. It’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.

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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. 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.

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?

When it comes to appearance, both look similar. Both are black with yellow bands. 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.

A yellow jacket is more aggressive and can sting repeatedly, while a paper wasp only attacks when threatened. Both feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the trash or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, feeds on pollen and nectar as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered nest underground or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless nests in a tree, eaves or spouts.

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