Yellow Jacket vs. Honey Bees: A Complete Comparison

Many people mix up yellow jackets and honey bees, and it’s perfectly understandable.

The two winged insects have bodies of a similar size, stripy pattern, and color scheme. Even their buzzing sounds are alike!

That said, yellow jackets and honey bees are entirely different insects. One is a type of wasp while the other is, well, a bee species.

The question is, how can you tell them apart? This is where our guide comes in!

Today’s yellow jacket vs. honey bees comparison covers all the differences and similarities between both insects, from their physical appearance and diet to their behavior and benefits.


Both the yellow jacket and the honey bee belong to the order Hymenoptera, the same as ants and sawflies.

However, yellow jackets are predatory social wasps, part of the genus Vespula and the family Vespidae.

On the other hand, honey bees are non-predator, eusocial insects that are classified under the genus Apis and the family Apidae.

Physical Features

The yellow jacket and the honey bee share various similarities in their physical appearance.

Both insects have wings and show off strips across their bodies. They also sport a similar yellow and black color combo, as well as a similar length of about 1/2 an inch.

But there are several giveaways to help you differentiate between the two creatures.

Yellow jackets have hairless bodies that are more black than yellow. Their yellow bands are also a bolder shade with a shinier and smoother finish.

Honey bees, on the other hand, have an equal proportion of black to yellow streaks. Their colors are duller and their bodies are more rounded with a coating of fuzzy, sticky hairs.

Yellow Jacket insect on a wooden tree branch

Yellow jackets have more elongated, slender bodies that taper at the end. A distinct characteristic of theirs is the pinched waist located at the point where the abdomen meets the thorax.

Also, honey bees possess pockets on their legs to help them carry pollen. Yellow jacket wasps don’t have thin, pocket-less legs.


Yellow jackets and honey bees have different feeding habits. While yellow jackets are omnivores, honey bees are herbivores.

This means that yellow jackets eat both meat and plants. This wasp species feeds on nectar from flowers as well as the flesh of other insects such as flies and bees.

Yellow jackets are also opportunistic feeders, which is why they hover around dumpsters and picnic sites to seek out food resources.

The diet of a honey bee, however, consists of nectar and pollen from flowers. When food sources aren’t abundant or when foraging isn’t possible, they can munch on their honey stores.

Yellow jackets mainly feed their younglings meat from other insects, whereas honey bees start their babies with a royal jelly diet and later move on to honey.

Behavioral Traits

Honey bees are more peaceful than yellow jackets with a stronger sense of community. They work together to collect nectar/pollen, build combs, and secure food for their offspring.

Additionally, honey bees use the nectar and pollen they gather to produce honey. Yellow jackets don’t make honey.

Yellow jackets are generally more aggressive and territorial than honey bees. They’re also more protective of their nests and easily prone to attacking intruders.

While they work together to provide food and develop the nest, yellow jackets tend to fly solo outside of the nest and have minimal interactions with each other.

When it comes to stinging, yellow jackets can do it repeatedly with or without provocation. But honey bees sting only when provoked or threatened, and they do it once because their stingers detach from their bodies.

A yellow jacket’s sting is more painful than a bee sting due to its more powerful venom.

Colony and Nesting

Honey bee on an autumn chrysanthemum flowers

The roles of yellow jackets and honey bees in their respective colonies are similar. The queen lays eggs, the males are around for mating, and the females do the building and foraging tasks.

The biggest difference lies in the size of the population. While a yellow jacket colony typically houses no more than 5,000 wasps, a honey bee colony can grow up to 60,000 members.

While honey bees spend warmer months preparing for the winter by storing pollen and honey so they can stay inside the hive until the temperatures are back up, yellow jackets hibernate the winter away without storing any food.

This species of wasp leaves the responsibility of building a nest to the queen, which takes place every spring.

The queen wasp chooses an enclosed area such as a wall cavity, a tree branch, a roof space, or an underground burrow. Then, she makes the walls of the nest using a grayish paper-like material that she forms by chewing wood fiber.

As for honey bees, the queen supervises worker bees as they build the hive using beeswax. An established colony can stay in the same spot for years as long as the conditions and resources for foraging are available.

If the beehive becomes too crowded, honey bee scouts will lead about half the population along with the queen to a different location where they start a new hive. This is called swarming, which yellow jackets don’t do.


Honey bees provide us with a monumental gift; honey. Yellow jacket wasps don’t produce honey.

On the other hand, yellow jackets are great pest controllers, which is absent in honey bees.

Both insects pollinate flowers and contribute to the thriving of the environment, although honey bees are the more active pollinators.

Wrapping Up

If you find a cluster of honey bees in your garden or yard, leave it be as it’ll typically abandon the spot within a day or two.

If there’s a beehive or if you want the clump of bees gone, it’s best to contact a local beekeeper to safely remove the insects and give them a new home.

If you come across yellow jackets, don’t try to deal with them yourself as they can get very aggressive and sting repeatedly. Call a pest control service to resolve the situation.

Thomas Callaghan

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