Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket: 6 Main Differences Explained

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 11, 2022
© A-Z-Animals.com
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Key Points:

  • A Honey Bee is dull yellow with a rounder, fuzzy body, while the Yellow Jacket is bright yellow and thin.
  • Their homes are very different. Honey Bees build wax nest in high places such as trees. Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, create nests underground and camouflage the entrance.
  • Honey bees will only sting once if threatened. Yellow jackets, however, go into full defensive mode and will sting multiple times. They are highly aggressive.

It is fairly easy to tell apart a Honey Bee vs a Yellow Jacket on sight, but it can be hard to know how to do so without risking getting stung. Although they are similar in their buzzing sound, size, and general colors, a Yellow Jacket is a predatory wasp often confused for other wasp species such as hornets and paper wasps. People tend to think of honey bees as cute and generally harmless and yellow jackets as nasty and dangerous. While this is true, there’s much more to the story.

How can you tell their nests apart? Where do they live? Should you have one or both in your backyard garden? What should you do if you have either? What provokes them into stinging? What do they eat? We’ll look at their differences below.

Comparing Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket

Honey BeeYellow Jacket
NestWax hive in hidden places or honey bee box (re-used)Nest under the ground, in holes or high places
BodyRound, fuzzy, golden-brown or amber, flat hind legs, wide wingsSlender body, yellow jacket with shiny black body, white or yellow face, thin waist, slender wings
SizeA little over 0.5 in L0.5 in L
TaxonomyEusocial bee in Apidae family; 8 speciesPredatory wasp in Vespidae family; 6 species
StingOnly onceMultiple stings
BehaviorGentle & only stings when threatenedTerritorial & aggressive with little to no provocation
DietNectar-foragingCarnivorous & nectar, sweet and meat-foraging
BenefitPollinationPest control & some pollination

6 Key Differences Between Honey Bees and Yellow Jackets:

1. Physical appearance:

Color differences will jump out at you before anything else. A Honey Bee has a dull off-yellow that is like an amber or golden-brown color alternating with black stripes, and a Yellow Jacket, true to its name, has a bright yellow “jacket” that dominates the black base. They are about the same length, so the next thing to look at is physical features. A Honey Bee has a round body with fuzzy hairs, wide wings, and flat hind legs for carrying pollen, but a Yellow Jacket has a slender body and wings, a thin waist, and a white or yellow face.

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2. Taxonomy:

Bees are related to wasps and ants, and a wasp is related to bees and ants. A Yellow Jacket is a type of predatory native wasp and along with the Honey Bee is in the large winged insect order Hymenoptera that includes sawflies and ants.

3. Nest:

Another difference is how and where they make their homes. Honey Bees create wax hives for their colonies in hidden places such as rock crevices and hollow trees, but they’ll also take to honey bee boxes. They re-use the hives. Yellow Jacket nests are underground, in wall voids, eaves, dense vegetation, or woodpiles with camouflage over the entrance, and they only use them once.

4. Behavior:

The Honey Bee is eusocial, and the Yellow Jacket is also social. But whereas the Honey Bee will only sting when it’s threatened — such as being accidentally bumped into — it doesn’t take much, at all, to provoke a Yellow Jacket. Yellow Jackets are highly territorial and aggressive and can sting multiple times, but a Honey Bee can only sting once, with its internally attached stinger pulling out its guts.

One reason the Yellow Jacket attacks is because they get “hangry.” In the late summer and early fall, their food supply has greatly diminished. The insects of spring have died off, leaving the Yellow Jacket desperate and angry. Approach a Yellow Jacket in springtime, however, and they will appear more relaxed.

5. Diet:

Both of these winged insects forage for nectar. However, the Honey Bee also forages for pollen. While the Yellow Jacket is mainly predatory and consumes beetle grubs, flies, and other insects, it is also attracted to trash and nearby food and drink, searching for meat and sweets.

6. Benefit:

There are unique benefits to each winged insect. Honey Bees are very busy pollinators of flowers and are important for the environment. Yellow Jackets do some pollinating, but their focus is serving as pest control.

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Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket
Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket
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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between a honeybee and a yellow jacket?

A big one! A Honey Bee and a Yellow Jacket are in different families and have physical differences. The Yellow Jacket is highly aggressive and predatory, serving as pest control, whereas the Honey Bee is generally gentle and only forages to collect nectar and pollinate flowers. A Yellow Jacket makes its nest in holes, and a Honey Bee makes a wax hive for the colony. Someone who is allergic to one is not commonly allergic to the other because their venom has different allergen components, although some people are allergic to both.

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