Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket: 6 Main Differences Explained

Honey Bee vs Yellow Jacket

Written by Heather Ross

Updated: October 12, 2023

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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.

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.

Bonus: Does Local Honey Prevent Allergies?

Various types of honey on the counter. East market. Makhachkala, Dagestan, Russia - October 1, 2022.

Local honey is a favorite purchase at farmer’s markets.

If you are a seasonal allergy sufferer you have probably heard that small amounts of local honey can keep symptoms at bay. Does it really work? The idea is based on the concept of immunotherapy and makes plenty of sense. You take a tiny amount of the thing you are allergic to and over time and with bigger doses – your body builds up immunity to the allergen. Allergy shots work in the same way.

People believe that eating local honey works the same way because it contains local pollen. There are two problems – one, you may not be allergic to the specific pollen in the honey, and two, insect-borne pollen from flowers has nothing to do with allergies. Pollen from weeds, trees, and grasses that are whipped by the wind into the air is the main cause of seasonal allergies.

Local honey is also a problem for people who are actually allergic to bees. Unprocessed honey may contain small amounts of bee venom and could cause a severe reaction. Local honey may not be a cure-all – but honey does have antioxidants that help fight viruses and is an effective cough remedy. However, if you are allergic to bees – stick to processed honey from the grocery store.

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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!

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