Yellow Jackets Vs. Honey Bees – Comparison Guide

A yellow jacket and honey bee isolated on a white background

The yellow jacket and honey bee are striped flying insects found in gardens worldwide. Although sometimes mixed up, they differ in appearance, aggression, nesting habits, and more. Let’s take a close look at how they compare.

What is the difference between a yellow jacket and a honey bee?

A yellow jacket is a wasp that has bright yellow and black stripes. It is an aggressive insect that can sting repeatedly. Honey bees are fuzzy and striped, but their bands aren’t as bright yellow. Their diet consists of nectar and pollen, and they are typically much less aggressive towards intruders.

Summary comparison of honey bees and yellow jackets

 Honey BeeYellow Jacket
Scientific NameApis melliferaVespula germanica
ColorYellow and brown bandsBlack with bright yellow markings
Adult LengthAbout a half inchAbout a half inch
PersonalityRanges from docile to highly aggressiveHighly aggressive
StingPainful and venomous sting, bee dies after attackingPainful, less venomous stinger, can sting repeatedly
ColonyUp to 60,000 in one hiveUp to 5,000 in one nest
NestLarge, beeswax hives above groundPapery nests in underground burrows and cavities
DietPollen, nectar, honey, royal jellyNectar, insects, food scraps
ProducesHoney, wax, propolis, royal jellyDon’t produce resources
BenefitsPollinatation and resource productionControlling other pests and some pollination.


The yellow jacket is a black wasp with bright yellow markings on its head and legs with bands of yellow on its abdomen. Its coloring is bolder than a honey bee, with a smoother, shinier body. Another giveaway sign of a yellow jacket is its pinched waist, where the thorax meets the abdomen.

Top down, closeup of a yellow jacket on white background

Honey bees vary in color depending on their breed. They are typically hairier and covered with fuzz over the head, legs, and thorax. Honey bees have fatter bodies than yellow jackets with duller yellow and brown stripes.      

Unlike wasps, the honey bee has pockets on its legs for carrying pollen. Find out more about the bee anatomy here.

Top down, closeup of honey bee on white background


Yellow jackets and honey bees are social insects with similar roles in the colony. Females workers forage and build, while drones mate, and the queen lays eggs.

A honey bee colony may reach a population of 60,000 bees, while yellow jackets won’t usually exceed 5,000. Honey bees prepare for winter by building up stores of honey and pollen; their goal is to survive the cold weather by huddling together in a cluster and staying within the warmth of the hive.

Yellow jackets hibernate through winter so they don’t need to store food resources. Only the queen will survive until spring, when she begins a new colony by laying eggs in a new nest.

Recommended reading: Honey bee vs. Asian giant hornet – what’s the difference?


Yellow jacket queens build the nest without the help of workers. They’re often found in underground burrows or nests in wall cavities, roof spaces, and safe enclosed areas.

The queen chews bits of wood fiber mixed with saliva to create a grey papery substance for the nest’s walls.

The papery nest of a yellow jacket colony attached to a house

Honey bees use beeswax to build their hive. Many worker bees get involved with the building process while the queen oversees the work. A colony may live in the same home for years so long as foraging material remains nearby and conditions are right.

As a honey bee hive becomes overcrowded, there is a good possibility they will swarm. Led by scouts, roughly half the bees will leave to start a new home. Yellow jackets don’t swarm.  


Yellow jackets are omnivorous, feeding on meat from insects like bees and flies and nectar from flowers. They are opportunists and will also hover around picnics and rubbish, looking for sweet drinks, fruit, and whatever else is available. Yellow jackets feed their babies meat, with a preference for other insects.

Honey bees are herbivores that primarily live on a diet of pollen and nectar from flowers. They eat honey stores when foraging isn’t possible. Young developing honey bees are initially fed royal jelly before moving onto a honey diet.

A honey bee collecting pollen and nectar from a bright-colored flower.


Honey bees play an essential role in pollinating food crops and other plants around the world. Sizeable commercial food producers and small backyard gardens couldn’t function without bees.

Domesticated honey bees can be transported to different locations to help pollinate local crops. Honey bee colonies also provide resources like honey, propolis, beeswax, and royal jelly.

Yellow jackets also help with pollination as they go about the garden. However, they are much less effective than honey bees.

While yellow jackets don’t provide valuable resources for humans, they help keep garden pests in check. Insects like caterpillars and flies would increase without these fiery yellow wasps keeping their numbers down.

Character traits

Honey bees and yellow jackets both have a stinger and will defend their hive if needed. However, yellow jackets are typically more aggressive and will sting unprovoked. Their smooth stinger means they can repeatedly attack their victim. Honey bees have a barbed stinger, so they die after using it.

Honey bees are mostly docile insects that go about their day foraging. They will display aggression when their hive is threatened. Yellow jackets will attack anywhere and aggressively pursue food.

  • The yellow jacket and honey bee both have venom in their sting.
  • Yellow jackets may bite human flesh to get a good grip before stinging more than once.
  • Honey bees only use their stinger before disemboweling, trying to remove it.
  • Fun reading: Discover what bees and wasps have the longest stingers.

The characteristics of a honey bee will vary depending on its breed. For example, Africanized bees are highly aggressive towards any threat, while Buckfast bees are often gentle.

Other factors like weather and foraging conditions will also impact a honey bee’s mood. Never assume a nest of bees is friendly.


Clumps of bees clinging to a branch or wall are often making a temporary stop. They typically move on within the day to their new hive.

If they’re out of the way, it’s best to leave bees as they are resting in a non-aggressive state. Contact a local beekeeper if you need them removed.

Yellow jackets should be treated with extreme caution as they are highly aggressive. Call a pest control company for hive removal.

Closeup of a yellow jacket nest in a small cavity

Did you know? Yellow jackets and bees are both in the Hymenoptera order.

Commonly asked questions

Am I looking at a bee or a yellow jacket?

The easiest way to differentiate the two is to look at their color. A yellow jacket has vibrant yellow bands, while honey bees are closer to amber or brown.

Do yellow jackets make honey?

Yellow jackets do not produce honey. They hunt insects and search for nectar and food scraps. As wasps hibernate, they do not need honey stores to get them through winter like bees.

Summing up

Yellow jackets and honey bees sometimes get mixed up. They’re a similar size at roughly half an inch in length, and both have a stripy body.

Wasps have a tiny, pinched waist, while bees have a fat abdomen and torso. The other telltale sign of a yellow jacket is it’s bright yellow markings and hairless body.

It’s easy to tell the nests apart. Wasps build papery homes, while honey bees use wax. Whatever the nest, contact a professional if you want them removed.

Please don’t call an exterminator if they’re bees. Their numbers are constantly declining, and a beekeeper can move them to a new home with minimal fuss.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our comparison of bumblebees and honey bees here.

Similar Posts