Hornet Vs. Yellow Jacket


Many people are confused about the distinction between hornets and yellow jackets, or simply have a difficult time telling the two apart. There are several ways to distinguish between the insects, so that the next time you see a wasp in your yard or get stung by one, at least you'll know the identity of the attacker.

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The terms hornet and yellow jacket are sometimes used interchangeably, along with others like "wasps" and "bees." Bee is a much more general term, but even "wasp" covers a lot of territory. Hornets and yellow jackets are both types of wasps, unlike bumblebees and honeybees.

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Yellow jackets are extremely distinctive, with yellow and black markings covering their entire bodies. They are relatively small, only slightly larger than a housefly. Hornets tend to be larger, growing up to an inch, and are also characterized by yellow markings. The markings on a hornet are not contrasted with black, like a yellow jacket's, however. Hornet coloring ranges in the brown scale. In some hornets, the light reddish-brown color makes the distinction from yellow jackets easy; when the markings are dark brown, they can be more difficult to identify, and size is a better indication of their identity.

Physical appearance
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Yellow jackets are the classic picnic-crashers. They feed exclusively on sweet liquids, and are the first to harass anyone with a soda, juice or a fresh peach. They are also likely to turn up in the garbage looking for a meal. Hornets, on the other hand, feed on other insects, and are less likely suspects for run-ins with humans.

Yellow jackets attacking a ham sandwich
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The nests of hornets and yellow jackets are very different. Hornets make the classic beehives, usually hanging from a tree branch or rafter, a pendulous teardrop shape, completely covered in delicate paper. Yellow jackets rarely nest above ground. Their preferred haunts are confined spaces, generally underground, such as an abandoned rodent nest.

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Yellow jackets sting people much more commonly than hornets, mainly because their feeding habits bring them into closer contact with people on a regular basis. But yellow jackets usually die after stinging a person, because their stingers get caught in the skin. Hornet stings are often more painful, but less common. A hornet can also sting a person repeatedly.

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