Wasps and hornets are often mistaken for each other because they are somehow similar to each other. But then, these two insects also have some differences in appearance and how they build their nests. This is also why many people find it hard to tell if a nest is a wasp or a hornet nest if they see one.
So, what is the main difference between wasp and hornet nests? Depending on the species, a wasp nest is usually umbrella-shaped and has no external cover. On the other hand, a hornet’s nest looks like a piece of paper and is made from saliva and chewed wood fiber. It also has a protective hardshell cover.
Wasps and hornets build their nests near human habitats. Both of them have venom and will sting people who will try to disturb their nests.
They are also known to be more dangerous than bees. In this article, you will learn to identify a wasp nest, a hornet nest, and a yellow jacket nest and how to get rid of them.
What Are the Similarities and Differences Between Wasps and Hornets?
Technically speaking, hornets are also wasps but are of specific types of wasps. Just like bees, they are also in the large order of insects called Hymenoptera. But unlike bees that have barbed stingers and die after they sting, these two species sting multiple times without dying since they don’t leave their stinger on the skin.
The main difference between wasps and hornets is their appearance. Wasps are black, red, or yellow and can grow between 1/3 and 1 inch long.
On the other hand, hornets are black, brown, or reddish and can grow from 1/2 to 2 inches long. Nonetheless, both of them live in colonies. Therefore, they are called social wasps.
Aside from hornets, the two other most common types of social wasps are paper wasps and yellowjackets (or yellow jackets).
By the way, bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are not true hornets but are also social wasps. They are closely related to yellowjackets but are usually confused with paper wasps.
Paper wasps are usually reddish-orange to dark brown with yellow markings on their slender bodies. They can grow between 3/4 and 1 inch long and are slightly longer than yellowjackets.
Scientifically known as Polistes dominula, European paper wasps are a type of paper wasps that look similar to yellowjackets.
But while wasps and hornets can be both very annoying pests, they are also beneficial to your garden. This is because they eat garden insect pests such as caterpillars, crickets, flies, among others.
Aside from being natural pest control, wasps are also very important pollinators. Bees are better than them, though.
Paper Wasp Nest vs. Hornet Nest
Paper wasp nests are made of paper pulp and have a single comb of a cell without any protective shell.
These cone-shaped nests are usually found hanging on eaves of houses or buildings, support beams in attics, barns, garages, storage sheds, and other locations that are quite far from human intervention.
Overwintering wasp queens begin building nests in the early spring and lay a single egg inside. These nests are usually smaller than hornet nests and only have about 25 adult wasps.
Nonetheless, they can have about 100 wasps during peak season. In the late summer, population growth inside the nest slows down.
On the other hand, hornet nests are gray to brown, round or pear-shaped paper, with a thick, multilayered outer shell.
These paper-like nests have 2 to 4 horizontal combs inside and one entrance hole at the bottom, where hornets come in and out. Each nest typically contains a colony of 200 to 400 adults.
Hornet nests are about 3 inches long and mostly built above the ground. Just like wasp nests, they are also attached to a tree branch, utility poles, and shrubs.
In some cases, these paper nests are displayed in schools, natural history museums, nature centers, and houses, where they are being taken care of.
Yellow Jacket Nest vs. Paper Wasp Nest
A yellow jacket nest is mostly made of wood fiber and looks like paper. Like wasp nests, they also have an entrance hole where workers go back and forth.
Meanwhile, yellowjacket nests are entirely covered with a protective shell and can reach up to 6 feet long or longer. Only a few of them are shorter than 1 foot.
Each yellowjacket nest has about 45 combs of vertical cells and can house from 5,000 to 20,000 adults and workers, depending on the species.
As the queen continues to produce more eggs, workers will moisten the soil and dig more to make their nest bigger. They don’t go far from the nest when searching for food.
Interestingly, yellow jacket nests are commonly found on the ground, especially in flower beds, gardens, pasture fields, parks, near rodent burrows, and around garbage cans.
When compared to wasp and hornet nests, they can also be aerial nests and can be seen in open garages, under eaves, and in other safe elevations.
Hornet Nest vs. Wasp Nest vs. Yellowjacket Nest
Comparing the three nests from each other, all of them may emerge in warmer months such as April or May. Like the nest of a yellowjacket and hornet, a wasp nest last only for a year and will not be reused.
Almost all their workers will die in the winter, and the surviving fertilized queens will build new nests from scratch.
Hornet nests are bigger than wasp nests and contain more individuals. Hornet stings can be extremely painful as compared to yellowjacket and wasp stings.
However, hornets are generally not as aggressive as wasps and yellowjackets. They rarely attack humans unless you threaten them or disturb their nests.
How to Get Rid of YellowJacket and Wasp Nests?
Like hornets, yellowjackets and wasps also sting humans repeatedly and can cause sudden pain and skin irritation.
Therefore, if their nests are far from you, ignore them. But if they are in a high-traffic area, such as near your doorways, you should already take action. Here are some tips to get rid of their nests:
- If you have a heart condition or you are allergic to stings, don’t try to disturb the nests alone. Instead, ask for help from a pest management professional.
- If you plan to treat the nests, do it during the early morning or late evening. These are the times they are least active, and you are less likely to get stung.
- Before treating them, wear protective safety glasses and gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes, and socks that can be pulled over your pants.
- If you spot some yellowjackets coming out from their nest, you can put some traps such as RESCUE! Reusable Yellowjacket Trap . This product is also effective against wasps.
- If wasp nests are exposed, use a non-toxic aerosol spray specifically labeled for them, such as EcoSMART Organic Wasp and Hornet Killer .
- For yellowjacket nests that are hidden underground, apply insecticide dust on the entry point. Products such as Delta Dust Multi Use Pest Control Insecticide Dust work well not only against yellowjackets but also other pest insects.
- For nests on wall cracks and crevices, you may use an insecticide liquid spray that contains permethrin such as Durvet Permethrin 10%, 8oz . Note, however, that dust insecticides are more effective than liquid ones.
- A 2012 study revealed that some essential oil can repel social wasps. This includes essential oil from citronella, clove, geranium, lavender, rosemary lemongrass, and peppermint.
- To help prevent them from coming back the following year, destroy or remove abandoned nests.
How to Get Rid of Hornet Nests Without Getting Stung?
As mentioned earlier, hornet nests are also annual nests and usually emerge in the summer. All occupants will start to die of old age when the fall season starts, and they will freeze to death in the winter. But if you cannot wait for them to leave their nest, here are some ways to get rid of hornet nests safely and effectively:
- If you decide to treat a hornet nest, wear protective gear, clothes, and shoes.
- For nests that are on very high elevations, use a long-distance spray and stay off the ladder.
- Spray an insecticide directly on the nest entrance if you intend to use one.
- If you will apply a liquid insecticide such as Durvet Permethrin on a ground nest, have a safety distance of several feet away.
- If you are not sure whether it is a hornet nest, a yellow jacket nest, or a wasp nest, use RESCUE! WHY Trap for Wasps, Hornets, & Yellowjackets .
- Don’t destroy or remove the nest until all of them are dead. Otherwise, the surviving hornets will disperse and are very likely to sting you.
- Typically, it takes 2-3 days before insecticides fully take effect. In most cases, you have to spray repeatedly to kill all of them inside the nest.
- Interestingly, hanging fake wasp nests such as AIRCROW Wasp Out Fake Hornet's Nest Decoy Wasp Deterrent also work. Wasps are territorial insects, and an artificial nest will discourage them from building one.
- For severe hornet infestations, it’s always better to hire a pest control service than do it yourself.
As you most likely know by now, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are beneficial more than pests. They are valuable pollinators and are predators of garden pests. They only sting as an act of self-defense and attack only to protect their nest. So, if they are not bothering you, let them live peacefully and don’t mind them.
List of Sources
Krans, R. (2021). Bee, wasp or hornet nest: Which one is it? Michigan State University Extension.
Social Wasps. Iowa State University.
Moore, G. C., Merchant, M. E. (2003). Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Solitary Wasps. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Zhang, Q.H., Schneidmiller, R.G., Hoover, D.R. (2012). Essential oils and their compositions as spatial repellents for pestiferous social wasps. Pest Management Science.