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What is the Difference Between Wasps, Hornets, Carpenter Bees, and Yellowjackets?

Updated on: August 5, 2019

Flying insects are some of the most invasive pests a homeowner can encounter. Some sting or bite, and others actively destroy property. Worst of all, a small percentage of the population can have a life-threatening reaction to encounters with these flying nuisances, putting your family, neighbors, and visitors at risk.

However, not all flying insects are the same. Wasps, hornets, carpenter bees, and yellowjackets all have distinct behaviors and pose different threats. Also, they can require completely different methods of removal once you’ve decided that their lease on your property has expired.

So, what exactly is the difference between wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, and carpenter bees?

Below, we’ll outline how to identify which stinging insect you have, each species’ unique behavior and habitat, and – most importantly – how best to get rid of each one.

Carpenter Bees

One of the species that displays the most unusual behavior – and poses the most unusual problems – is the carpenter bee.

Though the females do possess a stinger, carpenter bees pose almost no danger to humans. Instead, they are loathed by homeowners for the unsightly holes they dig into wood siding, fencing, and paneling, which can cause hundreds of dollars of damage in just a few short weeks.

Spotting Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees closely resemble bumblebees, as they are large and have rather “fat” looking bodies. However, carpenter bees are not fuzzy nor yellow, but instead boast a large black abdomen and minimal color on their thorax.

Carpenter Bee Behavior

If you’ve ever seen large bees flying around and “mating” in mid-air, you’ve probably witnessed two carpenter bees “dancing.” Unlike other species, carpenter bees do not swarm but live solitary lives until mating.

However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t find large numbers of them on a single property.

Dealing with Carpenter Bees

The solution for carpenter bees requires identifying each carpenter bee hole, treating it with insecticide, and subsequently plugging it to prevent its reuse.

This process can be quite tricky, and an expert is usually required to find all of the individual burrows.


Many homeowners mistakenly identify yellowjackets as a type of bee, but in fact, they are a type of wasp species. People all over the US know yellowjackets as some of the most aggressive insects one can encounter, capable of delivering both painful stings and bites.

Yellowjackets usually make their nests in logs, rotten wood, or underground, but they also sometimes create intricate hives that resemble dried paper mâché. When the colony is disturbed, they can swarm, causing severe injury or – rarely – even death.

Spotting Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets are rather large and brightly colored, with yellow stripes on their long abdomen and black and yellow geometrical patterns on their thorax. They can appear in large numbers or solo.

Yellowjacket Behavior

Yellowjackets are very dedicated to both their hives and their queen, continually searching for material to increase the size of the colony or feed its occupants.

Unfortunately, the fact that yellowjackets feed on sweets and proteins makes contact with humans frequent. When confronted with a perceived threat, they are highly likely to attack.

Dealing with Yellowjackets

Because yellowjackets are so aggressive, dealing with an infestation is almost always best left to a professional. Even without an allergy, large numbers of stings can quickly land you in the hospital – or worse.


Technically, the term “wasp” is an umbrella phrase for any stinging insect that is not a bee. However, commonly, the term “wasp” is used to describe solitary individuals that do not live in a hive. Species that live such lives include paper wasps, potter wasps, mud wasps, and pollen wasps.

Spotting Wasps

Identifying solitary wasps, as opposed to hornets or yellowjackets, is not an easy task, as they share much of the same attributes as their cousins. In general, however, wasps tend to have a more “pinched” waist between the thorax and abdomen, giving them an almost skeletal appearance.

Wasp Behavior

Wasp behavior varies dramatically from species to species, but the solitary variety is usually found nesting under easements or gutters. They are an aggressive, stinging species, and will attack if they feel threatened.

Dealing with Wasps

Establishing what type of wasp infestation, you have is essential to dealing with them appropriately. This job is usually best handled by a professional exterminator, as mismanagement can lead to quick re-infestation.


As mentioned, yellowjackets and hornets are technically types of wasps, hornets being the largest variety of social wasps on the continent. They can establish nests rather quickly, building gray, paper-like nests in the shape of open cones or ovals.

Due to their size and their hyper-aggressive behavior, they are among the most severe infestations you can have.

Spotting Hornets

The easiest way to spot a hornet is to look at its size. Hornets can be up to 70{65912cbb7fb7a2dbb6ad30a0365ccbbcccb253951f9b768d2dc3f3856922a6b5} larger than other members of the wasp family, with a visible stinger and black, white, gray, or yellowish coloring. Their waist is quite skinny as well, and their wings often stick at dramatic angles to their body, forming a “triangular” shape.

Hornet Behavior

Hornets feed upon sugar-rich nectars, saps, and fruits, but are also known to attack other insects, like bees. As they are highly social, you can almost always identify a hornet infestation by looking at the nest. It will usually be large and paper-like, with a single hole at the bottom for entry and exit.

Dealing with Hornets

Hornets, while they certainly pose a danger, are essential to a healthy insect ecosystem. In many cases, the nest can be relocated rather than eradicated. Either way, it is always essential to rely on a trained professional for this service.

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As you can see, it’s essential to know the difference between the types of stinging insects you might encounter on your property. Identification, after all, is the first step to deciding whether or not you want to accommodate their presence, or if the risks are just too many to allow them to stay.

Either way, should you decided to eradicate a nest, hive, or burrow, please consider hiring a professional like PermaKill Exterminating rather than employing do-it-yourself methods. Not only can poor execution result in quick re-infestation, but it can also lead to painful stings as well.


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