Yellow jackets are sometimes mistakenly called “bees”, as they are similar in size and appearance and both sting, but they are actually wasps. Yellow jackets may be confused with other wasps, such as hornets and paper wasps. A typical yellow jacket worker is about 1/2 inch long, with alternating bands on their abdomen.

The queen is larger, about 3/4 inch long. Workers are sometimes confused with honey bees, especially when flying in and out of their nests. Yellow jackets, in contrast to honey bees, are not covered with tan-brown dense hair on their bodies, they do not carry pollen, and do not have the flattened hairy hind legs used to carry it.



These species have a lance-like stinger with small barbs, and typically sting repeatedly, though occasionally the stinger becomes lodged and pulls free of the wasp’s body. The venom, like most bee and wasp venoms, is primarily only dangerous to humans if allergic, unless a victim is stung many times. All species have yellow or white on the face. Mouthparts are well-developed with strong mandibles for capturing and chewing insects, with a proboscis for sucking nectar, fruit, and other juices.



Yellow jackets build nests in trees, shrubs, or in protected places such as inside man-made structures, or in soil cavities, mouse burrows, etc. They build them from wood fiber they chew into a paper-like pulp.