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There seems to be a confusion between what a hornet is and what a yellow jacket is. People certainly have a hard time telling the two apart. There are, although, several ways to differentiate between them. This will help you identify between the two if you get stung or want to seem interesting at a party. Using the term hornet and yellow jacket seems to be interchangeable along with other terms used like wasps and bees. Bee, however, is a much broader term and covers a lot of ground. Hornets and yellow jackets are both types of wasps.
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Wasps such as the yellow jacket can be easily recognized by their slim figure and their black discoloration covering their whole bodies. They are pretty small, and their size can be compared to that of an average housefly. Hornets though tend to be a bit larger, an inch larger to be exact, and are also recognizable by distinct yellow markings. The markings on a hornet are not contrasted with black markings but can have various tones of brown. In some cases, light-reddish color distinguishes the yellow jackets easily. Darker marking makes telling apart yellow jackets much harder. In these instances, size is a better indicator.
Yellowjackets are often the ones that crash the outdoor parties. They only eat sugary food and are the first to bother anyone with a soda or ice cream in their hand. They also feed on the garbage looking for their next meal. Hornets on the other side feed on other small insects and are unlikely to approach humans.
When we look at how nests are built, we can see noticeable differences between hornets and yellow jackets’ nests. Hornets make classic beehives where they usually hang from a tree branch or overhang. These nests are made from a paper-like material they discrete. Yellowjackets rarely make nests above ground a prefer confined spaces such as an abandoned rats nest.
Yellowjackets have the tendency to sting far more often than hornets mainly due to their diet that brings them more in contact with humans at a close range. Yellowjackets however die after delivering one sting whereas a hornet can sting a person multiple times. Hornet stings are not necessarily fatal but can be dangerous and very painful. It is only when a person is allergic to a wasp’s venom that it can cause significant issues.