Raising your own bees is a fulfilling and enjoyable past time, but outside pests can ruin your day. If you find yourself in a heated battle of beekeeper vs. yellow jacket vs. hornet, it’s vital that you can tell the difference between the two so that you know what you’re up against. You can’t defeat an enemy if you don’t know what the enemy is.
Fortunately, once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. There are multiple safe options to deal with the flying invaders without endangering your bees. The sooner you act on a nuisance nest, the sooner your honey bees can go back to living their best lives and producing their best honey.
As a beekeeper, protecting your bees from outside threats is a primary responsibility. Both hornets and yellow jackets pose a risk to a healthy bee colony. There is a difference to the type of threat, however, when it comes to yellow jacket vs. hornet threats. It is important to properly identify which pest is threatening the hive so that you can properly eradicate it.
Whether you’re dealing with a yellow jacket problem or a hornet problem, you still have a problem, so you may be wondering why it matters. It’s important to know the difference between the two as the dangers posed by each is unique. Both can be a threat to you or your bees, but yellow jackets are more likely to bother you, while hornets are more likely to attack your bees. Fortunately, there are multiple simple ways to tell the difference when it comes to yellow jacket and hornet identification.
Yellow Jacket vs Hornet: Appearance
The easiest way to tell the difference between a yellow jacket and a hornet is their appearance. While they may seem similar at first blush, once you know what you are looking for it’s easy to determine what you’re dealing with. The first major difference to pay attention to is the size of the pest flying around you. Hornets are significantly larger than yellow jackets and can be over one-inch in size. Yellow jackets are much smaller, usually just 1/2-inch long.
The coloration of both is also unique, although it can be hard to notice if you aren’t looking for it. A yellow jacket has the stereotypical bee colors. Their body and heads are mostly black, with bright yellow stripes and splotches (hence the “yellow” in “yellow jacket”). Hornets are more subdued looking. Although some black remains, the majority of their darker sections are a reddish brown. Their yellows are also less bright, and their heads are usually predominantly yellow, not black.
If you can locate the nest which the pests are originating from, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Hornets are external nesting insects and build hanging nests. If you’ve ever seen a cartoon or game which features a nest falling on a character, that’s the type of nest you’re looking for with a hornet. Their nests are paper nests, made by regurgitating wood pulp to form an external shell. Hornets commonly hang their nests from high surfaces, like tree branches or the underside of roofs. This can make them particularly threatening for humans if they build a nest in your home near a door.
Yellow jackets prefer an internal nest, moving into an enclosed space to build their home. The most common place for a yellow jacket nest is underground in abandoned animal holes, though they won’t turn down building inside of a roof or overhang if a hole grants them access to the tight space. Underground nests are particularly risky for humans or pets, as stepping on one leads to an angry hive responding with force.
Both yellow jackets and hornets provide threats to bees and their keepers alike, but the reasons for threat are not the same. Yellow jackets are attracted to sweet things. This is why they’re such a nuisance for picnics or soda drinkers at a barbecue. For your bees, this means they are a threat to attempt to steal honey from the hive, and they will respond with force to any bees that intervene.
The threat from a hornet is more direct for your bees and less direct for keepers. Hornets are less attracted to the sweet treats we enjoy, so are not likely to bother with humans. They are a predator to other insects, however, so a hive near your colony is trouble. Hornets will hang out near the entrance to a hive and pick off bees as they emerge. More adventurous hornets enter hives to steal larvae to bring back to their own nests as food. Left untended, a hornet nest poses a significant risk to your hive’s health.
The first step to protecting your bee colony from outside threats is to make it less susceptible to attack. This simple measure keeps your bees safe and healthy while you determine the best method for permanently removing the offending pests.
Every hive has guard bees responsible for protecting it against foreign threats. However, their job is a difficult one. When a hive has many points of exit and entry, the guard bees have more area to cover and protect against invaders. Adding screen mesh to your hive reduces access points to make the guards’ job easier. Cover any access points to the hive with window screen or a similarly small mesh. Create a single point of access by cutting a small hole, approximately two-inches wide in the mesh. With just one hole to watch over, your guard bees will be better prepared to fend off any yellow jacket or hornet attacks.
In the event of a particularly bothersome pest, relocation may be necessary. Although this should be used as a last resort, and may not be an option for larger bee farms, relocation allows you to move your bees to safer ground while you deal with the threat. After you have safely removed the yellow jacket or hornet nest, move the hive back to its familiar location.
When your hives are under attack by yellow jackets or hornets, it’s essential to remove the threat quickly. You must always take care when removing the other insects not to harm your bees. Remember, the health of your bees is your top priority.
The simplest way to put an end to a threatening nest is to spray it with insecticide. Pay attention to the offending insects and try to follow their paths back to home. This is most easily accomplished at dusk and dawn when they are heading out for the day or turning in. Once located, spray the entrance to the nest thoroughly. Always spray at night, when the nest is less-active, to reduce risk. Do not use an insecticide spray if the nest is near your hives as there is the risk of friendly fire.
Using a trap is an effective method of yellow jacket control. Simply hang yellow jacket traps around your hive, baiting as described by the trap. Traps contain substances the yellow jackets are attracted to, but then either trap or kill the yellow jackets. By killing off the exterior yellow jackets, you starve the nested jackets of their source of food, killing off the nest. Be sure to monitor your traps after placing them, and remove them immediately if they are attracting your bees.
Both hornets and yellow jackets are highly territorial. They don’t want to move into an area with competing nests. A balloon with butcher paper pasted to its exterior creates a believable paper nest. Hanging one in a tree or from an overhang near your bees will deter other pests from building a real nest and threatening your hives.
For underground yellow jacket nests, a simple bowl may be all you need to solve your problem. After identifying the hole the yellow jackets are using for access, wait for night to fall. Using a transparent bowl, cover the access hole, being sure there is a tight seal with the ground. If this is the only entry to the nest, the yellow jackets inside will have nowhere to go and will perish after two to three days.
Always use a transparent bowl you can see through when using this method so you can look inside it before moving it. You don’t want to lift the bowl up thinking all the yellow jackets are dead only to find a bunch of angry insects who just found their way out. The clear bowl also tricks the yellow jackets, which will continue attempting to fly away, unaware that they are trapped. This is a great option for keeping your bees safe, as there is no risk to the hives.
Dealing with a nest of stinging insects is a scary proposition. Just because you love bees doesn’t mean you love getting stung, and when the insects in question are hornets or yellow jackets, and not your friendly honey bees, it’s common to worry about getting attacked. The best approach to dealing with an outside nest is to address it as soon as it is discovered. The longer you leave it to sit, the more eggs will hatch and the greater the risk to you.
When you find a nest of yellow jackets or hornets causing problems for your bees, you should eliminate it as quickly as possible. And remember if you’re nervous, you have an advantage the average homeowner doesn’t when dealing with pests — you own beekeeping gear, so suit up for extra protection!