What's the difference between a wasp and a yellowjacket? Are yellowjackets found in Britain and are they all black and yellow?
Here we'll clear up some of the confusion about yellowjacket wasps.
The word 'wasp' is an umbrella term, which covers a vast variety of stinging and non-stinging, slim-waisted insects within the order 'Hymenoptera', and the suborder Apocrita, which they share with bees and ants.
The term 'yellowjacket' is actually an American expression.
A yellowjacket wasp is any wasp which belongs to either one of two genera:
The term 'yellowjacket' is not commonly used in the UK.
However, the UK has a number of species belonging to each of the Vespula and Dolichovespula genera that could colloquially be labelled 'yellowjacket'.
Examples of British species belonging to the Vespula and Dolichovespula genera2:
Vespula rufa - Red Wasp
Vespula austriaca - Austrian Cuckoo Wasp
Vespula vulgaris - Common Wasp
Vespula germanica - German Wasp
Dolichovespula sylvestris - Tree Wasp
Dolichovespula norwegica - Norwegian Wasp
Dolichovespula saxonica - Waxon Wasp
Dolichovespula media - Median Wasp.
In Britain, all yellowjacket species are yellow and black.
However, in the USA, despite the name, the Baldfaced Hornet is in fact a black and white wasp belonging in the yellowjacket category.
Yes, yellowjackets can sting and can be defensive of nests.
However, despite general perceptions, yellowjacket stings are no worse than the stings of many other stinging insects.
According to research, in a comparison of sting pain where the score was 1 for least painful, and 4 for most painful, the yellow jacket species were allocated the score of 2.
See: Bee vs Wasp vs Hornet Stings for further information.
However, no doubt repeated stings from multiple wasps could be painful!
See advice for deterring wasps and preventing stings if you are concerned.
The venoms of bees, wasps and hornet stings are chemically different, and have varying toxicity levels.
Honey bee venom may be slightly more acidic than the venom of some wasp species.
1. Reed, Hal C. and Peter Landolt. “Ants, Wasps, and Bees (Hymenoptera).” Medical and Veterinary Entomology (2019): n. pag.
2. Brock, Paul D: Britain's Insects - A Field Guide To The Insects Of Great Britain And Ireland Princeton University Press WILDguides Ltd, 2021, ISBN: 9780691179278.
3. Eric R. Heaton; Insectpedia. A Brief Compendium Of Insect Lore. Princeton University Press 2022.