How to Tell a Paper Wasp from a Yellow Jacket in Your Parking Lot

When the weather warms up, it can bring visitors like the yellowjacket wasp, as well as similar species like paper wasps. If your business has flowering bushes, these insects may linger around your parking lot where they can disturb customers and employees alike. But that’s why we’re here to help!

Let’s look at how to tell a paper wasp from a yellowjacket, what you should know about these insect pests, and how to deal with them.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between a Paper Wasp vs Yellow Jacket?

At a glance, these two wasp-like insects can look very similar. Business owners asking, “What does a yellowjacket look like?” should always look for the vivid yellow and black stripes, the pronounced abdomen and stinger, and a body that’s around 1/2 to 3/4s of an inch long.

The problem is that one species of paper wasp looks nearly identical to a yellowjacket. It’s difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference unless you manage to get two bodies of the different wasps side-by-side for comparison. Then it’s easier to see that the paper wasp is thinner than the yellowjacket, especially around the abdomen, and paper wasps tend to be a bit larger than the average yellowjacket.

If worse comes to worst, you may also be able to tell by their behavior. Yellowjackets can become aggressive when protecting their nests. They post guards and can sting multiple times. Paper wasps do have workers to defend their nests, but they are less likely to attack because they aren’t interested in the same food sources as humans, a common reason yellowjackets may sting.

Ultimately, the two insects are so similar that if you start seeing them frequently, you should call in an expert like Sprague Pest Solutions to properly identify them, look for any nearby nests, and see what the best course of action is. It’s also possible that you’re spotting species of solitary wasps.

What About a Yellow Jack Nest vs. Paper Was Nest?

A yellowjacket nest is typically located underground or in an enclosed space like a hollowed-out tree or a gap in a wall. They are made of clearly segregated layers built on top of each other, making the nest look like it has several different stories.

A paper wasp nest, on the other hand, will be located above ground, often under eaves or in a tree. It has a distinct upside-down shape that will look like a hanging ornament or umbrella.

Either way, it’s not a good idea to disturb these nests without the help and advice of a professional.

Are There Different Types of Yellow Jackets?

Yes. Yellowjackets are broadly divided into two different families, Vespula and Dolichovespula, which both have many members commonly referred to as yellowjackets. Beyond that, they are often divided further based on their origins. One of the most common yellowjackets in western North America, for example, is the Vespula pennsylvania. Species look quite similar, but their nesting habits may differ – some may be more likely to nest underground, others in old tree stumps, and still others inside walls.

Do Paper Wasps Sting?

If you’ve ruled out yellowjackets, you may be wondering, “All right, but are paper wasps dangerous?” A common species like the Arizona paper wasp can occasionally still sting and annoy. While paper wasps keep smaller nests than yellowjackets and negative interactions are less common, you still don’t want them on your property or around potential customers.

What Do I Do If I Keep Seeing Wasps?

One or two wasps during a summer evening probably isn’t much to worry about – they could be solitary wasps that pose little threat, or scouts from a distant nest looking for food. Keep garbage cans in your parking lot closed to remove temptation.

However, if you keep seeing wasps, see multiple wasps at once, or notice that wasps seem to be aggressive, it’s important to immediately call in pest control for a closer inspection. It’s not a good idea for you or your employees to look for a nest themselves: Accidentally discovering a nest in a nearby tree or under an adjacent lawn can lead to a serious attack and injuries. Let the professionals handle identification and removal instead.

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