Hornet Vs. Wasp Nest: 7 Differences (ID Guide With Pictures)

Hornets, yellow jackets, mud daubers, and paper wasps are among the most common of the 18,000 species of wasps in North America. 

Knowing what their nests look like – and how they differ from one another – can help you identify and manage the species correctly.

Hornets build globular or egg-shaped nests with a single entrance. The exterior is light gray in color and has a paper-like texture. Yellow jacket wasps have similar nests, but they have multiple entrances, and the shape is irregular. Paper wasps and mud daubers have smaller nests looking like an inverted paper umbrella or a mud pipe, respectively. 

The table below shows a quick comparison between wasp vs. hornet nests*:

CharacteristicsHornet NestPaper Wasp NestYellow Jacket NestMud Dauber Nest
Appearance Globular or egg-shapedSimilar to an inverted umbrellaIrregular shapeTubular 
Exterior Paper-likePaper-likePaper-likeMuddy 
Nest sizeAround 30 inches in circumference3 to 10 inches wideUp to several feet wideUp to 8 inches wide
Colony sizeUp to 700 hornetsUp to 100 waspsThousands of waspsOne adult/up to 20 young per nest 
ColorGrayGray, grayish-green, or strawGray Grayish brown 
Interior structure Hexagonal cells Hexagonal cellsHexagonal cellsTubular chambers
Typical locationTrees, large bushes, ceilings, wallsWalls, ceilings, and other sheltered areas around homesSheltered spots above the groundUrban structures or other sheltered spots above the ground

*All data was sourced from magazines, educational websites, pest control specialists, governmental institutions, and other official sources cited throughout the article.

7 Key Differences Between Hornet Vs. Wasp Nests

1. Appearance

The main difference between hornet and wasp nests is their shape. Here are the different types of nest to help you identify them.

Hornet Nests 

Hornet nests are always relatively round in appearance. Their actual shape can vary from globular to egg-shaped depending on location and colony size. 

The upper side is typically attached to a tree branch or roof, even though nests that are “glued” to a vertical wall with no top support are also common. 

A common trait between all hornet nests is that they only have one entrance, despite hornets living in large colonies that can count up to 700 adults. 

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Paper Wasp Nests 

Paper wasps build peculiar-looking nests that resemble an inverted umbrella.

These nests consist of multiple hexagonal cells that give them a honeycomb-like appearance when seen from below. The top is attached to a branch or ceiling by a thin stem. 

Alternatively, the nest can be attached to a vertical wall.

A major difference between hornet and paper wasp nests is that the latter doesn’t have an outer enclosure – the outer cells are exposed.

Mud Dauber Nests 

Mud daubers take advantage of all sheltered spots above or under the ground. Above-the-ground nests can have any shape, from tubular to mud pile, as they are actually made of mud. 

These nests can have one or multiple entrances, depending on the number of occupants and nest purpose. 

Mud daubers are solitary, but females lay up to 20 eggs in the same nest. Wasp larvae and the young share this nest initially, and they could chew out additional entrances.

However, a mud dauber nest with multiple entrances is typically abandoned.

Yellow Jacket Nests 

Yellow jacket nests could resemble hornet nests, but they aren’t necessarily round. These wasps live in large colonies, and nest sizes can vary from several inches to several feet in size. 

The chambers are protected by outer paper-like walls, and the nest generally has multiple entrances. 

2. Exterior Texture

Hornet, yellow jacket and paper wasp nests look like they are made of paper – and there is a good reason why they look like that. 

All of the species mentioned above make their nests out of wood fibers that they chew up, then spit and glue with saliva. 

By chewing the wood pulp, wasps and hornets soften it, transforming it into a paper-like material.

Mud dauber nests are a different kind of story since these insects build their nests out of mud. Hence, they look like mud piles, even though smaller nests could look like mud tubes or pipes.

3. Size

Out of all wasps on this list, mud daubers and paper wasps have the smallest nests. 

Mud daubers are solitary wasps. Adults may or may not live in nests, as they often take advantage of cracks or openings in walls or roofs. 

Female mud daubers typically build nests for their offspring, the size varying from a couple of inches to about the average size of a fist

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Paper wasp nests are also relatively small, varying in size from three to ten inches, depending on the colony size. 

Hornets and yellow jackets have larger nests. The former typically have about the same size as a basketball, whereas the latter can measure several feet in length or circumference – some are even as large as a car

4. Color

Hornets, paper wasps, and yellow jackets make nests from a paper-like material, and they all have the same color. 

These nests are typically light gray, although paper wasp nests could have a grayish-green or pale yellow hint. 

Mud dauber nests are the only ones that differ in color simply because they are made of a different material. These nests look exactly like dried mud – a grayish-brown color. 

5. Interior Structure

As far as the interior structure is concerned, mud daubers are, once again, the only wasp species to stand out. 

Hornets, yellow jackets, and paper wasp nests have a compartmented interior consisting of hexagonal cells.

When looking inside, they are similar to honeycombs – with the major difference being that there is no honey inside. 

The number of cells varies widely based on colony size. For instance, hornet nests can have between 1,500 and 3,000 cells. Similarly, yellow jacket nests can have between 500 and 15,000 cells

Average paper wasp nests have around 200 cells

Mud dauber nests are the smallest in this sense, only counting up to 25 cells. Each of these cells is tubular, giving the impression of church organ pipes, and each of these pipes is further partitioned with mud.

Mud dauber females catch several spiders for each cell and trap them inside in a paralyzed state. Then, they lay an egg in each cell. 

Each mud dauber larvae starts to consume the paralyzed spiders shortly after hatching; once all stored food is consumed, they complete the development of the digestive system and excrete a waste sac in a part of the pipe.

The larvae close off the part where the waste sac is stored with mud, then hibernate in the nest before turning into adults the next spring.

6. Colony Size

The size and number of cells in each nest are a clear indicator of the colony size for each species. 

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Mud dauber colonies are typically the smallest, up to about 20 to 25 young.

Adult mud daubers are solitary and abandon the nest after laying the eggs. They can sometimes build small nests for themselves, but more often, they find shelter in cracks and holes in the walls and roofs of urban structures. 

Paper wasps come next, with colony sizes up to 100 individuals and around 20 to 30 adults

Hornets and yellow jackets are very social wasps, their large nests accommodating hundreds if not thousands of individuals. 

A typical European hornet colony has up to 500 individuals; however, larger nests with 700 or more wasps are also common. 

Yellow jacket colonies can contain as many as 5,000 workers, as well as non-working adults and young. 

7. Typical Location

Another way to identify the nest type is by paying attention to its location. 

Bald Faced and European hornets always build their nests over the ground, usually at least three feet high. Bald Faced hornets prefer exposed locations, such as trees, shrubs, or roof overhangs.

They can also build nests in attics, wall voids, or crawl spaces, but these locations are more often preferred by European hornets. 

Yellow jackets construct similar nests, but, like the European hornets, they prefer sheltered locations such as tree hollows or crevices. They are even known to take advantage of abandoned vehicles. 

Paper wasps, too, prefer sheltered locations like shrubs, tree branches, window and door frames, roof overhangs, attic rafters, or under the decks.

Mud daubers have preferences similar to yellow jackets – as hidden and sheltered as possible.

However, due to the small size of the hive, they are more likely to take advantage of crevices in urban structures, ground holes, or tree hollows.

To End

The main differences between hornet and wasp nests are their size and shape. Hornets construct spherical nests that hang from a branch or other suspended location. 

Yellow jackets and paper wasps make nests from paper pulp, just like hornets. However, their nests have different shapes and are often found in more sheltered locations. 

The only wasp that stands out is the mud dauber; this insect builds nests over the ground in sheltered locations, but it makes them out of mud.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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