The three primary types of vespid wasps are paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets. These wasps can be differentiated from bees by their lack of body hair and their thinner bodies, but the differences between vespid wasps are more subtle due to their similar appearance. According to About Insects, their primary differences include the type of nest, the nest location, the size of the colony and the feeding habits.
Paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets all produce new colonies each year in temperate environments. However, each type of insect has slight differences. Paper wasps form open, umbrella-shaped paper comb nests, whereas yellowjackets and hornets form enclosed paper comb nests. The nest locations also differ. Paper wasps typically build their nests suspended from leaves or other protected areas, while yellowjackets tend to build in subterranean areas.
The size of a colony also differs from one species of wasps to another. Paper wasps normally number fewer than 100, but yellowjackets and hornets live in colonies of more than 100. Another important aspect that distinguishes the vespid wasps from one another involves their feeding habits. Paper wasps and hornets tend to prey on live insects, but yellowjackets scavenge on dead insects. Yellowjackets are drawn to sweets and sugars and may pester people more frequently than the other wasps from the Vespidae family.