Vespula Vulgaris, the common wasp, is the lion of the plains that honeybees roam in their search for nectar. The wasp commonly called a "yellow jacket" is not much larger than the average bee. The primary difference is in how they are wired. Wasps are predators, and behave as such. Today they attacked like a pack.
About once a year I get a link to the "Giant Asian Hornet" forwarded to me, along with the note that 30 of them can kill off an entire colony. That's impressive, and frightening, but not as much as you might think. The Asian hornet is a giant, but the common Bald Faced Hornet (itself actually a yellow jacket) will set up a ferry chain on the landing board of a hive. A few of the wasps wait, killing the defenders as fast as they come. Others ferry the bee bits back to the nest. The bald faced hornet is tiny by comparison, but no less effective.
Though they appear similar, and most people refer to them as bees, a quick inspection shows that the wasp is about as much like the honeybee as the Volkswagen beetle in my driveway is like a Ferrari. The wasp is streamlined with smaller muscles for its wings. The heaviest thing a wasp will carry is a caterpillar or bee abdomen. Their stingers do not come out with the first sting and their venom sack carries enough venom for several discharges. Their carapace lacks hair giving little for a victim to grasp. Their jaw structure is unchanged from when the wasps were larva - these are the jaws of a killer, a meat eater. Bees have a long tongue with which they slurp nectar. Wasp mandibles are capable of delivering a bite to go with the sting, of chewing rotten wood, and even mortar.
Disposition wise the common wasp or yellow jacket is unpleasant. While a queen-less hive can be unpleasant, and even European honeybees can be vicious, the wasps carry the hard wired predator aggressiveness. You don't need to provoke a wasp to be stung. Gloves aren't any real protection (I was stung this morning through gloves by a yellow jacket).
Wasps are often considered the psychotic members of the insect kingdom, but really they are a warrior clan. Their colony is driven by a structure as well but in it the survival of the adult is tied to the survival of the brood. Female wasps feed the brood chewed insects. The brood in turn feed the adults a clear sweet liquid. Wasps are driven to hunt by hunger as much as instinct. In the late summer and fall when the queen wasp slows her laying, worker females are driven to forage for sweets. Nectar, Soda, syrup, any sugar will do, and they are aggressive, because they are literally starving to death. In those times, the honeybee colony stands out like a neon lit buffet.
The honeybee is built for different purposes than the wasp. It is built to lift and carry, to care for brood and work its home. It dies if it stings a mammal (but not other insects). It is not prone normally to attack unwarranted. Its design makes it both an able worker and a perfect meal for the wasp. Wasps roam the blooms eating pollen from time to time but their aim is to find a flying meal. A lone bee on a flower will stand little chance against the sting and bite of an wasp, which will ride it to the ground. The wasps will tear the bee abdomens off, toss the still living head and thorax to the side, and fly off with the fat prize. When they can enter the hive, bee larvae will be pulled whole from the cell and chewed alive. Last the honey may be taken but not always. The wasp is a predator and the empty hive doesn't call to it when there are better meals to be had. This day the wasps have come in force. The price of admission to the hive is thirty thousand stingers, but each stinger is attached to a tiny snack. The benefits to the wasps outweigh the risks. The price of failure for the honeybees is the death of the colony.
This does not mean the bees are defenseless. A hive in two deep hive bodies has a population of at least thirty thousand adults. It can mount an impressive defense. Any wasp that goes deep into the hive will be balled, where the workers form a cluster about it and beat their wings. The resulting heat cooks the wasp but leaves the more temperature resistant bee alive. Wasps near the entrance will be attacked en masse, chewed, pulled, and stung. Denied food and under attack, the wasps will be driven back if the entrance to the hive is small enough. The tiny entrance creates a mass of defenders which denies the wasps a numerically fair fight. Soon the air hangs heavy with bees. These bees in the air are hovering, watching for the predators to rise from the hive. The smaller bee, normally prey, will brazenly attack the wasps in mid air, dragging them to the ground where others join in the beat down. The wasps will take what prizes they can and flee for the day, and in the evening the colony calms.
With sunset both wasp and bee retire to their comb. At sunrise the lions will roam once more and at the gates of the hive battle will be joined again. Only the first hard frost will bring a ceasefire to the war, killing the worker wasps on their comb and driving the bees to cluster in their hive.
The wasp queens will hibernate through the cold of winter until they wake in the spring and begin again to rally their forces. The honeybees will wait, raising new generations to survive the winter, ready to defend their home.