Vespa velutina can easily be confused with our European hornet (Vespa crabro), widespread in Italy and Europe, and with some other insects with similar shapes and colours. In southern Italy another native hornet is also widespread, with which it may be confused: the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis).
Vespa velutina is characterized by a dark brown, almost black thorax. The first three abdominal segments are dark brown with a yellow or yellow-brown backside margin; the fourth segment is almost entirely yellow-brown, with a reddish-brown end of the abdomen. The legs are dark, except for the ends (tarsus) that are yellow, hence the common name yellow-legged hornet. The front part of the head is yellow-orange and antennae are black at the ends and brown on the bottom. The size of the workers ranges between 19-30 mm, with a wingspan of 37-50 mm.
The males of Vespa velutina can be recognized from workers or queens for the absence of the sting and bigger antennas. Workers and queens are very similar, although the queens are generally heavier; however, only the internal analysis of the reproductive organs allows their definitive distinction.