Differences Between a Wasp and a Hornet

Close up comparison between the queen of a Japanese giant hornet and a paper wasp (vespa ducalis)
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    What Is a Wasp?

    Wasps are insects of the suborder Apocrita, which is part of the order Hymenoptera. [1] Vespidae wasps are the most common and are eusocial, which means they reside in one nest with a queen and many workers. 

    In spite of the fact that most common wasps are eusocial, the majority of wasp species are solitary, which means that each female is responsible for her own nest and breeding activities. 

    Several of these solitary wasps feed on other insects, including pest insects, making them valuable to humans. Their eggs are often laid directly on paralyzed insects, so when the eggs hatch, they are able to feed on the insects even while they are still alive. 

    In contrast, social wasps live in colonies and have a queen who lays eggs to produce new wasps. Among female wasps, only the queen is fertile, and as a result, can reproduce efficiently.

    Even though worker wasps have the ability to lay eggs, they can only lay unfertilized eggs, which means that they can only produce drone wasps and not more worker wasps. 

    There are wasps all over the world. The wasp is a very widespread insect and lives in a variety of habitats. 

    Solitary wasp nests can be found in the ground, in wood, or even in mortar between bricks. The nests they build for raising their young are small, individual structures. 

    A social wasp nest is typically constructed from wood material that the wasps chew up and mix with their saliva to create paper pulp.

    However, there are also social wasps that build their nests from mud. Generally, their nests resemble large, football-shaped objects and are light gray or brown in color. 

    The nests of wasps are often found under the eaves of houses or in trees. To protect themselves from predators, such as bears and raccoons, wasps prefer to be high off the ground. It is also important to keep them protected from the elements. 

    What Is a Hornet?

    Hornets are the largest eusocial wasps and belong to the genus Vespa. [2] As there are only 22 species of hornet, they are much less common than wasps in general. In essence, hornets are wasps, however, wasps are not necessarily hornets. 

    There is one species of hornet that is found throughout North America and Europe, but most hornet species are found in tropical regions of Asia. 

    Some yellowjacket species are commonly referred to as hornets, such as the baldfaced hornet, but these insects are not true hornets. 

    The true hornet lives in colonies with one queen, many female worker wasps, and drone wasps. Most hornet species build their nests in trees or shrubs, but some species build their nests in underground cavities as well. 

    Female hornets possess stingers and can sting readily if they feel threatened. There are no stingers on the male drone hornets, and these insects are very docile. In contrast to most bee stings, hornet stings can be very painful and more dangerous and toxic than most bee stings. 

    How to Identify a Wasp

    A wasp has a very narrow waist and is less fuzzy than a bee, which makes it easy to identify one from the other. Furthermore, common wasps are considerably smaller than hornets, making it easier for them to be distinguished from hornets. 

    Wasps have three body parts, similar to bees and hornets, with a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. In comparison to bees, their thorax is smaller, and their abdomens are much thinner.

    You can also identify a wasp by its distinct waistline between the thorax and abdomen. In addition, they have relatively small heads.

    A wasp feeding on a sugar cube
    Wasps are generally considered pests, but they are also important pollinators, so if possible, they should be left alone.

    The wasp is generally less furry than the bee, but it is still an important pollinator of many plants. In the areas where they live, they can be found visiting most types of flowers. 

    It is important to note that there are many types of wasps, which makes identification challenging. In spite of this, a person should be able to distinguish wasps from other insects based upon these common characteristics.

    How to Identify a Hornet

    Hornets occur in a much smaller geographic range than wasps, making it relatively easy to identify them. A hornet can only be observed in the Northern Hemisphere, and they are primarily found in Europe and Asia.

    Despite being introduced by accident to eastern North America, European hornets have never been found in western North America. 

    Wasps and hornets differ primarily by their size. Hornets are much larger than wasps. In general, hornets are less often yellow and black and are more often white and black, although some species of hornet have yellow markings. 

    Close up of a hornet sitting on some bark
    Did you know that hornets love bees? In addition to providing a good source of protein, they also provide plenty of honey.

    Another way to differentiate between a wasp and a hornet is that hornets always nest socially, which means that they build a large nest above ground to contain their colonies. An insect that is living in a small hole in the ground or inside wood is simply a wasp, and not a hornet.

    Differences Between a Wasp and a Hornet

    Wasp Hornet
    Appearance Long and skinny with a thin waist, dangling legs, often black with bright yellow or orange stripes, two pairs of wings.[3] Similar to other wasps but often black and white, thicker abdomen than other wasps. Larger than other wasps.
    Habitat Widespread across the world can be found in most places. Northern Hemisphere, parts of Asia, North America, and Europe. Only one species appears in North America.
    Social or solitary Can be social or solitary. Always social.
    Stinging More aggressive than bees but less aggressive than hornets specifically. Can sting multiple times. Males do not have stingers. More aggressive than wasps, more painful and dangerous sting.
    Diet Preys on other insects and drinks nectar from flowers when fully grown. Preys on other insects.
    Nest Solitary wasps nest in the ground or in wood or mud individually, social wasps build nests out of paper or mud to house their colonies. Usually in trees, shrubs, or under eaves and rafters. Large nests similar to those of other social wasps.


    [1] Wikipedia [2] Wikipedia [3] Diffen 

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