Difference between a Wasp and a Hornet

Updated on March 27, 2017

The wasp and the hornet are such closely related insects that it is common for people to mix them up. This article aims to make a clear distinction between these interesting insects.


A wasp

A wasp is an insect that belongs to the order Hymenopthera; the same order to which bees, ants, and sawflies belong. Currently, parasitic wasps (which lay eggs in other insects, including other wasps) have over 100,000 species which make them the most prolific wasp species. Garden wasps and hornets are members of the social Vespidae family, which has approximately 5,000 species.

Wasps look much like bees. To tell the difference, check the body hair – bees have quite hairy bodies while wasps do not. Wasps have mouth parts made for biting and antennae composed of 12 to 13 segments. They typically have wings and their abdomens are connected to their thorax by a slender “waist” called a petiole. Female wasps have developed stingers used for piercing and laying eggs into their hosts. Wasp larvae feed on pollen or small insects as provided by the mother wasp.

One parasitoid wasp is a crypt-keeper wasp called the Euderus set. It can “manipulate” its host, the tree-dwelling gall wasp (another crypt-keeper wasp) to plug its head into the exit holes it bores through the wood. The gall wasp dies and the Euderus set bores out through the dead gall wasp into the outside world. Parasitic wasps are considered valuable agricultural pest control as they prey on farm pests and have very little negative impact on crops.

A bald-faced hornet

The hornet is the largest of the social wasps, belonging to the genera Vespa and Provespa. They look similar to their yellow jacket cousins. There are some hornet species that are known to be as long as 2.2 inches (5.5 cm). Compared to other wasps, true hornets have a larger, upper head surface and a visible round portion of the abdomen just below the waist. There are three known species under the genus Provespa, and 22 known species under the genus Vespa.

Most hornet species are found in the tropical regions of Asia, but the European hornet is widely found in Europe. Wasps native to North America are usually called hornets but are actually yellow jackets.

Hornets typically build paper nests out of chewed wood. A queen hornet lays the eggs guarded by female hornets incapable of laying fertile eggs. While some species build nests on trees and shrubs, other hornet species build nests underground. Hornets are considered pests as they will sting anyone who threatens their nest, especially those who are nesting close to humans. Hornet stings are considered by some to be more dangerous than bee stings.

Wasp vs Hornet

So, what’s the difference between a wasp and a hornet? While it is a fact that all hornets are wasps and not all wasps are hornets, hornets are still distinct from other types of wasps.

This picture helps to distinguish between wasps, hornets and bees.

The majority of wasp species are parasitiods. These kinds of wasps lay eggs on farm pests such as caterpillars, making them a natural pest control method. Hornets, on the other hand, build nests on shrubs and trees and are sometimes near human settlements. They are considered pests as they will sting anyone considered a threat to their colony. Nest-building wasps build small colonies with close to a hundred members. Their open, umbrella-shaped nests are usually suspended from a solid object. In contrast, hornets are usually known to build larger nests that are fully enclosed. These hold a larger number of colony members.

Comparison Chart

Under the order HymenopteraUnder the genera Vespa and Provespa
Some wasp species are solitaryClassified as social wasps, along with yellowjackets and paper wasps
Parasitoid wasps are used as a natural means of pest control in farmsSometimes considered as pests


Here’s a YouTube video that talks about wasps and hornets.