What Is The Difference Between Wasps And Hornets?

What Is The Difference Between Wasps And Hornets?

The terms hornet and wasp can be very confusing since frequently used common or colloquial names are inaccurate. So, we must first define what insects are really hornets and wasps. Scientists classify insects into various species, and in fact, the only true species of true hornet in the U.S. is the European or brown hornet. However, an insect that is actually a wasp, but almost always identified by homeowners as a hornet, is the bald-faced hornet. So, to answer this question we will define hornets as only the bald-faced hornet and the European hornet, while the wasps will be the yellow jackets and the paper wasps.

There is still another group of wasps known as the solitary wasps. This wasp group is small, solitary, not social and usually makes their nests underground. Since homeowners infrequently see them flying around and they are not a stinging threat, we will not include them in this information.

The following table helps describe the basic differences between our hornet group and wasp group:

Insect Size Nests Color Diet Likelihood to Sting
Hornets @1-1.5 inches long Nests are aerial or in a protected aerial location; large in size, globular and made from paper. From 100-700 workers. Black & white; brownish-reddish Prey on other insects and rarely are scavengers for sweets and proteins Very aggressive when the nest is disturbed; many stinging individuals
Wasps Most wasps are smaller than hornets — 1 inch or less Both aerial paper nests and ground nests. While yellow jackets will build above and below ground, they build underground most often. The paper wasps have no paper envelope enclosing and protecting the nest. From 100-5000 workers Wide variety of coloration. Prey on other insects and are very likely to scavenge for sweets & proteins The yellow jackets are very aggressive, but the paper wasps are not likely to sting unless threatened.
  • Traps that use sweet or protein baits are likely to attract yellow jackets, but not most other wasps and hornets.


All About Yellow Jackets, Wasps And Hornets

If you’ve just been stung, the last things on your mind are the variations in anatomy, behavior and diet of bees, wasps, yellow jackets or hornets. But some elementary entomology can go a long way.

If you’ve just been stung by a buzzing winged insect, the last things on your mind are the variations in anatomy, behavior and diet that differentiate the likely culprit: a bee, wasp, yellow jacket or hornet. But some elementary entomology can go a long way toward ensuring the safety of your family, your security and your peace of mind.


All bees and wasps are members of the scientific order Hymenoptera. Regarding population and diversity of species, only the Coleoptera (beetles) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are more numerous than bees and wasps. Scientists estimate there are more than 150,000 individual species of Hymenopterans. From the humble honey bee to Dicopomorpha echmepterygis, a wasp that measures a fraction of a millimeter and is the smallest known insect in the world, Hymenoptera are widely distributed and have long had a complicated relationship with humans.

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Bees are, of course, important pollinators of flowering plants. If not for bees, who rely upon pollen and nectar for their daily nutrition, we would not be able to enjoy tangerines, coffee, cherries, figs, almonds, tomatoes and countless other farmed foods. Humans have also built entire industries around honey, beeswax, royal jelly and other relevant bee-derived products. Unfortunately, Hymenopterans’ attraction to sweet substances helps to explain why many a picnic and barbecue have been ruined by their sudden appearance. Spilled soda, ice cream and sugary fruits can all prove irresistible to bees. Since these treats tend to be ones we savor in the summer months as bee and wasp populations are peaking, humans and bees may be seeing more of each other.


Unlike bees, however, wasps are also carnivorous. Many wasp species are important predators of other insect pests. The aptly named cicada killer wasp is a specialized hunter whose behavior helps to protect trees and shrubs that may become overpopulated with sap-sucking cicadas.

Social Behavior, Habitat and Defenses


Wasps and bees are social organisms and form colonies around queens. Bees build hexagonal cells out of a waxy substance they produce (only worker bees have this ability). In the wild, these combs are most commonly found in places like the hollow of a tree. Closer to home, bees will occasionally take advantage of something like a crack in an exterior wall and nest there.


Wasps construct their similarly honeycombed hives out of scavenged materials: leaves, stems, bark and even mud. The so-called paper wasp chews up plant material and regurgitates a kind of paper. If you see black and yellow insects flying around a grayish-brown comb hanging from your porch roof, you’re dealing with wasps, not bees.


Yellow Jackets resemble ants more than bees in their urban planning. Many yellow jackets will nest underground, often in a burrow abandoned by a previous animal resident. Some Yellow Jackets will build nests in structures or other above-ground locations, however. If you see black and yellow insects flying in and out of a hole in the ground, chances are they are yellow jackets, and they’re not to be disturbed (by a running lawnmower, for example).

Yellow Jacket, Wasp & Bee Stings

Some Hymenopterans are territorial and become aggressive if they perceive a threat to their home. Bees and wasps release a chemical called an attack pheromone when defending their nest. The scent of this chemical serves as a call for reinforcements and can marshal the collective might of the entire colony against an unsuspecting “intruder.” When bees and wasps attack, they don’t bite. They sting.

These stings are delivered by an organ located on the insect’s abdomen. Bees and wasps pump out venom through the sting using tiny muscles specifically designed for that task. In the honeybee, the stinger is further equipped with barbs that ensure that, once it penetrates a victim’s skin, it remains lodged there. Honeybees die after stinging because the barbs prevent them from removing the stinger from its victim. Instead, the stinger remains lodged in the target of the sting and the some of the bee’s innards are pulled out as it flies away and detaches from the stinger.

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However, the idea that all bees can sting only once — like the honey bee — is a misconception. The majority of individual bees and wasps are capable of repeatedly stinging during a single attack. While the actual toxins (in bees, mellitin, a substance that scientists are investigating for its ability to destroy certain cancer cells) that are responsible for the pain and swelling associated with a sting vary from species to species, some human beings experience a serious allergic response to these chemicals, leading, in some cases, to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

What is the difference between a wasp and a yellow jacket?

Regardless of where they live, what they eat and how scary they are, popular nomenclature regarding the many species of Hymenoptera can be confusing. All yellow jackets are wasps, but not all wasps are yellow jackets. Fat, fuzzy bumblebees, while pollinators like honeybees are one of the bee species that can sting repeatedly. Regarding its potential to inflict pain and distress, a bumble bee should be approached almost as if it were a wasp.

The term «hornet» refers to the largest of wasps. Both yellowjackets and hornets belong to the family Vespidae. These wasps are renowned for their aggressiveness. And yet, were a stray yellow jacket to land on your arm, remaining calm and making no sudden movements to swat or shoo the wasp away will probably be enough to avoid a sting. Some wasps are solitary rather than social, and some are parasites that may not even be visible to the naked eye. Dirt and mud daubers are also wasps, but they build tubes rather than combs and rarely sting.

If you’re still unsure about what may be buzzing around your home, err on the side of caution. And because of the danger involved in treating colonies of bee and wasps, only a pest control professional or experienced beekeeper should accept that risk.


What Are Blue Wasps?

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Mud daubers are thin metallic blue wasps near your home. Some people refer to mud dauber wasps as blue wasps. This type of wasp prefers hanging around windows and doorways, and rarely bothers people. It is a part of the chalybion californium species. This species hardly builds its own mud nests, but takes residence in abandoned nests constructed by other wasps. Blue mud dauber wasps live throughout North America spanning from Canada and Mexico.


Blue wasps span from 3/4 to 1 inch in length. Besides being blue, the wasp appears iridescent. Additionally, it has shiny small wings and a tiny thin waist situated between the abdomen and thorax.


The pipe organ mud daubers and black or yellow mud daubers construct nests made of mud in the corners or overhangs of rooftops. However, blue mud daubers occupy old nests for yellow and black mud daubers. This type of wasp prefers black widows as a food source.


Blue mud daubers are solitary species that dwell with their larvae in mud nests, unlike some wasps that live in colonies. The female wasp lays her eggs on hosts or captures prey in the mud nest. The cream-color larvae look similar to maggots and span about 1 inch in length. The larvae grow in cocoons.

Pests Control

The blue wasps are beneficial to the environment because these wasps capture numerous species of spiders, which can pose anxiety in many people. Remove any nests quickly with wasp aerosol spray or scrape the mud nests off the outside of the house. Blue mud daubers are not aggressive wasps. However, when you mishandle them they will go after you.

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Different Kinds of Wasps in South Carolina

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Bees are a part of the hymenoptera order, which has approximately 18,000 known species in North America. Some wasps are seen in particular regions more than others. Some wasps are aggressive and will attack, unprovoked, while others stay to themselves. In South Carolina, you are likely to see numerous different species ranging in color, size and shape, such as the species procera, maculata and columba.


The bald-faced hornet is part of the maculata species and is a type of wasp in South Carolina. These wasps are relatives of the yellow jacket. This wasp is black and white with a chubby body. The queen wasp can grow from 0.70 inches to 0.79 inches long, while the worker wasp measures 0.47 inches to 0.59 inches long. Bald-faced hornets live in grayish hives.


South Carolina has the common thread waisted wasp flying around. A member of the procera species, this wasp gets its name from its slender waist. It measures 0.63 inches to 2.17 inches long. The adult wasps eat nectar from flowers, but female wasps may paralyze insects with its stinger and drag it to a hole for the larvae to eat. You can identify this wasp by it colors: black, yellow, red and orange.

Vespula Spp. Species

The yellow jacket belongs to the vespula spp. species and buzzes throughout South Carolina. It has large eyes, black wings and a yellow, white and black body. This wasp measures 0.47 inches to 0.63 inches long. This wasp does not need a reason to attack and will sting constantly. You can find yellow jackets on the outskirts of forests, and they usually build their hive close to the ground. Adults eat nectar for flowers and may chew insects for larvae.


The pigeon tremex is a wasp in South Carolina that belongs to the columba species. It is from 0.71 inches to 1.46 inches long. It has two short, stick-looking legs in the front and two stick-looking legs in the back. It is mostly black and brown with yellow bands on the abdomen.


You can find the ichneumon wasp, part of the macrurus species, in South Carolina. An ichneumon wasp measures 0.39 inches to 0.75 inches long. It has a thin waist and a long abdomen with a black and brown body with orange or yellow stripes. Females have a long, needle-like ovipositor that is similar to a syringe that injects eggs inside wood where the larvae eat off the insects.


The cicada killer wasp is a solitary wasp that belongs to speciosus species. It measures 1.18 inches to 1.97 inches long. Solitary wasps buid a nest only for themselves and their offspring. This type of wasp usually builds a nest below ground and comes above ground in summer. Sometimes cicada killer wasps make a nest in lawns that can become a problem. This type of wasp will trap cicadas while in the air, but they also eat nectar from flowers and plants.


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