Difference Between Wasp and Hornet

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023

       

Difference Between Wasp and Hornet

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Introduction

Hornets are a subspecies of wasps. Simply put, not all wasps are hornets, but all hornets are wasps. Hornets belong to the wasp family Vespidae. Knowing how to differentiate hornets from other wasp species will benefit people a lot, as better measures can be taken to deal with them. Some wasps are pollinators, while others are predators. The most commonly known wasps are the yellowjackets and hornets.

During autumn, the natural food sources of wasps begin to dwindle. At these times, they are attracted to and target human food. People can avoid getting stung by making human food inaccessible to wasps/not dining outdoors. Dealing with aggressive wasps is not a pleasant situation (after all, no one likes spending time with waspish people. So why would one want the company of the original wasp?).

Hornets are the largest of the wasps (the Asian Giant Hornet is the largest social wasp). They build their nest by using the material produced by chewing wood. Most hornet nests are built in trees and shrubs; however, some build their nest underground, too. Those who live in terror of hornet stings will be relieved to know that male hornets do not have stingers (but by the time one determines the gender of the hornet, it may be too late, ouch!).

Wasp Vs. Hornet

Most wasps are solitary, but hornets are social insects. A hornet’s sting is more painful and dangerous than other wasps, as hornet venom consists of 5% acetylcholine. Wasps have narrow waists, whereas hornets are considered chubby. Hornets have white and black stripes, while most wasps usually have yellow and black stripes.

Difference Between Wasp And Hornet In Tabular Form

Parameters Of Comparison Wasps Hornets
Stripe Colors Wasps have yellow and black stripes. Hornets have white and black stripes.
Belly They have narrow waists and tapered abdomens. Hornets are larger with thick, well-rounded abdomens.
Venom Wasps are a venomous species. The sting of a single wasp will not kill but will cause serious pain. However, if a swarm of wasps stings many more times, people (even those not allergic to the venom) may die. Hornets have larger bodies than other wasps; therefore, the load of venom they carry is more, making them even more formidable than other wasps.
Social or Solitary  Insects They can be social or solitary-loving insects depending on the species. However, most wasps are solitary. Hornets are social insects.
Placement Of Nests Depending on the species, the nesting place varies. Some wasps build their nests in trees, some on the underside of leaves, while others choose a place close to a water source. Hornets predominantly build their nests in trees or shrubs leaving them exposed.
Location Many different types of wasps can be seen in North America. Only the European Hornets are found in North America, and even they are not native to the country.
Love for Sugary Food Wasps are attracted to sugary foods (one of the reasons why conflicts arise between humans and wasps). Hornets are foragers and only rarely scavenge. Therefore, they are not as attracted to human food as wasps.

What Is A Wasp?

Wasps are territorial and are known to defend their nests aggressively. They are beneficial to farmers, as they feed on pests that can potentially damage crops. However, their aggressive behavior led to people considering them pests. Female wasps have stingers, which they use for stinging/injecting venom, piercing, or paralyzing their prey. Adult solitary wasps feed on nectar. To feed the young, they build nests and stock them with immobilized prey.

Solitary female wasps can recognize their kin; therefore, the chances of their mating a sibling is incredibly less. They identify their brothers based on the chemical signature male wasps emit. Such avoidance of sibling mating ensures their biological fitness (ability to survive and perpetuate) does not deteriorate.

Yellowjackets are the most popular type of wasps. Often yellowjackets are confused with bees, as they are similar in color. The most significant distinguishing factor between yellowjackets and bees is that the former do not have pollen-carrying hind legs (though they can pollinate) like the latter. The nests may be exposed or concealed depending on the species that build them. The yellowjackets’ nests last for a season and die in winter. These wasps are the least aggressive of the wasps.

Another interesting species is the Mexican honey wasp; they can produce honey (surprise, no one saw that coming at all!). The similarities between their honey and the bees’ has led to the belief that Mexican honey wasps are foragers. They help in pollinating avocadoes and are a great aid in controlling pests. These wasps may eat the entire exoskeleton of their prey in addition to sucking the body fluids.

Various Roles Of Wasps

Wasps play various roles in preserving ecology. Understanding their various roles helps to know them better. Not all wasps are harmful beings. In most cases, they tend to leave people alone if they do not feel threatened or provoked. Some of the roles they are known for are as follows:

Parasitoids

Most solitary wasps are parasitoidal. They lay eggs on (ectoparasitic) or in (endoparasitic) other insects. They may attack the host at any stage of its life (from egg to adult). Wasp larvae paralyze their host if they are ectoparasitic, but if they are endoparasitic, they allow the host to feed and develop. However, all hosts are killed in the end.

Predators

Apart from mass provisioning (stocking food supply for the larvae by paralyzing prey), some wasps suck the body fluids of their prey. Usually, wasps prefer to macerate their prey even though they can chew and feed on them if they want. Wasps are often used in horticulture to control the damage caused by whitefly pests.

Parasites

Cuckoo wasps, sand wasps, and kleptoparasites are excellent examples for explaining this role. These parasitical wasps either steal the prey intended for other wasps’ larvae or remove other females’ eggs and replace it with their own.

Prey

Humans may shiver and take cover at the possibility of being stung. However, bee-eaters are professionals when it comes to killing insects with stingers. They remove the stinger’s venom and prey on wasps heartily. The honey buzzard can overwhelm even the notorious Asian Giant Hornet (which is no small feat!).

Although wasps are essential for a stable ecology, they are considered a pest when they build their nests too close to human dwellings. The aggressive nature of wasps makes them prone to sting anyone who comes near their nests (even if they do not pose a threat). Moreover, people are susceptible to wasp attacks in early autumn when the wasps forage for sugary foods.

What Is A Hornet?

Hornets are one of the well-known species of wasps. They have thicker heads and are fatter than most other wasps. They predominantly build aerial nests. Each hornet nest has a queen attended by infertile female hornets. The adult male hornets leave the nests in autumn and find queens to mate with; after mating, they die (no wonder there are so many funny memes about why one should stay single).

If a hornet is killed near its nest, the pheromones released by it may trigger its fellow hornets to attack. A hornet’s sting may cause organ failure in victims allergic to its venom and result in death unless the venom is removed from the bloodstream. Hornets do not die after stinging, as their stingers are finely barbed, facilitating smooth removal of the stingers. Bees die after stinging, as their stingers are pulled out of their body when they try to disengage. Hornets often sting multiple times, as they do not have this problem.

Types Of Hornets

Asian Giant Hornets

These hornets are the world’s largest hornets. They are commonly found in small mountains and forests of East and South Asia. They build their nests by digging and are known to make use of the tunnels made by other rodents. Their diet consists of large insects, tree sap, and honey stolen from honeybees. A sub-species of the Asian Giant Hornet is the only type of hornet that uses scent marking to enable its fellow hornets to find a food source.

European Hornets

The European hornet is the largest eusocial wasp. This species avoids conflicts and does not become aggressive unless provoked (being stepped on, grabbed, or swatted at). These hornets prefer to build their nests in hollow tree trunks. The worker hornets engage in worker policing (the act of disposing of any eggs not laid by their Queen) once the place is chosen. Depending on the season, European hornets forage or scavenge for food; they sometimes steal food from spiders. Though they hunt honeybees, they do not pose an existential threat to them.

Oriental Hornets

Oriental hornets build their nests underground. The digging process is aided by the yellow stripe on their cuticle, which is capable of absorbing sunlight and later converted into electrical potential. The workers (queen’s daughters) of this species are siblings. So, the workers look after the Queen, to endure the survival of their genes. Oriental hornets cause serious trouble to bees. However, the bees can kill them one by one by forming a tight ball around the predators; the hornets either die due to a rise in temperature to lethal levels or lack of air.

Vespa Luctuosa

This species of hornet has the most toxic venom. However, they kill fewer humans than Asian Giant Hornets because the volume of venom they can inject is less compared to the latter. The stings of these hornets can cause convulsions (uncontrolled shaking), cyanosis (change of body tissue color to bluish-purple due to reduced oxygen), and hematuria besides pain. These hornets tend to build nests that hang from trees and generally avoid building a nest near human dwellings.

Greater Banded Hornet

Greater banded hornets are tropical species of hornets and are considered an invasive species. They often raid the nests of other wasp species and steal the larvae to feed their young back at their nests. Their nests have a rhomboid or bowl-like shape. Contrary to the regular nests built by other hornets, the nests of greater banded hornets are not completely sealed (they have an open bottom).

Lesser Banded Hornet

Commonly found in tropical and subtropical Asia, these hornets forage close to the ground. Their diet consists of nectar, tree sap, paper wasps, carrion, and bees. The nests built in tropical areas are pear or drop-shaped, whereas those found in subtropical areas are oval-shaped. Lesser-banded hornets are medium-sized and are black with a yellow abdominal band. They have reddish-brown markings on their head.

Main Difference Between Wasp And Hornet In Points

  • Hornet stings are far more painful (because of the chemical components of hornet venom) than the stings of other species of wasps.
  • Thousands of wasp species have been discovered, and more are still being discovered. Though many types of hornets can be found, they are only one type of wasps; therefore, they cannot match the diversity of wasp species.
  • Most wasps are less aggressive than hornets (especially Asian Giant Hornets).
  • Hornets are not as popular in literature as the other species of wasps (to be more specific the yellowjackets).
  • The yellow and black stripes of the wasps are much more pleasant to look at than the white and black stripes of the hornets.

Conclusion

Wasps and hornets do not pose a threat when left alone. However, if they are provoked or think that people near their territory are dangerous, there is no stopping them from swarming and stinging their targets. While their venom does not kill (unless people are allergic), multiple stings can be lethal depending on the species. Therefore, giving these insects a wide berth is advisable. Moreover, swatting at them to make them leave is never a good idea. Such an action would probably cause the wasps or hornets to release attack pheromones (people will have the entire colony out for their blood).

References

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornet#
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_giant_hornet
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_hornet
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriental_hornet
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vespa_luctuosa
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vespa_tropica
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vespa_affinis
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45194754
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasp
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowjacket
  • https://www.orkin.com/pests/stinging-pests/wasps/what-is-the-difference-between-wasps-and-hornets
  • https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/hornet.htm

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