Hornet vs Wasp - How to Tell the Difference in 3 Easy Steps (2023)

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Key Points:

  • Hornets vs wasps: in appearance, wasps are generally slender, and may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue. Hornets, which are rounder and fatter than wasps, are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee.
  • Both hornets and wasps retain their stinger after using it on a victim, and stings from both creatures are painful. However, hornets carry a neurotoxin that can be deadly to humans in rare cases.
  • Hornet nests can get up to the size of a basketball, housing a colony of 100-700 workers plus a queen.
  • Wasp nests are much smaller, measuring 6-8 inches wide to accommodate 20-30 insects.

Was that large, buzzing insect a wasp or a hornet? What do they look like? Should you be afraid of it or try to kill it? Who would win in a fight between hornets and wasps?

Find out by reading more below:

Hornets vs Wasps

Hornet vs Wasp - How to Tell the Difference in 3 Easy Steps (1)

Comparing hornets vs wasps is a bit of a misnomer, as hornets are actually a specific type of wasp. But it’s easy to tell hornets from common wasps.

First, consider the similarities. Both species are flying, stinging insects. As true insects, they have six legs. Both types can sting more than once, as they don’t leave their stingers behind as honeybees do. But only the females can sting. Both are carnivores, feeding on other insects.

The significant difference between wasps and hornets issize and color. Wasps are about one-third inch (one centimeter) to one inch (two and one-half centimeters) long. Hornets are larger. Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings.

Hornets vs wasps in appearance, wasps are generally slender, while hornets are rounder and “fatter.” Hornets are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee, while wasps may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue.

Nest types vary for both species. Hornets vs wasps may each build “paper” nests of bits of chewed wood fibers and saliva. When comparing the size of the nests, a typical hornet nest can get up to the size of a basketball or larger and is found in tree branches, eaves, and shrubs. Their colony size can range from 100-700 workers plus a queen.

A wasp nest has a hexagonal shape that measures 6-8 inches wide, and colonies are much smaller at 20-30 insects. Their nests are often located in eaves, pipes, sheltered areas, or on branches. Some wasps are solitary, building tubes of mud – on structures or underground – in which to live.

Comparing Hornets vs Wasps

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In the chart below, we’ve summarized the key differences: hornets vs wasps.

Body typeRound yellow-jacket-like bodySlender body with a narrow waist
SizeUp to 2 inches1/4 to 1 inch
StingNeurotoxin is more painfulSlightly less painful

The Key Differences Between Hornets vs Wasps

Hornet vs Wasp - How to Tell the Difference in 3 Easy Steps (3)

Consider the following key differences to tell wasps and hornets apart.

Body Type

Both wasps and hornets have bodies made up of three segments – the head, thorax, and abdomen. Wasps are known for their slender waists. Some appear impossibly slender as if the narrow structure connecting the thorax and abdomen shouldn’t be able to support the abdomen’s weight. Hornets, in contrast, are thicker, “fatter,” and rounder in the abdomen and midsection.

Furthermore, hornets are large with some species reaching up to 5.5 inches in length. Hornets can be distinguishable from other wasps by their wider heads and large stomachs. However, all hornets have two sets of wings and the common wasp does not.

(Video) What is the Difference Between Bees, Wasps, and Hornets?


There are thousands of species of wasps, and most are between 1/4 inch to 1 inch in length. Hornets can grow much larger. The Asian giant hornet, nicknamed the “murder hornet,” can grow to a staggering 2 inches in length.

Wasp vs Hornet Sting

Wasp stings are definitely painful, but they are less painful than hornet stings. Hornets carry a neurotoxin that can be deadly in rare cases. So, the winner in wasp vs hornet sting severity? Hornets – with stings that are most painful and potentially deadly.


Hornet vs wasp: hornets are very aggressive and can sting multiple times, additionally stings can sometimes be fatal to humans. Wasps are even more aggressive compared to bees and wasps can also sting more than once. These two creatures are both predators. Hornets are social creatures whereas wasps can be social but they can also be solitary depending on the species.

Hornet vs Wasp - How to Tell the Difference in 3 Easy Steps (4)

What to do if a Wasp or Hornet Stings You

If you are unfortunate enough to accidentally incur the wrath of one of these insects the first thing you should do is run away! Yes, get away as quickly and calmly as possible so they won’t have the motive to keep stinging you. Unlike bees, wasps and hornets can sting more than once and they don’t die from it. As soon as you can, wash the wound and apply ice to reduce swelling and inflammation. Take ibuprofen for the pain and apply hydrocortisone for itching. If the wound turns red and feels warm to the touch, it may be infected and need a doctor’s care.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What Is the Difference Between a Wasp and a Hornet?

All hornets are actually a variety of wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Most wasps are very slender in comparison to hornets. Often, hornets are larger in size than wasps.

Which Is Worse, a Hornet or a Wasp?

In terms of the painfulness of a sting, hornets are considered more painful to humans. Some varieties of hornets carry neurotoxins that can be deadly in some cases, as when a sting victim is allergic.

But, frankly, we like them both. They’re both amazing animals that play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They are predators to other insects and therefore help control pest populations. Without wasps, your garden could be overrun with plant-munching pests such as aphids, flies, grubs, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. Blue mud dauber wasps even hunt black widow spiders!

How Do You Kill a Wasp or Hornet?

First, ask yourself: Do I really need to kill this insect? Wasps and hornets both play vital roles in the environment. And so long as you maintain a respectful distance, there is nothing to fear from these animals. Usually, leaving them alone is a better option than swatting or waving at them.

However, if they are building a nest near a doorway or inside a building, or if someone in your family is allergic to bee stings, you may decide that killing the insects is necessary.

Keep in mind that hornets may release a pheromone when threatened which acts as a warning call to nearby hornets. If you kill a hornet close to its nest, more angry hornets could be attracted to the location. This could result in multiple stings, turning a simple wildlife encounter into a potentially dangerous situation.

Crushing the insect will kill it, but it will likely attempt to defend itself by stinging. Use a solid object to strike the insect, not your bare hand or foot. Hornet and wasp insecticide sprays are commercially available, as are pest extermination services.

If using an aerosol spray, wait until nighttime, when the wasps are dormant. Spray the entrance hole. After a few days with no activity, the nest can be safely removed. For ground-nesting varieties, spray the entrance hole then cover it with a stone. If possible, wear protective clothing to avoid stings or call a professional exterminator.

(Video) Exploding hornet nests with wrist rockets

Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Wasp and a Hornet?

If wasps and hornets were to fight, who would win? It might depend on the species. Asian giant murder hornets, for instance, have been known to overrun bee colonies, decapitating the residents and feeding the larva to their own offspring. Giant killer hornets have also been known to attack colonies of their own species. They sting and use their mandibles to nip off the limbs and heads of their victims. If these large wasps attacked a smaller species, the size would likely will out.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


How do you tell if it's a wasp or hornet? ›

Wasps Are Brighter, Hornets Are Larger

It can grow to twice the size of a yellow jacket or paper wasp, about 1 inch in length. Hornets tend to have a dull color, mostly brown with yellow stripes or black with a white head (the bald-faced hornet). Yellow jacket wasps are, well, bright yellow and black striped.

How do I identify a hornet? ›

Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings. Hornets vs wasps in appearance, wasps are generally slender, while hornets are rounder and “fatter.” Hornets are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee, while wasps may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue.

What's the difference between a wasp and a hornet sting? ›

The strength of the venom varies among species, but hornet stings are generally more painful to humans than other wasp species, due to a large amount of acetylcholine. Stings are rarely fatal to humans (excepting allergic reactions), but swarms of hornets can be deadly.

What does a hornet look like? ›

Hornets tend to have reddish-brown heads and thoraxes, with abdomens that are golden in color with dark brown stripes. The majority of wasp species are not social. Hornets are social insects.

How can you identify a wasp? ›

Bees are often confused with wasps because they have a similar shape. However, wasps have distinct yellow/black bands around the abdomen whereas bees have a more non-descript light brown/yellow colour.

What does a hornet best look like? ›

A hornets' nest is a paper-like structure made from wood chewed by hornets. The size of a hornets' nest can depend on the size of the colony but can be as large as a basketball and appear to be made out of a paper mache-like material. Most nests are shaped in the form of a teardrop and contain one single entrance.

What happens if you see a hornet? ›

Out of all insects, hornets, wasps, and bees are probably the most feared due to their ability to deliver a painful sting. If you see a single hornet flying around, you probably already know that the safest thing to do is to freeze or slowly walk away.

What kind of hornet comes out at night? ›

European hornets are much larger than yellowjackets and, unlike most stinging insects, can be active at night.

Will hornets just sting you? ›

Like most nest building insects, hornets will usually only attack to defend their colony when they feel it is being threatened. This is mainly only when someone or something comes within close proximity of the nest (the radius of this is usually six and a half feet).

What is the most aggressive wasp or hornet? ›

Baldfaced Hornets

They are aggressive and will attack anything (or anyone) that invades their space. They can sting repeatedly and their sting is very painful.

Does a hornet leave a stinger? ›

Do hornets leave stingers? Hornets are similar to wasps, and they also can tend to be more aggressive than bees. Additionally, with no barbs, hornets don't leave their stinger in the skin.

What kills wasps instantly? ›

“Soap will kill wasps.” I thought: Of all of the preposterous, redneck, stupid home remedies I'd ever heard of, using dish soap to kill wasps instantly topped the list. Gary explained how he puts liquid soap into a spray bottle with a little water, then sprays a stream of it to kill unwanted wasps around his house.

What does a killer hornet look like? ›

The Asian giant hornet has a large bright yellow head. The abdomen of the hornet consists of prominent yellow stripes while the cicada killer abdomen is mostly dark with broken yellow patches.

What does a queen hornet look like? ›

She has bright yellow and black stripes, with a triangle-shaped head, a distinctive 'waist' and a sharp pointy sting. Emerging from hibernation during the spring, the queen chooses a suitable area to build her nest, such as a hollow tree or in the cavity of a building.

What happens if a wasp sees you? ›

So, if you see a wasp, simply stand as still as possible. Wasps are known for going on their way without bothering humans if they don't bother them. If you are chased by a wasp or even a swarm of wasps, the best thing to do is to run in a straight line about 50 to 100 feet.

Do hornets have yellow stripes? ›

In appearance, hornets look like yellowjackets only with a few key differences. They have more intense black and yellow stripes than yellowjackets and their body shapes differ drastically. They have a longer abdomen than a yellow jacket, making them appear much bigger. Hornets can reach up to 2.2 inches in length.

What looks like a wasp but isn't a wasp? ›

Well, you might happen to spot a fake wasp which is often confused with the well-known stinging insect. The fly that looks like a wasp is called a hoverfly.

Are yellow jackets wasps or hornets? ›

Technically, hornets and yellow jackets are just types of wasps. Whereas bees are herbivores, wasps are omnivorous and will eat meat, spiders, and other insects in addition to plants. Although wasps do help control populations of agricultural pests, in general wasps are far less environmentally beneficial than bees.

Is it a wasp hornet or yellow jacket? ›

You'll have to look closely to see hair on a wasp. Bald-faced hornets are usually a white and black coloring; yellow jackets are yellow and black; and paper wasps can be brown in color or yellow and black, like yellow jackets. All of these wasps are social insects. That means they can attack as a group.

Why do wasps chase you? ›

Why do wasps and yellow jackets chase you? The answer is simple: they feel threatened and are protecting their nests. Wasps aren't particularly cruel creatures who want to chase or sting you. However, if they feel that they are in danger, they will do anything to protect themselves.

What kills yellow jackets? ›

Treat the nest with pyrethrum aerosols such as Stryker 54 Contact Aerosol or PT 565. Pyrethrum forms a gas that will fill the cavity, killing the yellow jackets on contact. Wait until the aerosol is dry, and then dust in the opening with insecticide dust such as Tempo Dust. The dust will prevent future hatch outs.

What does a ground hornet look like? ›

These pests look similar to yellow jackets with black and yellow striped bodies and reddish-brown wings. Only females have a stinger, which is actually an ovipositor that she uses to deposit eggs.

What can sting you in the grass? ›

Bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants and scorpions that inject venom from the tip of their abdomen are sometimes considered beneficial because of their importance in pollination or because they prey on other pest insects. However, anyone who has ever been stung by one of these creatures will usually think otherwise!

Can hornets hurt you? ›

They'll also sting while defending their nest or defending a beehive they are attacking. Mass hornet attacks are very rare, but they can occur; in extreme cases, they can cripple or even kill victims. While Asian giant hornet venom is similar to other stinging insects, it's not the same.

Are hornets aggressive? ›

A little known fact about hornets is they are actually not as aggressive as one might think. Like most nest building insects, hornets will usually only attack to defend their colony when they feel it is being threatened.

What bug looks like a wasp without wings? ›

Velvet Ants, a.k.a. Cow Killers Ants. Although commonly referred to as the red velvet ant (and in some cases cow killer ant), this name is misleading because velvet ants are actually wasps. They get the "velvet" part of their name from the very fuzzy females, which are wingless and often brightly colored.

What is the most harmless wasp? ›

Despite their large size and bright yellow and brown coloring, cicada killers are harmless to humans—they're “gentle giants of the wasp world,” Schmidt says. Male cicada killers don't sting, and, unlike Asian giant hornets, female cicada killers avoid people and rarely deploy their stingers.

What bug looks like a wasp but isn t? ›

The very real animal kingdom has just such a creature, called a mantisfly. But it is neither praying mantis nor wasp. It's not even a fly! It mimics a wasp but also has front legs like a mantis.

What does Dawn soap do to wasps? ›

Soap & Water

Some wasp removal experts say that you can handle small hanging nests with a bit of soapy water. Mix 2 tablespoons of dish soap in a spray bottle and fill with water. The soap will clog their spiracles, the pores that they breathe through, and will kill them almost immediately.

What does vinegar do to wasps? ›

The sugar will attract the wasp to the mixture, but the vinegar will kill it.

What does alcohol do to wasps? ›

Consuming even a tiny drop of alcohol can make the wasps drunk, irritable, and prone to causing trouble among humans. Luckily, wasps' drunk and belligerent behavior doesn't last long—once the weather gets cold, the entire colony will die and the queens will hibernate until the drama starts all over again.


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