What Is the Difference Between Wasps & Hornets?

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What Is the Difference Between Wasps & Hornets?
Some types of wasps are aggressive, while others are not. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Nam Nguyen)

Wasps fit into one of three categories: parasitic wasps, solitary hunting wasps, or social wasps. A hornet is one of the three types of social wasps, says the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

What Is a Wasp?

Unlike bees, almost all of which live off pollen and nectar, wasps are predators, parasites or scavengers of other insects. Also unlike bees, wasps perform little pollination, so they have far less hair on their bodies.

Parasitic Wasps

The most commonly seen of the parasitic wasps, which reproduce by laying eggs in or on other insects, are in the family Braconidae or Ichneumonidae. They are not aggressive; the female's long stinger is used primarily for laying eggs.

Solitary Hunting Wasps

Solitary hunting wasps are in one of two families: Sphecidae and Pompilidae. The female of this species hunts and paralyses other insects, using them to provision a nest in which she then lays eggs. Nests may be made in soil, mud or plants; the sting of the pompilid wasp is quite painful, while the sphecid wasp delivers only a mild sting.

Social Wasps

Social wasps (family Vespidae) are the type most frequently responsible for stings in humans. They establish colonies annually in nests made of chewed wood pulp. The three groups of social wasps are yellowjackets, hornets, and umbrella wasps.


Unlike yellowjackets, most of which conceal the site of their nests, hornets (family Dolichovespula) make their large nests in trees, shrubs and under eaves. Most commonly seen is the baldfaced hornet, a large black and white wasp. Hornets mainly seek out other insects for food, while yellowjackets also seek out sweets and foods rich in protein. Because they do not scavenge around garbage or picnic areas, hornets are far less likely to sting humans than yellowjackets.

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