How to Identify Different Wasps

Written by laura hageman
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How to Identify Different Wasps
Paper wasps are similar in colour to bumblebees. (wasp image by Henryk Olszewski from

Wasps resemble ants with a slender body and narrow waist. They can be mistaken for bees from their similar size and colour, but they differ in skin texture. Wasp skin is hairless and shiny. Some wasps can be dangerous, but not all are aggressive, so it is best to avoid all kinds of wasps.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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  1. 1

    Analyse the appearance of the wasp. Various kinds of wasps will differ, mostly in colour. For example, paper wasps are black and yellow and grow up to 1 inch long. Spider wasps are black, blue, or red and have white or orange markings. Spider wasps' back legs are the longest legs on the insect's body. Potter wasps are mostly black with yellow stripes around their legs and abdomen. Bald-faced hornets are metallic blue, green or red with black markings.

  2. 2

    Examine the size of the wasp. Each type of wasp grows to different lengths. Potter wasps grow up to 1/4-inch long, while sphecid wasps grow up to 2 inches long. Spider wasps grow up to 1/2-inch long.

  3. 3

    Take notice where the wasp nest is located. Paper wasp nests can be found where there is little to no activity, including under eaves of homes and buildings, inside attics and in cracks and crevices. Sphecid and potter wasps make their nests in the ground, most commonly in sandy soils. Sphecid wasp nests can be found hanging off tree branches and in hollow twigs. Yellow jacket nests can be found in the ground in burrows, on eaves around homes or within rock.

  4. 4

    Examine what the wasp nest is made of. Paper wasps create their nests out of matter from dead wood and plant stems and are water-resistant. Their nests appear like brownish honeycombs. Potter wasps create clay cone-like nests. Spider wasps make their nests around spiders they capture and prey on.

  5. 5

    Analyse the behaviour of wasps. Paper and spider wasps are harmless and will not attack unless they feel threatened. More aggressive wasps, including yellow jacket wasps, may attack and sting if you are near the nest.

Tips and warnings

  • Wasps usually leave their nests by fall, making it easier to remove them.

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