Beyond the Buzz: Exploring Wasps & Hornets’ Distinctions Previous item Fleas: Tackling Summer's... Next item The Sting of Summer...

Beyond the Buzz: Exploring Wasps & Hornets’ Distinctions

In the UK, the terms “wasps” and “hornets” are often used interchangeably in colloquial language. However, there are some key differences between them in terms of their appearance and behaviour. To help you identify these venomous vespids, Avon Pest Control have listed our top 6 differences.

1. Size

Hornets (Vespa crabro) are usually larger than wasps (Vespula vulgaris and Vespula germanica). Hornets can range from 1.25 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) in length, while wasps typically measure between 0.5 to 1.5 inches (1.2 to 3.8 cm). Wasps are generally more slender, whilst hornets are typically rounder and fatter.

2. Colouration

Hornets tend to have black and white or black and yellow markings on their bodies. Wasps, on the other hand, can have a wider range of colours, including black, yellow, and metallic blue.

bees and wasp infographic

We found this infographic on and very informative.

3. Nesting Habits

Wasps and hornets are both social insects that build paper-like nests made from chewed wood fibres mixed with their saliva. A hornet’s nest is around the size of a basketball, sometimes larger, whilst a wasp nest tends to be smaller 6-8 inches in size. However, this can vary. In 2010 the largest wasps’ nest was discovered in a Southampton country pub loft, measuring 6ft by 5ft and containing half a million wasps!

Wasps typically build their nests in protected areas, such as eaves, tree branches, or shrubs. They may also construct nests in underground burrows or in attics. Hornets, on the other hand, prefer to build their nests in higher locations, such as tall trees, bushes, or even in the corners of buildings, and are often suspended from a branch or attached to a structure.

4. Aggressiveness

Hornets tend to be less aggressive than wasps, as long as you do not provoke them. However, if they feel threatened and do sting, it is more painful than a typical wasp sting. This is because hornet venom contains large amounts of acetylcholine, which stimulates pain receptors. Unlike bees, wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.  Some people have severe allergic reactions to stings known as anaphylaxis. If, after a sting, you feel faint, confused, anxious, begin to lose consciousness, and/or experiencing breathing difficulties, wheezing, and clammy skin, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

5. Social Structure

Hornets are social insects and live in hierarchical colonies with a queen, workers, and drones. Wasps can be social or solitary. Social wasps live in colonies similar to hornets, while solitary wasps live alone and do not form large colonies.

6. Diet

Both wasps and hornets are carnivorous and feed primarily on other insects, spiders, and nectar. However, adult wasps tend to favour foods with high sugar or protein content, whilst hornets tend to have a greater preference for other insects, including bees, with a comparatively lower dependence on sweet substances. Wasps generally have a broader diet and may scavenge on human food and rubbish, making them a particular picnic pest!

Call in the Experts!

Treating the nests of stinging insects can be very dangerous. Reactions to their stings can be accumulative, and in rare cases can be fatal. If you have discovered a wasp or hornet nest on your property, call or contact Avon Pest Control today, and let us safely and effectively solve your pest problem for you.


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