Wasps vs Hornets

What’s the Difference Between Wasps and Hornets?

Knowing the Terminology

Distinguishing between the many stinging insects in the United States can be a challenge for homeowners. Although these species may seem similar, differences in their nests and habits can be crucial for safe and effective control. A few basic facts about these pests can help to identify wasps vs. hornets.

wasp vs hornet
Image credit: Washington State Univ

The table below outlines the key differences between wasps and hornets:


Wasp vs. Hornet Species in the U.S.

The common names of many wasps or hornets adds to the confusion around which stinging pests are creating problems for homeowners. The following list of wasps and hornets that frequently nest near homes can help with identification:

  • Eastern Yellow Jacket – Technically a wasp, eastern yellow jackets are ground-nesting insects. They’re about one-half inch long and show the first signs of activity around May.
  • Bald-faced Hornet – There is sometimes confusion about whether these pests are true hornets or wasps. Though its name suggests otherwise, the bald-faced hornet is a type of yellow jacket. This species produces distinctive, football-shaped nests.
  • European Hornet – One of the biggest differences between wasps and hornets in the U.S. is the number of species. European hornets are the only true hornets in the country. Their large size and preference for live prey separates them from yellow jackets.
  • Paper Wasp – Like other wasps, paper wasps have a thin waist and live in protected places such as rarely used grills and protective places both inside and outside homes. These pests tend to be less hostile than most social wasps, but they will sting if threatened.
  • Mud Dauber – A solitary wasp, the mud dauber tends to keep to itself but may build nests on the sides of homes or outside storage buildings.
  • Cicada Killer – Like mud daubers, cicada killers are solitary wasps. They nest in the ground and often live in lawns, gardens or on golf courses.

Is There a Difference Between Wasp and Hornet Control?

In some cases, these two types of pests require different exclusion tactics. For example, traps with sweet or protein baits are likely to attract yellow jackets. However, they often don’t interest other wasps or hornets.

European hornets are also active at different times than wasps. While most wasps are active during the day, European hornets are active during the hours of darkness. This habit may affect the safest time for control activities and removal of the nest. In other cases, control depends more on the nest location than whether the pests are wasps or hornets.

Safe Wasp or Hornet Removal

While there are many spray and dust insecticides on the market, removing either wasp or hornet colonies can be dangerous. Both pests typically get aggressive when they feel threatened. Multiple stings may cause a lot of pain or even lead to serious allergic reactions.

To avoid danger, the best course of action is to contact professionals.