You may have noticed just how similar some wasps and ants look. Some wasps look so much like ants they are even erroneously called ants, such as the velvet ant, which is in fact a wingless wasp.
Wasps are not ants but they are part of the same order of insects called Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasps in the Cretaceous period and can be extremely similar in appearance to wasps. Worker ants do not have wings, unlike wasps. Many reproductive ants do have wings, however, and some female wasps do not have wings.
There are thousands of different ant and wasp species so when looking at the differences a degree of generalization becomes necessary. We will look at some of the most common differences.
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Do wasps and ants both have wings?
Worker ants do not have wings. Most wasps do have wings. This is a common difference. That said, some ants do have wings and some wasps do not have wings.
Male ants and queens grow wings as a means of finding a mate. Most of the ants we see are worker ants that do not have wings. The male ants and queens develop wings as a means of finding a suitable mate.
By flying they are able to mix with ants from different colonies and form new colonies. The queen ant, having successfully mated will actually bite off her own wings before forming a new colony.
There are up to 7000 species of wasps whose females do not have wings and as such closely resemble ants.
Female flower wasps are an example of a wasp that does not have wings. In fact, it is also known as a blue ant, even though it is a wasp. They live in Australia and are a solitary species of wasp, meaning they don’t live in colonies.
The female Mutillidae or velvet ant is another example of a wingless wasp that resembles an ant. They have orange hair on their backs and are known for their powerful sting. They have even been coined ‘cow killers’ due to this fearsome reputation. Find out more about velvet ants here.
Do wasps and ants both live in colonies?
All ants live in colonies, although some are very small. Most wasps are social and also live in colonies with a queen and hierarchical structure similar to ants.
Many wasps species by contrast are solitary meaning they do not live in colonies, but rather fend for themselves. These include the spider wasp which is found in South America. It gets its name for killing spiders.
While ants are not solitary there are some that live in very small colonies. Indian jumping ants, for example, live in colonies sometimes as small as 100.
So, while wasps are not ants they are closely related and share many similar attributes with some species often being confused with each other. Even experts need to study some species very carefully to actually classify them. Both ants and wasps also share the ability to inflict powerful stings. The bullet ant is particularly known for its powerful sting.