Difference Between a Hornet and a Wasp

We’ve heard of hornets and wasps and no doubt wondered just what the difference is.

Hornets are a specific variant of the wasp, so all hornets are technically wasps. The term wasp can be regarded as the umbrella term for all species, while the hornet is just one variable within the wasp category. There are up to 100,000 species of wasp, so a huge variety exist. Compared to other wasp species hornets are larger with a rounder body.

We cannot compare a hornet to itself, after all, they are just a type of wasp. Just as in the same way we couldn’t compare a common wasp with a wasp.

How big are hornets?

Hornets are the largest species of social wasp and grow up to 5.5 cm or 2.2 inches in length. The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet. Found mostly in East Asia and Southeast Asia.

European hornet
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The largest hornet in Europe and North America is the European hornet. It was introduced to America by settlers in the 1800s. They can grow up to 3.5 cm or 1.4 inches.

There have, however, been sighting of the Asian giant hornet in parts of North America. If they were to become established they could have a serious impact on the bee population.

Hornets have a more rounded shape than many other common wasps species.

What color are hornets?

The European hornet is yellow and black, but its wings are an orange color. Its body is hairier than other common wasp species, but not as hairy as a bee. They look very similar to the Asian giant hornet in coloring, so are often confused. There have, however, been several reported sightings of the Asian giant hornet in North America since 2019.

Are hornets aggressive?

Hornets are actually less aggressive than other common wasp species such as yellowjackets. They will for the most part keep themselves to themselves. The exception being if they sense a threat to their nest, are competing for food sources, or pressure is asserted on their body.

As with all wasps, it is important to not flap at them as this will provoke an attack. The best action is to remain calm and move away from the area.

How does the hornet’s sting compare to other wasp species?

The Asian giant hornet has earned the nickname of the ‘murder wasp’ due to the size of its sting. The sting is a quarter of an inch long (6mm) which is significantly bigger than other species.

While its venom is not more than other hornet species the amount of venom injected per sting is higher. One sting will be very painful but it is not lethal to humans. Multiple hornet stings can cause death. Stings of 30 or more are believed to be the point at which risk to life can occur, even for people with no allergic reaction to the venom.

It has been reported that around 30 people in Japan and up to 50 or more people in China are killed by these hornets each year. (Source Wikipedia)

The pain of the sting is not as high, however, as the tarantula hawk and the warrior wasp. Go to this article to find out more about these wasps.

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