September 5, 2023

The Difference Between Wasps and Hornets: Identification and Response Tips

There are many types of stinging insects that can be found in North America, but two of the most common are wasps and hornets. While they may look similar to the untrained eye, there are some distinct differences between these two types of insects.

In this blog post, we will take a closer look at both wasps and hornets, and discuss how homeowners can identify an infestation and respond appropriately.

A fun fact that most people don't know is that the various species of hornet are actually a subset of the larger family of wasps. Think of squares and rectangles; a square is a type of rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. This means that some overlap in appearance and behavior between hornets and wasps is quite common!

There are several types of wasps and hornets that can be found in North America. The most common type of wasp is the yellow jacket, while the most common type of hornet is the bald-faced hornet. Both of these species can be aggressive when defending their nests, so it is important to know how to identify them and respond appropriately if you encounter one.

Differences and Similarities in Appearance

Close up of a yellow wasp

Wasps are typically smaller than hornets, and they have a slender build. They also have a characteristic V-shaped pattern on their abdomen. Hornets, on the other hand, are larger than wasps, and they have a broader build. Their abdomens are round in shape, and they do not have the V-shape that wasps do.

Hornets are typically a darker yellow than wasps, sometimes even orange. In contrast, wasps are typically a bright yellow with smaller black rings circling their abdomens.

Differences and Similarities in Behavior

When it comes to behavior, wasps are more docile than hornets. Hornets are known for their aggressive defense of their nests, and they have been known to sting humans and animals even when there is no threat present. Wasps, on the other hand, are more likely to sting humans and animals only if they feel threatened.

Unlike honey and bumble bees, hornets and wasps do not typically die from stinging humans or animals. This is because they often use their stingers as offensive rather than defensive weapons to hunt and eat smaller insects. This makes dealing with a hive quite a bit more dangerous!

Both wasps and hornets can build their hives underground as well as in trees or on houses, depending on the subspecies. Ground wasps tend to be more orange in hue than other species of wasp. They tend to burrow where there is loose soil and a lot of direct sunlight on the ground. Keeping gardens can be a good way to keep them both away!

How to Deal with an Infestation

If you are unsure whether or not you have a wasp or hornet infestation, there are a few things you can look for. Wasps and hornets often build their nests in trees, bushes, or around the eaves of homes.

If you see a large, round nest that is dark in color, there is a good chance you are dealing with hornets. If you see a smaller, yellow nest with black rings around it, you are likely dealing with wasps. If you do have an infestation, it is important to take action to remove the nest.

Hornet Infestations

Hornets will very aggressively defend their nests, so it is best to leave the removal to a professional.

However, if you must take on a hornet nest by yourself, it is best to be prepared. Hornets are less active after sundown, so plan your removal after dark. These insects cannot see red light, so be sure to use a red flashlight or headlamp while you work to avoid waking them.

Pressurized hornet/wasp sprays can be used to overwhelm a hornet nest in a short burst of time. Spray heavily for over 10 seconds, and then get out of there! The hornets will be quite mad about this, so stay away until you see their activity die down.

You may immediately assume that destroying the nest by throwing things at it is a good next step, but be patient. When hornets come home, they will be infected with the spray, effectively killing more hornets than if you were to remove the hive immediately.

If the nest is underground, proceed with the same steps. When you're finished spraying, fill the hole with water and then dirt. Be sure to avoid the hole for at least a few days while waiting for the stragglers to abandon the nest.

Wasp Infestations

Wasps are less aggressive, but they can still sting, so it is best to take precautions when dealing with a wasp nest.

Yellow and black wasp on a log

For instance, wear thick, tight fitting clothes when removing wasp nests. The thickness will protect you from their stings, and a tight fit can prevent them from sneaking into your outfit through collars and pockets.

Like bees, wasps also hate smoke of any kind. However, smoke is less useful against solitary wasps since they are a less collectivistic species than bees. Wasps will individually fly around the smoke whereas a bee swarm would be stunned together by it. Smoke can be useful to empty out a large wasp nest for removal, but don't count on it as your primary line of defense.

Wasps hate the smells of wormwood and lemongrass as well. It's always a good idea to keep some lemongrass on-hand if you have a garden!

If you think you have a wasp or hornet infestation in your home, it is important to take action quickly. Hornets can be particularly dangerous, as they can sting multiple times.

If you are not sure how to deal with an infestation, contact a pest control professional for assistance. They will be able to identify the type of stinging insect and recommend the best course of action to take.

If you are having trouble with wasps or hornets, Zunex Pest Control is here to help. Serving the Greater Puget Sound area, we offer a variety of pest removal services to make sure your home and family are safe from wasps and hornets alike.

Article by Bridget Ambrose

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