Hornet vs. Wasp: What is the Difference?

Hornet vs. Wasp: What is the Difference?

Hornets and wasps are not the same things, although hornets are technically a type of wasp. There are a few significant differences between a hornet versus a wasp, especially when you start looking closely at different species. 

Regardless of which kind of wasp or hornet you have around your property, it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion on how to get rid of them. Both pests have the potential to become dangerous. 


Remember that not all wasps are hornets, but all hornets are wasps. It’s most likely for you to be seeing a wasp if you live in the United States. Why? The U.S. doesn’t have its own native species of hornet. However, because of travel and trade, the European hornet (Vespa crabro) has been in the country since 1840. It looks similar to a yellowjacket (Vespula spp.), and it normally nests in trees or in the ground.

Interestingly, there is one other kind of wasp called a hornet that you’ll see in the U.S.—the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). That hornet is a kind of paper wasp and builds interesting paper-like nests. These wasps also look like yellowjackets but have black-and-white markings instead of black and yellow. If you see a large paper-like ball up in a tree, this is the species you need to be watching out for. 


What Are Murder Hornets? While uncommon, the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) has made its way to the U.S. and is a species of concern. Colloquially known as the “murder hornet,” this kind of wasp wipes out honeybee colonies and has a dangerous sting. If you see one, you should report it to your local pest control agency or the local department of agriculture, such as the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).


If you see a flying insect and think it might be a hornet, take a look at this breakdown of the three kinds you could come into contact with in the US. If these descriptions match what you’re seeing, give our pest control experts a call

European hornet (Vespa crabro)

What does it look like?

This kind of hornet is around ¾ to 1 ½ inches long. It has an oval-like body and red markings on the back of the head and thorax. There are yellow areas on the body as well as brown teardrop shapes. 

Where does it live?

This species isn’t native to the U.S. but does exist here now. It is usually found in the midwestern, southeastern, and eastern states.

The hornets themselves live in tree hollows or in the ground.

Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

What does it look like?

This invasive species looks similar to a yellowjacket but has an orange-red tint. They are also much larger than other kinds of wasps and bees, having wingspans of up to 3 inches. Even the workers, which are usually smaller, get up to 1 ½ inches long.

Where does it live?

As an invasive species that has not yet established colonies in the U.S., it is rare to see an Asian giant hornet. The first sighting was in late 2019. They normally create nests in hollow trunks of trees or their roots. They are almost never found nesting more than 6 feet above the ground.

If you see this hornet, you should report the sighting to your local department of food and agriculture.


Wasps are common in the U.S., though the exact species can vary by region. The wasps people are most likely to encounter include yellowjackets, paper wasps, ground wasps, red wasps, mud daubers, and (the misnamed) bald-faced hornets.






Yellowjacket (Vespula spp.)


Yellowjackets are aptly named for the yellow stripes that run down their bodies like a jacket. They may also have red or white markings in some cases. They rarely get over ⅝ inches in length. 


Paper Wasp (Polistes spp.)


Paper wasps are usually brown, but they can be other colors. They get their name from the nests they build, which look like paper. Some have yellow or reddish markings, and they usually grow to between 16–20 mm. 


Mud Dauber (Trypoxylon politum)


Open pipe mud daubers are yellow and black with spindly legs and wings that don’t reach the end of the abdomen. 


Ground Digger Wasp (Crabronidae family)


A ground digger wasp is usually under 1.5 inches long and can be yellow and black, black and purple, or black and orange, depending on the exact species. 


Red Wasp (Polistes carolina)


Red wasps are a type of paper wasp and generally have a red body with black wings. They are often found in colonies of 3,000 to 5,000 wasps. 


Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)


Bald-faced hornets are primarily black with bold white markings on their faces. Despite their common name, bald-faced hornets are not hornets.


There are more than just these wasps in the U.S., so if you think you’ve seen a wasp and would like help with identification, give our team a call. We’re happy to help identify and take care of pests like these so you can rest easy knowing they’re no longer a threat to you and your loved ones.


While hornets are actually a kind of wasp, if you want to consider them two different entities, then hornets are more likely to attack than wasps. They’re generally considered more aggressive than wasps, but if they’re left alone, they’re usually fairly calm. 

The exception could be the yellowjacket, a wasp known for its aggression. These insects will bite and sting repeatedly when threatened (and sometimes when not). They often get into soda cans or foods left unattended, making people more likely to encounter them as they’re drawn to areas where we leave potential food sources. 


Whether you’re dealing with wasps, hornets, or other stinging pests, we know how challenging it can be to stay calm when there is a risk of harm coming to you or your family members. Fortunately, it’s possible to remove the threat so you can get back to enjoying your home. Contact us at Joshua’s Pest Control, and we’ll chat more about our pet- and family-friendly pest control options. 


Author Bio

Courtney Enzor has worked in the pest control industry for about a decade. From helping you build a fly trap to giving you the best tips for identifying various bugs, she loves answering all your pest-related questions and sharing her pest-related expertise through writing. At the end of the day, she hopes her content will help people avoid mishaps and keep families happy and healthy!