Hornet vs Wasp – How to Tell the Difference in 3 Easy Steps

Written by Peter Pchemut
Updated: September 10, 2022
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Key Points:
  • In appearance, wasps are generally slender, and may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue. Hornets, which are rounder and fatter than wasps, are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee.
  • Both hornets and wasps retain their stinger after using it on a victim, and stings from both creatures are painful. However, hornets carry a neurotoxin that can be deadly to humans in rare cases.
  • Hornet nests can get up to the size of a basketball, housing a colony of 100-700 workers plus a queen. Wasp nests are much smaller, measuring 6-8 inches wide to accommodate 20-30 insects.

Was that large, buzzing insect a wasp or a hornet? What do they look like? Should you be afraid of it or try to kill it? Who would win in a fight between a hornet vs wasp? Find out by reading more below.

Hornet vs Wasp

Comparing hornets and wasps is a bit of a misnomer, as hornets are actually a specific type of wasp. But it’s easy to tell hornets from common wasps.

First, consider the similarities. Both species are flying, stinging insects. As true insects, they have six legs. Both types can sting more than once, as they don’t leave their stingers behind as honeybees do. But only the females can sting. Both are carnivores, feeding on other insects.

The significant difference between wasps and hornets is size and color. Wasps are about one-third inch (one centimeter) to one inch (two and one-half centimeters) long. Hornets are larger. Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings.

In appearance, wasps are generally slender, while hornets are rounder and “fatter.” Hornets are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee, while wasps may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue.

Nest types vary for both species. Wasps and hornets may each build “paper” nests of bits of chewed wood fibers and saliva. When comparing the size of the nests, a typical hornet nest can get up to the size of a basketball or larger and is found in tree branches, eaves, and shrubs. Their colony size can range from 100-700 workers plus a queen. A wasp nest has a hexagonal shape that measures 6-8 inches wide, and colonies are much smaller at 20-30 insects. Their nests are often located in eaves, pipes, sheltered areas, or on branches. Some wasps are solitary, building tubes of mud – on structures or underground – in which to live.

Comparing Hornets vs Wasps

In the chart below, we’ve summarized the key differences between wasps and hornets.

Body typeRound yellow-jacket like bodySlender body with a narrow waist
SizeUp to 2 inches1/4 to 1 inch
StingNeurotoxin, more painfulSlightly less painful

The 3 Key Differences Between Wasps and Hornets

Consider the following key differences to tell wasps and hornets apart.

Body Type

Both wasps and hornets have bodies made up of three segments – the head, thorax, and abdomen. Wasps are known for their slender waists. Some appear impossibly slender as if the narrow structure connects the thorax and abdomen shouldn’t be able to support the abdomen’s weight. Hornets, in contrast, are thicker, “fatter,” and rounder in the abdomen and midsection.


There are thousands of species of wasp, and most are between 1/4 inch to 1 inch in length. Hornets can grow much larger. The Asian giant hornet, nicknamed the “murder hornet,” can grow to a staggering 2 inches in length.


Wasp stings are definitely painful, but they are less painful than hornet stings. Hornets carry a neurotoxin that can be deadly in rare cases.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer and editor with over 10 years of experience. I'm a proud dog owner; we often go on hikes and adventures in the mountains to appreciate nature. I relish writing articles on pets that are informative and entertaining. Moreover, I enjoy traveling, reading, and writing for fun when I'm not working.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What Is the Difference Between a Wasp and a Hornet?

All hornets are actually a variety of wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Most wasps are very slender in comparison to hornets. Often, hornets are larger in size than wasps.

Which Is Worse, a Hornet or a Wasp?

In terms of the painfulness of a sting, hornets are considered more painful to humans. Some varieties of hornets carry neurotoxins that can be deadly in some cases, as when a sting victim is allergic.

But, frankly, we like them both. They’re both amazing animals that play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They are predators to other insects and therefore help control pest populations. Without wasps, your garden could be overrun with plant-munching pests such as aphids, flies, grubs, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. Blue mud dauber wasps even hunt black widow spiders!

How Do You Kill a Wasp or Hornet?

First, ask yourself: Do I really need to kill this insect? Wasps and hornets both play vital roles in the environment. And so long as you maintain a respectful distance, there is nothing to fear from these animals. Usually, leaving them alone is a better option than swatting or waving at them.

However, if they are building a nest near a doorway or inside a building, or if someone in your family is allergic to bee stings, you may decide that killing the insects is necessary.

Keep in mind that hornets may release a pheromone when threatened which acts as a warning call to nearby hornets. If you kill a hornet close to its nest, more angry hornets could be attracted to the location. This could result in multiple stings, turning a simple wildlife encounter into a potentially dangerous situation.

Crushing the insect will kill it, but it will likely attempt to defend itself by stinging. Use a solid object to strike the insect, not your bare hand or foot. Hornet and wasp insecticide sprays are commercially available, as are pest extermination services.

If using an aerosol spray, wait until nighttime, when the wasps are dormant. Spray the entrance hole. After a few days with no activity, the nest can be safely removed. For ground-nesting varieties, spray the entrance hole then cover it with a stone. If possible, wear protective clothing to avoid stings or call a professional exterminator.

Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Wasp and a Hornet?

If wasps and hornets were to fight, who would win? It might depend on the species. Asian giant murder hornets, for instance, have been known to overrun bee colonies, decapitating the residents and feeding the larva to their own offspring. Giant killer hornets have also been known to attack colonies of their own species. They sting and use their mandibles to nip off the limbs and heads of their victims. If these large wasps attacked a smaller species, the size would likely will out.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.