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Most wasps build their nests out of chewed wood or dirt!

Wasps are one of the most diverse creatures in the world, as there are more than 100,000 species of these insects worldwide. While most people think of wasps as aggressive insects that live in groups, the vast majority of wasps are peaceful, solitary creatures.

Although related to bees and ants, wasps are characterized by their elongated, smooth bodies with little or no hair. They also have a narrow petiole, or "waist," that connects the abdomen to the thorax.

6 Unbelievable Wasp Facts

mud smear
Wasps live all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica.

©Preecha Ngamsrisan/Shutterstock.com

  • There are two types of wasps: gregarious and solitary. Most wasps are solitary, meaning they prefer to live alone, while social wasps live in colonies of up to 10,000 individuals.
  • Wasps live on every continent in the world except Antarctica.
  • Their venom contains a pheromone that other wasps become more aggressive when they smell it.
  • Wasps can attack repeatedly because their stingers are not as stinging as bees.
  • In late summer, the young, fertilized queens will burrow into an old log or other structure, where they hibernate while all other wasps die. In the spring, these queens start new colonies.
  • The largest wasp in the world is the tarantula hawk, which can reach a length of 2.7 inches. Tarantula hawks deliver a painful sting and have a wingspan of up to 4.5 inches.

scientific name

paper wasp
Wasps are insects of the order Hymenoptera.

© Jorge Ortiz_1976/Shutterstock.com

Wasps are members of the Hymenoptera and Apocrita suborders. The social wasps are probably the most familiar species, with about 1,000 species in the Vespidae family.

Wasps, including the eastern hornet ( Vespula maculifrons ), southern hornet ( Vespula squamosa ), and bald hornet ( Dolichovespula Immaculata ), belong to the superfamily Vespinae.

Types of wasps include the bumblebee, which nests above ground, and the hornet, which nests underground. Solitary bees are also members of the superfamily Vespaoidae, but also members of the superfamily Apioidea and Apioidoidea.

evolution and origin

Yellow Jacket with Paper Wasp - Close-up of Paper Wasp
The evolution and origin of wasps can be traced back to the Jurassic period.

© Witsawat.S/Shutterstock.com

The evolution and origin of wasps can be traced back to the Jurassic period about 150 million years ago, and they are believed to have evolved from a common ancestor with other Hymenoptera such as bees and ants.

Wasps have undergone a process of diversification that has led to the evolution of different subfamilies and genera, each with distinct traits and behaviors, such as hunting, scavenging, and social behavior.

The development of their stingers for hunting and defense is thought to have played a key role in their long-term survival and success.

different types of wasps

  • Yellow jacket ( Vespula and Dolichovespula spp.)
  • Paper Wasp ( Polistes spp.)
  • Wasp ( Vespa spp.)
  • Slime Applicator ( Sceliphron spp.)
  • Cicada Killer ( Sphecius spp.)
  • Tarantula hawk ( Pepsis and Hemipepsis spp.)
  • Big black bee ( Sphex pensylvanicus )
  • European hornet ( Vespa crabro )
  • Common Wasp ( Vespula vulgaris )
  • German Wasp ( Vespula germanica )
  • Asian hornet ( Vespa mandarinia )
  • Bald hornet ( Dolichovespula maculata )
  • Black and Yellow Clay Applicator ( Sceliphron caementarium )
  • Blue slime applicator ( Chalybion californicum )
  • Eastern cicada killer ( Sphecius speciosus )
  • European Paper Wasp ( Polistes dominulus )
  • Golden bee ( Sphex ichneumoneus )
  • Red Hornet ( Polistes carolina )
  • Wasp ( Bembix spp.)
  • Velvet Ant ( Dasymutilla spp.)
  • Cicada Killer ( Sphecius grandis )
  • Western Paper Wasp ( Polistes fuscatus )
  • Black and yellow argiope ( Argiope aurantia )
  • Black Red Clay Applicator ( Sceliphron caementarium )
  • Black and Yellow Garden Spider ( Argiope aurantia )
  • Common Eastern Hornet ( Bombus impatiens )
  • Oriental yellow jacket ( Vespula maculifrons )
  • European Paper Wasp ( Polistes dominulus )

appearance and behavior

A blue spider wasp kills a hunter spider.
Many wasp species, especially hornets, have yellow and black markings, which is why many people commonly confuse them with bees.

© Ranjit_Mahara_Photography/Shutterstock.com

Many wasp species, especially hornets, have yellow and black markings, which is why many people commonly confuse them with bees. Although the yellow jacket is named for its appearance, some subspecies come in different colors, covering almost all colors.

These insects can also be brown, metallic blue, and bright red, with more brightly colored members of the Vespidae stinger family. Paper wasps are usually brown in color and are one of the more common species in North America, similar to wasps and wasps. They are semi-social animals and live in small herds, but without a working class.

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Their bodies have a pointed underbelly and a petiole, the narrow waist that separates the abdomen from the thorax. In appearance, they are much thinner than bees. They also have biting mouthparts and 12- to 13-segmented antennae. Most species have wings. Of the thorny species, only the females have a stinger, which is essentially a modified egg-laying structure that pierces and inserts venom into the victim.

In the northern hemisphere, the insects become most aggressive from August to October, as their food supply changes and young queens leave the colony to find new mates. This is also when they are most likely to attack humans. Wasps also release a pheromone when they are threatened, which is why you should never slap the insect after you've been stung, as this action can provoke other wasps to attack.

Species range in size from just over half an inch to 1.8 inches long. Some of the largest members are solitary wasps, such as the cicada killer and the striking blue-orange tarantula hawk, both of which can grow up to 1.5 inches long.

The executioner wasp ( Polistes carnifex ) has the most painful and deadly sting of any wasp species in the world. Central and South America are home to this wasp and the brown paper wasp. However, the Schmidt Sting Scale also ranks the Warrior Hornet's attack as a grade 4 pain, described as pure, sharp, intense pain that can last up to two hours. Most people recover after being bitten by these insects, but those who are allergic to the venom can suffer serious side effects and even die.


Wasp on a white background

© Trounce/Creative Commons

All wasps build nests, and while their houses look similar to those bees build, they are made of paper. They build their home by chewing wood fibers into pulp through their hard mandibles, which they then secrete into a honeycomb.

Other species, such as potter bees or stone bees, known as mudders, build their homes using dirt, which looks like long tubes. Favorite places to build a home include basements, sheds, and other dark, cool places—where you've probably seen wasp nests.

Wirewaps of the superfamily Apoidea have a more diverse nesting habit, as you'll find them in wood and delicate plant stems, as well as in mud huts. Spider wasps build roosts in decaying wood or rock crevices.


Wasps eat nectar insects, honeydew, and fruit.

These insects are omnivores, which means they eat a variety of foods. Similar to bees, they love sweets such as nectar, honey, fruit, tree sap, and human food. Like bees, they are often involved in the pollination of plants in the search for nutrients.

However, they also eat almost any pest that harms crops, including grasshoppers, aphids, flies, caterpillars, and even bees, among other garden pests, making them valuable partners in fruit and vegetable reproduction. When looking for food, they usually move half a kilometer away from their nests.

Predators and Threats

Wasps are preyed on by many different types of animals around the world, including birds, reptiles and amphibians. At least 24 bird species feed on them, but they tend to prey on solitary species. Other insects that feed on them include praying mantises, dragonflies, robber flies, and even other wasps. Some mammals, such as mice, rats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, wolverines, and badgers, also risk the occasional wasp attack to eat the insect.

The Japanese and Laotians eat the larvae and are considered a delicacy.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Big black hornet close-up
Each species has a slightly different life cycle, ranging from 12 to 22 days.

©JULIO CHINAZZO/Shutterstock.com

Each species has a slightly different life cycle, ranging from 12 to 22 days. Yellowjackets have a typical life cycle shared by many other social wasps. The life cycle begins when a fertilized queen begins building her home, which is usually small at first. The first eggs hatch into female workers. Once they are mature, they continue to build, while the queen lays eggs and hatches more worker bees.

Queens can lay eggs continuously because they store sperm after mating with males in the fall. She uses the sperm repeatedly to grow her colony, but usually runs out of stored sperm by late summer or early fall. Unfertilized eggs laid by the queen in late summer develop into new males in the colony.

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The males leave to mate with new queens, after which they usually die. Worker ants also begin to die in late summer and early fall, leaving only the mating queen to survive the winter. After mating, queens find a place to overwinter and remain dormant until they start the cycle again in the spring. Most queen bees live only one season.

Many (but not all) wasp societies have a caste system consisting of one or more queens, some drones, and female worker bees. The resulting colonies are contained in one or more layers of paper-like cells made from chewed plant material mixed with saliva and regurgitated by insects. In some species, the queen spends the rest of her life laying eggs, never to emerge again.

Worker ants feed their larvae on chewed insects and other food, of which caterpillars are especially popular. In the fall, worker ants build larger cells for new queens, and the larvae in these cells receive more food. Meanwhile, the older queen starts laying male eggs, and the drones mate with the new queen, who will become the founder of the colony for the next year. When the founder queen dies, worker bee behavior becomes erratic until they all die at the start of winter.

The life cycle of solitary insects is quite different. Typically, a single female will mate and then prepare and provide one or more dwellings for her offspring, each of which provides cells for her offspring. The eggs hatch and the larvae consume the food provided without leaving the cell. After pupation, new adult wasps emerge and look for a mate. Males of most species live shorter lives and die after mating. The female continues the cycle.


More than 110,000 of these insects have been identified, and scientists believe there are 100,000 more to be identified. A recent study identified 186 new species in the rainforest of Costa Rica. Therefore, wasps are not in danger of extinction anytime soon.

Common Types of Wasps

  • Yellow Jackets – Yellow jackets are a common type of wasp found in North America. Most yellow jackets have a yellow and black banded belly, although some are black and white or red and yellow. These insects are social and live in colonies of worker ants, drones, and queens.
  • Cicada Killer – The Cicada Killer is a large wasp that grows up to 2 inches long with a black to red breast and a reddish brown belly with yellow stripes. These wasps are solitary insects, named for their prey on cicadas.
  • Wasps – Wasps are the largest of the social wasps, with some species reaching a length of 2.2 inches. These insects have venomous spines that they use to kill prey and protect their nests. A hornet's sting can be more painful than a bee's sting, and hornets can sting repeatedly without dying or losing their stinger.
  • Paper Wasps – Paper wasps vary in color, usually brown and yellow or red and brown, with smaller waists and black wings. These wasps gather fibers from dead wood and plants to build paper-like nests. Unlike yellow jackets and bumblebees, these insects only become aggressive when they (or their nests) are threatened.
  • Mud Daubers – "Mud Dauber" is a common name that can be used to refer to wasps that build their nests out of mud. These slender wasps can reach a length of about 1 inch and usually have a black body with yellow markings. Mud nests are cylindrical tubes commonly found in urban areas.

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Wasp FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is a wasp?

A wasp is a narrow-waisted, winged insect. Although it is not an ant or a bee, it belongs to the same taxonomic order.

Are wasps carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Since they eat a variety of plant foods as well as other insects, wasps are omnivores.

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How are wasps different from bees and wasps?

The main difference between wasps and bees is that the latter uses pollen to make and eat honey and has a thicker body. Bees can also die when their stingers become lodged in their victims. Bumblebees are usually larger and more brightly colored than hornets, and form swarms on the ground.

Do hornets die when they attack you?

Unlike bees, wasps don't die when they attack you because their stingers don't stay in your skin. In fact, they can attack repeatedly.

How do you treat a wasp sting?

If stung by a wasp, wash the affected area with soap and water to remove as much venom as possible. Apply ice to the wound to reduce pain and swelling. However, if you are allergic to wasps, you need immediate medical attention.

How do you get rid of a wasp nest?

To get rid of a wasp nest, approach the colony slowly and quietly at night with a plastic garbage bag. Cover the nest with a bag and slowly remove it from the tree or wall it is attached to. Seal the bag securely and place it in a trash can with a tight-fitting lid.

Are the wasps swarming?

Only bees swarm, but if you disturb a wasp and it senses danger, it releases pheromones that call other wasps and make them aggressive.

Do wasps make honey?

No, wasps do not produce honey, but they assist in the pollination of plants in a manner similar to bees.

Do wasps make honeycombs?

Wasps don't make honeycombs. However, in a sense the wasps do make honeycomb-like structures, but they're not made of wax. Their honeycomb colonies are made of chewed wood.

How many individuals are in a social bee colony?

Although they start small, colonies of social wasps can have over 10,000 individuals in midsummer.

How many eggs can a queen bee lay?

Although not as prolific as bees, queen bees can lay up to 100 eggs per day.

To which kingdom do wasps belong?

Wasps belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do wasps belong to?

Wasps belong to the phylum Arthropoda.

What class are wasps?

Wasps belong to the class Insecta.

What order do wasps belong to?

Wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera.

What type of mulch do wasps have?

The wasp is covered with shells.

Where do the wasps live?

Wasps are found all over the world.

What type of habitat do wasps live in?

Wasps live in meadows, forests and rock faces.

What do wasps eat?

Wasps eat nectar, insects, caterpillars and fruit.

Who are the wasp's natural enemies?

Natural enemies of wasps include birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Any fun facts about wasps?

There are approximately 75,000 recognized wasp species!

What is the scientific name of the wasp?

The scientific name for wasps is Hymenoptera.

How many species of wasps are there?

There are 75,000 species of wasps.

Hornets vs. Yellow Jackets: What Are the Key Differences?

While yellow jackets and other wasps do look similar, their color variations vary. The former has a yellow and black appearance, while the other wasp ranges in color from red to orange or blue. Other major differences are; they nest in different places, have different body shapes, and behave in very different ways. Yellow jackets are predatory social wasps belonging to the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula . On the other hand, wasps of the genus Pepsis ( spider wasps ) are usually solitary and non-aggressive wasps.

Are bee stings more painful than wasp stings?

Bees are undoubtedly painful, but not when compared to the common wasp, let alone the ones that are known for their sting

What is the Difference Between Beehive and Wasp Nest?

The key differences between beehives and wasp nests are their size and shape, colony size, and honey production or storage.

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