What Are The Differences Between Hornets And Wasps?

Curious about hornets and wasps? Learn to differentiate these stinging insects and how to handle them. Find expert pest control tips at Spidexx Pest Control!

Coleman Spaulding

Published On:

October 13, 2023

Last Updated:

October 13, 2023

Stinging insects can be intimidating, especially when large numbers of them become aggressive. Hornets and wasps tend to be people’s biggest concerns, although many people may not be able to distinguish between the two.

Below, we’ll provide you with some basic wasp and hornet information, including what differentiates them and what types you can expect to find in the American Midwest.


What many people don’t know is that hornets are a particular type of wasp. Most of the hornets found in the United States are closely related to yellow jackets, perhaps the most famous social wasp in the nation. Understandably, hornets and wasps share certain characteristics, like stripes and coloring.

That being said, there are some general differences in physical appearance between the most common wasps (like yellow jackets and paper wasps) and their hornet “cousins” in the United States:

  • Hornets tend to be round-looking and bigger than wasps.
  • Yellow jacket wasps’ black and yellow stripes tend to be brighter and more distinct than the stripes of European hornets, which are a duller brown and yellow. Bald-faced hornets are black and off-white, and their black and white markings tend to be most distinct on their heads.


At least 16 native wasp species live in the United States. However, the paper wasp and all hornets are invasive species. Below are the hornets and wasps you’re most likely to encounter in the Midwest.

Bald-Faced Hornet

Bald-faced hornets are approximately 3/4-inch long. They are mostly black with white markings and a white face. Their nests tend to be papery, oval-shaped, and about the size of a basketball. Bald-faced hornets can become very aggressive around loud noises (like leaf blowers) and anything that approaches their nest.

Cicada Killer

Cicada killers are the largest wasps in the Midwest, measuring up to 1½ inches. This size allows the females (who have stingers) to take down full-grown cicadas. These wasps have mostly black bodies with yellow marks on their abdomen. Unlike yellow jackets, these wasps are solitary. They build their nests by digging tunnels underground.

European Hornet

Due to their color, these hornets are often mistaken for yellow jackets. However, as mentioned above, European hornets are larger (measuring up to 1½ inches) and come in duller shades of brown and golden yellow, compared to the stark black and bright yellow of a yellow jacket. European hornets often build their nests in tree hollows and undisturbed corners of sheds, attics, barns, and eaves.

Mud Daubers

Mud daubers are another species of solitary wasps. They make mud nests filled with tubes where they keep their larvae. Mud daubers range from approximately 1/2 to 1 inch and are usually black but can have pale markings. They look spindly compared to other wasps due to their sprawling legs, curled antennae, and their long, ultra-skinny “waist” area that joins their thorax to their abdomen.

Paper Wasp (Umbrella Wasps)

Paper wasps can come in different colors depending on the species. Some are black and yellow, similar to a yellow jacket, while others range in color from reddish-brown to black. They measure around 5/8-inch to 3/4-inch long. People often say that paper wasp nests look like upside-down umbrellas, and they’re typically located in vegetation, trees, or under eaves.

Yellow Jacket (also spelled “Yellowjacket”)

Yellow jackets have bright yellow and black stripes and range in length from 3/8-inch to 5/8-inch. They tend to be the most aggressive of all stinging insects and the most frequent stingers. They build papery nests that contain levels of combs. Some types of yellow jackets build their nests in the ground, while others look for gaps in walls, attics, and crawl spaces.


While some stinging insects are much more aggressive than others, it’s always smart to have a professional help you control a wasp or hornet problem on your property. Pest experts have the training, tools, and experience to safely remove stinging insects and prevent issues from returning.

If you need help removing hornets or wasps in Milwaukee, Omaha, Des Moines, or Minneapolis-St. Paul, contact Spidexx Pest Control today at (855) 925-3550 or complete our online form!

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