What is that buzzing around the coffee table set on the terrace? Is it a wasp or a hornet? Read what differences separate the two species in appearance and behavior.


Many people think they can easily tell the difference between wasps (Vespinae) and hornets (Vespa crabro). However, this is not always so easy, because sometimes you have to look very closely here – the differences between wasps and hornets are not always as obvious as you think.


The differences are most obvious in terms of size. The hornet is also known by some as the giant wasp because it appears larger. The considerable length of up to 35 millimeters is only reached by the hornet queen, while the workers, with an average length of around 18 to 25 millimeters, are about the same size as the queen wasp. Wasp workers, on the other hand, reach a maximum length of 14 millimeters.

However, the queens of both hornets and wasps only fly in the spring – usually from mid-May – while the workers appear later. In contrast to bees, hornet and wasp colonies do not hibernate, only their young queens. After waking up from hibernation, they form a new colony that dies out in late autumn. For this reason, confusion based on the size is actually not possible, which is why the basic rule is: If the wasp is noticeably large, it may be a hornet.


If you are unsure, you can use differences in coloring to tell the difference between wasps and hornets. After all, size is unsuitable as the sole distinguishing feature, because many an individual animal can be significantly larger or smaller than is usual for the species. This coloring is characteristic of hornets:

  • Head and body black
  • often with brown-red or red markings
  • Headplate yellow, no black markings
  • no yellow markings on the hull
  • Abdomen: black markings on a yellow background
  • Front abdomen often three-colored: red, dark spot behind, yellow colored end section

In addition, different color variants can occur, with animals with two red, V-shaped longitudinal stripes on the middle trunk and with a reddish colored forehead often occurring in Germany. In wasps, on the other hand, the black and yellow warning coloring is more pronounced, they also have a species-typical black head pattern and the reddish color components are missing.

Note: Sometimes these are neither hornets nor wasps, but hoverflies (Syrphidae). These insects camouflage themselves with a conspicuous coloring to protect themselves from predators.


Both hornets and wasps form social communities consisting of a queen, worker bees, and male drones. There are significant differences between species in colony size, nest location and appearance, and diet.


Are you wondering whether hornets or wasps want to eat the cake? This question is easy to answer because the differences between the two species in terms of nutrition are large. Only wasps fly for human food in late summer, whether sweet or savory. Hornets, on the other hand, do not fly at a coffee table or a child eating ice cream.

  • Hornets are predatory
  • prey on other insects
  • a colony of hornets captures up to half a kilogram of insects every day
  • Wasps have a vegetarian diet of nectar, pollen and tree sap
  • animal (protein-rich) food is only captured for the larvae

Wasps are particularly annoying in late summer because they can no longer find enough food in the garden. Only a few plants are still flowering and, if they are cultivated plants, they are often sterile.

Note: Both hornets and wasps play important roles in the ecosystem: wasps are valuable pollinators, hornets are very useful for pest control in the garden. Therefore, the species are under nature protection.

people and nest

A wasp colony is usually much larger than a hornet colony: up to 7000 individual animals live in a wasp nest, while there are only about 400 to 700 animals in the hornet nest. In both species, a young queen mated the previous year starts a new colony and begins nest building in the spring, with hornet queens building a new home each year – they never re-nest in an old nest but may return to the same site for several years in a row. Wasps also show this behavior and often build the new nests next to the old ones. You can also tell the species apart by looking at these nests:

  • Hornets like to nest high up
  • prefer dark, rain-protected cavities
  • are therefore often found in tree cavities, in nest boxes or in attics or in sheds
  • Hornet nests are colored light beige and are reminiscent of paper
  • Wasps like to nest in burrows (exception: common wasp)
  • Wasp nests often greyish in colour

If you have found a hornet ‘s nest in your garden , it is almost certain that no wasps will settle nearby: hornets prey on wasps as robbers. Hornets in the garden mean that you have fewer problems with harmful insects – and also peace and quiet while drinking coffee on the terrace in summer.

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