How Do You Identify a Wasp?

Wasps are identified by their pointed lower abdomen and slim petiole, or waist, separating the abdomen from the thorax. Over 30,000 species of wasps have been identified, and they make up a large and diverse group of insects. Wasps come with or without stingers.

Most wasps do not have stingers and are helpful in controlling the populations of insects harmful to crops. Wasps prey on almost every variety of crop-eating insects and are actually used in agriculture as pest control measures.

Wasps with stingers are categorized as either solitary or social. Some common social species include yellow jackets and hornets. Both social and solitary wasps build nests, though only social wasps live in colonies. A social wasp sensing danger emits a pheromone alerting nearby colony members and sending them into a frenzy; this means the stinger of social wasps is used generally for defense, in contrast to solitary wasps, which use their venomous stingers when hunting prey.

Unlike bees, which can sting only once, a wasp can sting repeatedly, making them more threatening to humans and animals. Wasps come in practically every color and in various sizes, some up to 1.5 inches long, yet they can all be identified by their thin waist and pointed tail end.