Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera

Conservation Status


Depending on the species, it can be over 10 years in zoos; unknown in the wild. Wasps have been around for over 150 million years—but the first wasps with modern characteristics started appearing in the fossil record about 60 million years ago.


from 0.1mm to 5cm

Illustration by Mari-Leaf

The Basics:

Wasps are closely related to bees, ants, and sawflies. In fact, one of the definitions of wasp is any member of the suborder apocrita that is neither a bee or an ant. The taxonomy of wasps is kinda complicated, but some wasps (like the spider wasps) are more closely related to bees and ants than to other wasps. Having such a broad definition and encompassing so many species means that they exhibit many different behaviours. Even in shape they’re different: the main things they have in common in are wasp waist.

  • Some wasps, like the yellowjackets, are eusocial and live in colonies similar to bees and ants.
  • Other wasps are solitary and only get together to mate.

Wasps spend a majority of their time in flowers looking for nectar but because they are’t fuzzy, the pollen doesn’t stick well to their slick bodies. Bees do a better job at pollinating.


A majority of wasp larvae are parasitoid, which means they’re deposited in a host body. Some of them eat the host from the inside, while others eat whatever the host eats. In other species the wasp eggs are deposited in egg clusters from other species, which the larvae goes on to eat. Below you can see a wasp depositing its eggs eggs in an ant. They can also attack the hosts nervous system. For example, the emerald jewel wasp first disabling a roach’s front legs and then stinging the brain to make it a zombie.

The roach is  basically cattle at that point. The wasp will bring it to a secluded area and the roach will stay there, unable to escape, while the wasp larvae eat it alive. Before the adult wasp leaves, she will drink some of the roach’s blood for nourishing  

  • Some wasps are brood parasites. The polistes sulcifer (a kind of paper wasp) lays her eggs on the nests of other paper wasps. When they hatch they’re fed directly by the host.
  • Many wasps are solitary but not parasitoid. They mate, and then the female goes and builds a little nest for her kids. An example of this is the potter wasp. They build a little nest, lay her eggs, and drop the carcass of another insect there too. When the eggs hatch the larvae will consume the carcass. This is called mass provisioning. If the mother has to constantly bring food to the larvae it’s called progressive provisioning. Adult wasps only need nectar to survive. If they’re seen catching other insects, it’s typically only for their babies.

Social Life

Most wasps are solitary, but some of the most famous wasps live in colonies. They’re probably famous because they live together in large numbers and can be a problem for humans. Yellowjackets and hornets are in this group. They’re a classic insect eusocial, meaning they have a queen, male breeders and female workers. 

Photo by Marko Aliaksandr
  • They use plant material to build their nests. Wood pulp is the most common material. They grab it from decaying trees and mix it with saliva.
  • Hornet adults can’t digest solid food, so they’ll gather food in the wild and then come back and feed it to the larvae. The larvae then digests it and produces a nutrient rich liquid that the adults can drink and digest.That means that the larvae control the adults in a way. They need to be fed for the adults to survive.

Wasps we think are the coolest:

Panda Ants/Velvet Ants

  • Panda ants—not surprisingly are white and black—and are a family of wasps
  • Females are wingless and resemble ants.
  • Velvet ants come in a variety of different colours. 
  • Their bite is so painful that it is rated a 3 out of in the Schmidt Pain Index for insect bites. Their nickname is cow-killers. 
  • Contrary to the names, both are not really ants because they’re solitary, thus falling in the category of wasps
  • After they mate the female lays her eggs in other insects’ nests.
  • Fun fact: There’s even a blue velvet ant’

    Photo by Ferrebeekeeper

Tarantula Hawks

  • Tarantula hawks have are 4 out 4 in the insect bite pain index and their bite is described as “blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric.” Luckily it only lasts about 5 minutes.

    Photo by D. A. Boyd
  • They are 1 of 3 animals to achieve this rating. 
  • They’re the second most painful bite after the bullet ant.
  • They’re found in the Americas, from Argentina to the US 
  • They are called tarantula hawks because they’re huge (5cm long) and because they actually attack tarantulas.
  • After paralyzing the tarantula, it will eat some of its juices, and then lay eggs inside the tarantula. The tarantula will never move again, but will live until the wasp larvae eat it from the inside.

Giant Japanese hornet

  • Over 4 cm long and 6 cm wide.
  • They live in nests with thousands of other Giant Japanese Hornets. 
  • They control crop pests so farmers consider them beneficial.
  • Predate on bees and can be disastrous for the honey industry.
  • A group of GJH can kill an entire beehive in a matter of hours.
  • The Japanese bees do have a strategy. They will swarm the hornets and cook them alive by creating a convection oven.
  • Their venom is very strong and they can also inject a lot of it.
  • The venom is apparently strong enough to dissolve human tissue, so when they bite you it looks like you have holes in your skin

Giant Scoliid Wasp

  • A massive wingspans of over 11cm.
  • A beautiful wasp—one of the most beautiful, in our opinion. 
  • The host for their eggs is the Atlas Beetle.
Photo by minibeast.uk

Warrior Wasps

  • Warrior wasps are social wasps from South and Central America.
  • Along with tarantula hawks and bullet ants, they the only insects to be listed as a 4 in the Schmidt pain index.
  • He described the pain as Torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?”,
  • They’re very aggressive, and attack in groups. 
  • If they feel threatened they can flap their wings against their body and make a sound similar to marching soldiers.
  • They have this bright sheen that makes them look like they’re made of obsidian. 

Watch Animalogic’s video on these fascinating insects!