Types of Wasps

Home and garden interests, along with enthusiasm for the natural biological control work wasps provide on a global basis explains much of the wasp's popularity.

One hundred thousand plus species of ants, bees, sawflies and wasps constitute the order Hymenoptera, the second largest order of insects next to beetles.

Hymenoptera taxonomy constantly changes to reflect scientific consensus regarding the proper way to categorize such a large group of insects.

Any discussion about types of wasps might naturally begin by defining them as all Hymenoptera that are not ants, bees or sawflies.

Bees and wasps share the physical characteristic of constricted waists. However, generally speaking, bees are hairy and wasps generally have few hairs on their body.

While that approach seems commonsense, a formal approach to identifying wasps involves a bit more consideration.

For example, entomologists also differentiate between wasps that are related to bees and those wasps that evolved separately from bees. Formal groupings for the bee related wasps remains a topic of discussion. However, today, many entomologists recognize two different wasp families, Sphecidae and Crabronidae, as being related to bees.

Sometimes the phrase sphecid wasps versus vespid wasps acts to differentiate between the wasps related to bees and the wasps in the superfamily Vespoidea, which are related to ants.

Within the superfamily Vespoidae, perhaps the Vespid wasps (family Vespidae) pose the greatest concern to humans because of their habit of building nests in residential areas. Of specific concern is the fact that Vespid species tend to sting (multiple times) as a defensive mechanism, when their nests are threatened.

The slide show presents examples of common vespids found around residential areas. The video at the top of the page shows a pollen wasp (Masarinae), so named because of their practice of feeding their young pollen, rather than insects or spiders, the traditional young wasp diet.

From afar, they resemble a variety of different wasp species, including the yellowjacket. A closer look reveals a pair of club antenna, uncommon among wasps, along with a distinct abdominal stripe pattern.

© 2005-2014 Patricia A. Michaels

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