Paper wasps, yellowjackets, hornets–all of these insects belong to the same family known collectively as wasps. There are around 150,000 species of wasp, and as you might imagine, they vary widely in appearance. But did you know there are other insects that don’t belong to this family despite looking and behaving similarly? Keep reading to find out more about insects that look like wasps, but aren’t.
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Insects That Look Like Wasps
It is a common occurrence for people to mistake bees for wasps and wasps for bees. Both types of insects are found throughout the world and come in many different species.
What’s more, both bees and wasps are pollinators, have the ability to fly, and are known for their painful stingers. Many types of wasps and bees live in colonies with similar social structures.
That said, there are easy ways to distinguish between bees and wasps if you know what to look for.
Wasps typically have long, smooth, streamlined bodies without any noticeable hairs. Bees, on the other hand, are rounder and stouter, and their bodies are usually covered in fuzzy hairs.
Additionally, many types of bees can only sting once, while most wasps are able to sting repeatedly.
2. Wasp Beetles
The wasp beetle is found in parts of Europe, especially the United Kingdom. It is sometimes called a wasp-mimicking insect due to various physical features.
Like many wasps, wasp beetles have black bodies with yellow stripe-like markings. Their antennae and the shape of their head also gives them the appearance of a wasp.
Wasp beetles fly in much the same way as wasps do, and they will make a buzzing noise similar to wasps in flight when they feel threatened. They spend much of their time nectaring on flowers, just as many wasps do.
The best way to tell them apart is to get a good look at them when they are not in flight. Wasp beetles at rest appear wingless, as their wings are covered by their elytra.
Wasp beetles are also a little larger than most wasps, and their larvae live in dead and decaying wood. Most wasp larvae live in nests created by the adult wasps.
3. Wasp Moths
There are various types of moths known as wasp moths. These insects can be found in various parts of the world depending on their species.
The Texas wasp moth is one of the most convincing wasp mimics due to its striking yellow-and-black coloration. However, unlike wasps, this moth’s narrow black wings tend to stick out at wide angles.
The black-banded wasp moth is also black and yellow in color, but it has the additional feature of large white spots all over its wings. These spots help to set it apart from true wasps.
Polka-dot wasp moths also have large spots on their wings, as well as on their bodies. They are mostly black in color with a red-tipped abdomen; this red coloring along with the white wing spots help to set it apart from wasps.
The scarlet-bodied wasp moth, as the name suggests, is bright red in color. It has blue-black wings and a black-tipped abdomen, and it is commonly mistaken for a wasp due to its bright coloring, which people naturally (and falsely) assume makes it dangerous.
With about 120,000 species of fly in the world, it only makes sense that some of them would look similar to wasps.
Hoverflies are most notable for this characteristic. There are more than 6,000 species of hoverflies alone, and they come in many shapes and sizes.
A lot of hoverflies are stunning mimics of bees and wasps. Many are similar in size to wasps, have similar coloring and patterns, and have smooth, hairless, wasp-shaped bodies.
Hoverflies are pollinators, so like wasps, they spend a lot of time nectaring on flowers.
Many species of thick-headed flies also look like wasps. These flies, as the name suggests, have heads that are thicker than their thoraxes, and many of them have a similar size and appearance with wasps.
The main thing that sets these wasp-like flies apart from real wasps is that they can’t sting. Aside from this characteristic, you may find it extremely difficult to distinguish them unless you know the identifying features of the specific type of fly you’re trying to identify.
To learn more about hoverflies, check out this video:
Horntails are fly-like insects that look quite similar to wasps. They have black and yellow bodies, transparent dark wings, and a stinger-like protrusion from the tip of the abdomen.
Everything about their body shape and appearance will make you think “wasp”, but they are not true wasps. Despite their fierce-looking tails, they are unable to sting.
What’s more, horntails are often larger than wasps–some may grow more than two inches long. They also live for at least two years, whereas wasps only live for a few weeks to a few months.
6. Wasp Katydids
Wasp katydids (belonging to the Aganacris genus) are a species of katydid endemic to neotropical regions of the world. They do not sting, though they may bite or pinch anyone or anything that is threatening them.
Wasp katydids are generally black in color, like many species of wasp. Their bodies are sleek and shiny, they may have yellow markings on their backs, and their transparent wings are typically orange or yellow.
One way to tell wasp katydids apart from wasps is their back legs. Wasp katydids have extremely long rear legs that may make them look like an interesting cross between a wasp and a grasshopper.
7. Wasp Spiders
You probably wouldn’t expect to find a spider on a list of creatures that look like wasps, but the wasp spider deserves an honorable mention here.
Though not technically insects, these arachnids have a coloration and pattern very similar to that of many wasp species. The plump bodies of wasp spiders alternate between black and yellow stripes.
Wasp spiders do not fly. They are orb-weavers, meaning that they create webs to catch insects to eat.
Both the fact that they don’t fly and that they spin webs make them easy to tell apart from wasps, despite their name and the similarity of their colors.
There are many species of wasps in the world, but there are also many insects that look like wasps, even though they aren’t. Some of these insects include bees, hoverflies, wasp beetles, wasp moths, and horntails.