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Hornet morphology

Hornets are large eusocial wasps in the genus Vespa. There are 22 described species, and they are all native to Europe and/or Asia. Hornets are placed in the family Vespidae with other related species such as the yellowjackets.

Like other insects, Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and hornets) have three main body parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head contains the eyes (and light-sensing organs called ocelli), the mouthparts, and antennae. The thorax contains the three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. The abdomen (often called the metasoma) is divided into several segments and contains the digestive and reproductive systems. Most Hymenoptera (including hornets) have chewing mouthparts, two pairs of compound eyes and three ocelli, two pairs of membranous wings, and the female ovipositor is modified into a stinger.

The primary hornet body parts are labeled in the following figures. Some of these structures may be referenced in the text on particular fact sheets. Future versions of this website will contain illustrations of species-specific characters and more detailed information. If you would like more information on hornet morphology, Smith-Pardo et al. (2020) provides a comprehensive illustrated key to the 22 species of Vespa.

Lateral habitus, Vespa orientalis

lateral view hornet morphology

Thorax, Vespa bicolor

thorax morphology

Head, frontal view, Vespa mandarinia

head, frontal view

Wing, Vespa mandarinia

wing cells