The most obvious character that can be used to distinguish most North American wasps of the family Vespidae is the way the wings are folded at rest. The wings of most live vespids are folded longitudinally when at rest. This gives the appearance that the wings are half as wide as other wasps. There are few other groups of wasps which have this type of wing folding. Other characters of this family are based on wing venation. The following books (as well as many others!) provide family level identification: Bland and Jaques (1978), Borror et al. (1989), and Goulet and Huber (1993) .
More information on the systematics of the Vespidae is available here.
The subfamily Vespinae contains the yellowjackets and hornets. As with the identification of family, other sources are recommended for complete keys.
A good general feature to distinguish vespinae is the shape of the first gaster segment. In North American vespines the shape of the first gastral segment in profile is truncate anteriorly. In other vespids this segment is more sloped anteriorly in profile.
The vespines are stout bodied wasps; their hind legs are shorter than other social vespids. Vespines are generally black with white or yellow markings (Vespa crabro is brown with yellow markings). Many non-vespine vespids are brown.
Page author: Matthew P. Kweskin firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: 22 Feb 1997