The members of the genus Vespa Linnaeus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) are commonly known as Hornet wasps. They are highly evolved social wasps. They built their nests by using wood pulp. They have large colonies consisting of a single female queen, a large number of sterile workers and males. Hornet wasps are mainly distributed in Oriental and Palaearctic Regions of the world. So far there are 23 valid species known from the world of which 16 species from Indian subcontinent and 15 species from India.
Economically, hornets can be both beneficial and harmful. They are beneficial as predators of agricultural, forest and hygienic pests. The larvae and pupae of Vespa are utilized as food by man in some parts of the world. They are harmful as they sting human beings and domesticated animals. They are the natural enemies of honey bees and they damage fruits by feeding on them, just prior to harvest.
1. Vespa binghami du Buysson
It is a nocturnal hornet wasp and a rare species. In India, it is so far recorded from the high altitudes of Himalayan ranges. This species is characterized by head yellowish brown, antenna and legs reddish brown, thorax red to reddish brown, gaster reddish brown to brownish black with last tergite yellow to reddish brown and unusually large ocelli. The size of the sterile female is 24- 25 mm.
2. Vespa analis Fabricius
This species is not so common in India. It is distributed in Himalaya. This species is characterized by head reddish brown, thorax largely reddish brown, gaster largely blackish brown with last abdominal tergum and sternum yellow and legs brownish black to black. The size of the sterile female is up to 27 mm.
3. Vespa mandarinia Smith
3. Vespa mandarinia Smith
This is the largest hornet wasp species in the world and commonly known as the ‘Asian giant hornet wasp’. The size of the female is up to 42 mm in length. In India it is widely distributed in Himalayan ranges. This species is characterized by
head and antennal scape orange red, flagellum black, thorax black, gaster brown with faint yellow apical bands on first to fifth tergites, sixth tergite yellowish brown, wings fuscous brown and head strongly widened and produced behind eyes.
4. Vespa soror du Buysson
This is a moderately large sized hornet wasp. In India, it is distributed in high altitudes of North-eastern region. This species is characterized by head, scutellum, postscutellum, two large marks on propodeum, area around propodeal spiracle and often anterior border of pronotum yellow or brownish yellow, area around ocelli black, first and second gastral tergites yellow with reddish brown stripe in the middle and third and sixth gastral tergites wholly black. Head strongly widened and produced behind the eyes. Size of the sterile female is up to 29 mm.
5. Vespa ducalis Smith
In old literature, this species is recorded from Sikkim and Meghalaya of India. This species resembles Vespa soror du Buysson in general appearance but is smaller in size and head not strongly widened and produced behind the eyes. Head orange yellow, first and second gastral tergites orange with a narrow apical black band.
6. Vespa tropica (Linnaeus)
This is one of the most common and abundant hornet wasp species distributed throughout India, including Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This species is seen in both plains and high altitudes. Body rather large and thick, covered with strong and stiff hairs. Second gastral tergite yellow with a slight brown area basally. Size of the fertile female is upto 40 mm and of sterile female is upto 30 mm. Three distinct colour forms of this species are found in India. They are, (a) The Indian colour form; (b) The Malayan colour form and (c) The Andaman colour form. The Indian colour form is characterized by reddish brown markings on head and thorax and only the second gastral tergum is orange. It is distributed through out mainland India. In the Malayan colour form head and thorax completely blackish. In India, it is distributed in North-eastern region, Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal. In the Andaman colour forms from Andaman & Nicobar Islands, all the gastral tergites are orange except the first and head and thorax with reddish brown markings.
7. Vespa affinis (Linnaeus)
This is one of the most common and widely distributed hornet wasp throughout the mainland of India. Body rather slender and moderate in size. Second gastral tergum largely or entirely orange yellow in colour. The size of the sterile female is 23 mm.
There are three distinct colour forms of this species found in India. They are as follows:
- Predominantly black head with first tergite extensively orange yellow colour form: This colour forms are distributed in north eastern India. Bequaert (1936) erected it as a separate subspecies namely Vespa affinis indosinensis (Perez). In this colour form inner orbit reddish brown and thorax entirely black.
- Predominantly reddish brown head with first tergite extensively orange yellow colour form: This colour forms are distributed throughout mainland India. Bequaert (1936) erected it as a separate subspecies namely, Vespa affinis affinis (Linnaeus). In this colour form supraclypeal area black and thorax black except pronotum, tegula and scutellum reddish brown.
- Predominantly reddish brown head with a very narrow orange yellow stripe on the apex of first tergite colour form: This colour form distributed in southern India. Bequaert (1936) erected it as a separate subspecies namely, Vespa affinis continentalis Bequaert. In some specimens the very narrow orange yellow stripe on first tergite may be incomplete or absent. In this colour form supraclypeal area and lateral sides of clypeus having black markings, mandibles and thorax are also black.
8. Vespa mocsaryana du Buysson
Hitherto, this species is reported from Assam, Meghalaya and Sikkim in India. This species resembles to Vespa affinis (Linnaeus) in general appearance but differs from it in having punctures on vertex, temple, postscutellum and propodeum sparsely and rather finely punctate; scutellum and metapleuron almost impunctate; second gastral tergum black or dark brown with almost a narrow yellow to reddish brown apical band.
9. Vespa orientalis Linnaeus
This is one of the widely distributed hornet wasp in Indo- Gangetic plains. This wasp commonly found in human inhabited areas and usually seen in market areas attracted to sweets and gur. This species is characterized by having brown body with clypeus, frons, scape ventrally, apical margin of first gastral tergum narrowly, third and fourth tergites almost entirely, posterolateral corner of second gastral sternum, third sternum almost entirely and fourth sternum partly yellow. Third and fourth tergites with blackish brown spot laterally. The yellow marks on first tergum emarginate medially; third tergum with a median triangular blackish mark basally. Hairs on head and thorax short, sparse, stiff and bristle- like; gaster almost hairless dorsally. Size of the fertile female is upto 28 mm and of sterile female is up to 22 mm.
10. Vespa fumida van der Vecht
This species is less common in India. It is distributed in eastern Himalayan ranges. This species is characterized by having head orange brown, antenna black with orange brown scape and pedicel, thorax black, first to fifth gastral segments black and sixth gastral segment orange yellow. The size of the sterile female is up to 24 mm
11. Vespa basalis Smith
This is a moderately large hornet wasp. It is one of the most common species found in northern, eastern and north-eastern India. This species is characterized by having head and antenna orange to reddish brown, thorax black with reddish brown patches, legs predominantly reddish brown with black areas on coxae, trochanters and femora of all legs and gaster black except a narrow reddish brown stripe at the apex of first gastral tergum. Vertex depressed medially, depression more pronounced in fertile females. Ovipositor sheath strongly curved. Body hairs rather long and dense, yellowish brown in colour. Size of the fertile female is 24- 25 mm and of sterile female is 15- 21 mm.
12. Vespa bicolor Fabricius
This is one of the very common species distributed in Himalaya. This species is characterized by having body sulphur yellow, black colour as follows: apex of mandible including teeth, head dorsally including antennal scrobe and lateral margins of clypeus, mesoscutum entirely, a mark below tegula, a median line on scutellum, margins of postscutellum, a Y- shaped mark at junction of postscutellum and propodeum, mesopleuron ventrally near to fore coxa, line between mesopleuron and metapleuron and base of first tergite. Antenna black dorsally, brownish bands on first gastral tergum subapically and base of second tergum widely, legs yellow and wings flavohyaline. Body dorsally covered with fine, rather stiff erect blackish hairs. The size of the fertile female is 18- 21 mm and of sterile female are 15- 19 mm.
13. Vespa vivax Smith
This is not a common hornet wasp species in India. It is distributed in Himalaya. This species is characterized by having body black with the following yellow parts: head, apex of femora, tibiae and tarsi, broad apical band on first and third gastral tergites (that on third broadly emarginate), narrow apical bands on second, third, fourth and fifth tergites, sixth tergite entirely, broad apical bands on second and third sternites, narrow bands on fourth and fifth sternites and sixth sternum entirely. A black mark on frons covering anterior ocelli extending to antennal scrobe and supraclypeal area to form a ring- like structure. Scape and pedicel ventrally yellow, brownish yellow band on first gastral tergite medially and wings brownish hyaline. Head, thorax and gaster covered with long, erect, somewhat thick black hairs. The size of the sterile female is up to 21 mm.
14. Vespa auraria Smith
This is a widely distributed species in the high ranges of Himalaya and extends in to the plains of Northern, Eastern and Central India. This species is characterized by having black body. Reddish brown markings as follows: head, pronotal collar posteriorly, pronotum, tegula, scutellum, two lateral spots on postscutellum, propleuron ventrally and usually a triangular mark on mesopleuron. Antenna reddish or blackish brown. Mesoscutum dark brown with a U- shaped mark touching scutellum, with golden brown glistering pubescence. Fore leg yellowish brown except inner basal corner of coxa, trochanter and basally in front of femur black. Mid and hind legs black except at apex of femur, apex of tibia and tarsi entirely reddish brown or yellowish brown. Bases of first and second gastral tergites brownish black or black; their margins and the visible part of the following segments usually yellowish brown: Base of second gastral sternum brownish black or black, their margins and visible part of the following sternites usually yellowish brown. Wings brownish hyaline. Body covered with fine blackish erect hairs. Gaster with a velvet appearance. The size of the fertile female is 22- 25 mm., sterile female is 15- 21 mm and male is 15- 17 mm.
15. Vespa velutina Lepeletier
This species is less common in India. It is widely distributed in Eastern Himalaya. This species is characterized by having upper half of head including upper half of temple largely black, antenna black dorsally and reddish brown ventrally, clypeus orange or reddish brown coloured, lower half of temple reddish brown and thorax wholly black. Legs black with tarsi yellowish brown. First, second and third gastral tergites black with yellow or yellowish brown bands at apical margin and visible part of remaining tergites yellowish brown. Second and third sternites black with yellow or yellowish brown band apically, bands strongly emarginate at medially and visible part of remaining sternites yellowish brown. Wings brownish hyaline. Body covered with fine blackish erect hairs. The size of the sterile female is 17- 19 mm and of male is 16 mm.
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Bequaert, J. 1936. The common Oriental hornets, Vespa tropica and Vespa affinis and their color forms. Treubia 15: 329- 351.
Bingham, C. T. 1897. Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Hymenoptera I. Wasps and Bees. Taylor and Francis, London.
Carpenter, J. M. and Kojima, J. 1997. Checklist of the species in the subfamily Vespinae (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Nat. Hist. Bull. Ibaraki Univ. 1: 51- 92.
Das, B. P and Gupta, V. K. 1989. The social wasps of India and the adjacent countries (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Oriental Insects Mon. 11: 292 pages.
Girish Kumar, P. and Srinivasan G. 2009. New record of Vespa soror du Buysson (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) from India. Short Communication, Rec. Zool. Surv. India, 109 (Part-4): 111-112.
P. Girish Kumar and Arun Kumar Roy Mahato
Zoological Survey of India,
M- Block, New Alipore, Kolkata- 700 053
West Bengal, India,
E- mail: kpgiris[at]gmail[dot]com