Can Wasps Hover? (Little Known)

Wasps are easily confused with various other (harmless) insects. One characteristic which can be used to determine if a yellow-black insect is a wasp is its ability to hover (or not).

Wasps can hover, fly vertically, or upwards in certain situations when they need it, but they don’t use it very often as this maneuver isn’t stable. Their four wings are controlled by a complicated mechanism that gives them the ability to fly fast and agile but lacks in controllability while slow.

A perfect hovering yellow-black insect is probably not a wasp but a hoverfly. It mimics a wasp in its appearance and behavior and is specialized to stay in one place without any movement. But this isn’t the only difference.

Let’s take a closer look at the wasp’s flight and the better hovering little fly.

How do wasps fly?

Wasps use their muscles to get their thorax vibrating. The oscillation creates the flapping of the wings via a lever system. This complicated mechanism results in a higher frequency of the wings compared to the contraction of the muscles. A higher lift is produced and smaller wings are possible which enables higher maneuverability.

Wasps have wings that are hard to see when the wasp is flying, but when it lands somewhere, you can notice these small wings folded down over its back. Wasps have four wings, and usually, their front and back wings are connected together with those hooks. 

Most wasp species have multiple sets of wings. You don’t see wasp wings because they move them very fast to generate a wind to lift their bodies into the air. Wasps are predators and very strong flyers. They chase after their potential threats for very long distances. Wasps can deal with fans, and they will not be blown away. 

With their smaller wings and higher beat frequency, they have better maneuverability, which helps them to get to their prey or threat. Wasps can also continue to sting their threat over and over for hundreds of yards before they stop. 

Bees have a speed of 12 to 20 mph, yellow jackets that are wasp species range from 6 to 30 mph. This shows that it’s better to avoid wasps as they can fly after you and sting notoriously.

Why aren’t wasps good at hovering?

Wasps are not good at hovering, as they have two pairs of wings and a complicated control mechanism, which makes it harder for them to coordinate their movements. Their flight is optimized for a chase, not for a hover.

Wasps are predations; they don’t need to hover. They need speed and agility for attacking their threat or prey more than the ability to hover. This is the main reason why wasps are not good at hovering.

If you observe the wasp behavior, you will notice that it never hovers. It just flies from one place to another. Hovering is not their characteristic behavior.

Can wasps fly vertically or upwards?

The wasp wings allow them to hover, fly vertically and upwards, but still, they don’t use these abilities a lot, just for small distances flying or approaching their nest or the area with food. Hovering and flying vertically and upwards are not usual for wasps, as they are not skillful in it at all.

Wasps use their flying abilities to chase some threats, and the speed of their flying can reach 30 miles per hour. The current fastest human can run 28 miles per hour, so the chances of outrunning wasps in some situations are very low. These flying techniques work great for those insects that want to escape from threats quickly.

Wasp vs. Hoverfly 

Hoverflies, which pretend to be wasps, are very skilled at hovering as well as flying sideways. They do have only two wings and an easier mechanism to control their maneuvers. They are specialized to approach flowers and collect the pollen.

You can see a perfect comparison of the flight in this video on
(this wasp isn’t a yellow jacket, but flies exactly the same)

Hoverflies are very good at pretending to be wasps or bees. Their wasp-like coloring is protecting them from predators like some bird species, and this works really well. And hoverflies can do more than just be in wasp-like costumes. 

They are good at mimicking wasp behavior. For example, they will pretend to sting when they are attacked or hold their front legs in front of their heads to make it look like their antennae, which are short, are longer like the ones that wasps have. The behavioral mimicry occurs only in species that already show strong visual resemblance to wasps.

It’s not that hard to tell the difference between hoverfly and wasp. Wasps have large bodies, which are shiny, as they don’t have much hair. The wasps have four grey-colored wings, which fold when they are not in flight, and hoverflies have two wings. Wasp wings look smaller when they’re folded, and hoverfly wings look a lot like wings that house flies have.

Also, a wasp has a narrow waist, which is a characteristic feature that helps to define the wasp. The wasps have an upper body, followed by a tiny waist and then the rest of the body. Hoverfly doesn’t have a waist like that. Their bodies look a lot like the bodies of the flies – chunky without a defined waist.

So when you see a wasp around you, observe its behavior. If it hovers, this is the first sign that it’s harmless and it’s just a hoverfly. When you see that the wasp just flies from one place to another, then it is definitely a wasp and you should be very calm, and careful around it.

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