Bee vs. Wasp vs. Hornet – What’s the Difference & How To Identify Them?

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets might seem the same for most people but in reality, they are quite different. These insects can be very helpful and interesting to observe. However, they can bring trouble to a lot of people. Wasps, bees, and hornets tend to defend themselves aggressively. If they consider you a threat, you might become a victim to their sting. This is why a lot of homeowners look for ways to secure their gardens against these insects. To defend yourself, you need to differentiate these insects.

In this article, we will share with you what are the differences between wasps, bees and hornets, how to identify them, and what type of products to use if you get stung.

Differences and how to identify them

All three of these insects belong to the same order of insects called Hymenoptera. Wasps, bees and hornets have different appearances and ways of living. Bees feed on nectar and pollen. Basically, they are vegetarians. On the contrary, wasps and hornets feed on other insects and they are carnivorous. Even at a first glance, there are major differences between these insects.

So, let’s dive into more specific characteristics.

Bees

bees

Bees are “fuzzy” insects due to tiny hair all over their body. Bees collect nectar and pollen to make honey. While there are up to 20,000 species of bees around the world, we mainly know three types of bees:

  • Honey bees
  • Bumble bees
  • Carpenter Bees

Females of bee species collect pollen and have special pollen baskets. Bumblebees have their undersides covered in bright pollen while solitary bees are observed to have dry pollen. Most bees have yellow and black markings. Most bees are social, but there are solitary species as well. Carpenter bees are considered solitary, however they also have social nests.

Bumblebee vs. Honey bee

According to The National Wildlife Federation, there are approximately 4,000 native bee species in North America. However, only two types of bees are commonly known: Bumblebees and Honey bees. Even these species have noticeable differences. Bumblebees are big and fuzzy while honey bees are thinner. Additionally, you can notice honey bees by their two sets of wings and the distinction between head and abdomen. In contrast with the honey bee, bumblebees are “all of one piece” as it is described in the article by Student Conservation Association.

Moreover, bee species have different lifestyles. Bumblebees can be seen in wildlife and are not domesticated. Unlike honey bees, they produce honey only for internal use. Honey bees are extremely social. Female worker bees build hives and produce a lot of honey.

Another major difference is that bumblebees can sting several times, while honey bees can do it only once in a lifetime. Because sting is fatal for honey bees, they do not sting unless they are provoked and feel highly threatened. So, if you visit apiaries (places with beehives of honey bees), do not worry. If you keep calm, then bees are no threat to you.

Wasps

yellowjacket wasps

Wasps or rather “social wasps” are insects that live in colonies that unite hundreds and thousands of them. Most wasps are female. Just like bees, wasp species also have a queen which lays eggs. Moreover, colonies are mainly created by female worker wasps.

The hierarchy and lifestyle of wasps are quite similar to bees. Wasps are predators. Wasps’ predatory nature is what makes them so valuable. Professor Adam Hart wrote the following phrase in his article regarding wasps: “A world without wasps would be a world with a very much larger number of insect pests on our crops and gardens.”

Even though wasps are very important, they can be very annoying and quite challenging to get rid of. Wasps look very similar to bees, but if you look carefully you will notice that wasp does not have a hairy body. They look more shiny and bright due to their smooth body. The most common species include:

  • Hornets
  • Paper Wasps
  • Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets get their name because of their yellow appearance. You might know this species as the bald-faced hornet. In reality, bald-faced hornets are a type of yellow jackets wasp; however, they are bigger.

Another common species is “Paper Wasp” which unlike yellow jackets comes in multiple shades from orange to burgundy. Both wasps are social wasps and because of their appearance can be mistaken for bees.

Remember, you have to be way more careful with wasps than bees. Unlike bees, wasps can sting multiple times. Furthermore, they tend to be more defensive. Paper wasps tend to be less hostile because they live in smaller colonies and are less defensive by nature.

Hornets

Hornet

Hornets belong to the Vespidae family which also includes wasps. A lot of people have struggled to differentiate these two species and for good reason, they are very similar. Hornets are subsets of wasps, however, they are large and you can distinguish them according to color and size. Remember, bald-faced hornets are not true hornets, but subspecies of yellow jacket.

Unlike wasps and bees, there are no solitary hornets. Moreover, you will find hornets more aggressive. In terms of pest control and prevention, hornets are the biggest challenge.

Asian giant hornet or Japanese giant hornet is the largest of the species. They are supposed to be reported because their sting can be very harmful to human health. Washington State Department of Agriculture advises to “Use extreme caution near Asian giant hornets”. It could be fatal if you are stung multiple times by them.

Remember that, Asian Giant Hornet or Vespa Mandarinia is different from Asian Hornet (Vespa Velutina). The first has an orange look and is rather big, while the Asian hornet has an almost black body with narrow yellow stripes. Additionally, it is relatively small compared to Asian Giant Hornet.

The most common species of hornet in North America is the European Hornet. This species is medium-sized and way less dangerous. You can easily recognize this species. It has a pale yellow abdomen with small black stripes. Its head is yellow-reddish.

Bee vs. Wasp vs. Hornet – Life Cycles

In addition to all the differences that were mentioned above, hornets, wasps and bees have different life cycles. Generally, all three of these insects go through with the same cycle stages:

  1. Egg
  2. Lavra
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

Bees’ life cycle begins when queen bee mates with male bees – drones. The impregnated queen lays eggs in hexagonal cells. Generally, honey bee queens may lay around 2,000-3,000 eggs daily. The eggs can either be fertilized or unfertilized. Fertilized eggs become female bees that are divided into two categories: worker bees or potential queen. Sterile females are worker bees. Unfertilized eggs become male bees or drones.

The egg turns into lavra which is fed by worker bees. Lavra turns into a pupa which has the recognizable features of a bee. Eventually, an adult bee emerges from the pupa. For female workers, it takes around 18-22 days, for drones – 24 days.

The life cycle for hornets and wasps are quite similar. Queens are the only fertile females in colonies. The queen is the leading power of the wasp world. She lays eggs and grows the colony. Generally, males die shortly after mating while worker females live longer lives. Moreover, the fertilized queen is the only one to survive the winter.

How Can Bees, Wasps and Hornets Be Prevented?

Wasps, bees or hornets are very important in pest control therefore, their existence is crucial. However, it is better to prevent their existence from residential areas.

There are several things you can do to make sure these insects won’t disturb you:

  • Remove ripe or rotten food
  • Throw the trash regularly and seal the trash cans
  • Keep the windows and doors closed
  • Close holes in the ground or in your porch; monitor hollow trees
  • Check your house for nests
  • Ask for advice from pest experts
  • If you find a nest, call pest control service provider

Biting vs. Stinging

Wasps, hornets and bees are stinging insects, they do not bite. Remember one general rule: if insects have venom, then they sting. When you get stung, venom is injected through a stinger. The biting works in contrast with this. Insects bite you when they want to feed on your blood. Insects that bite include mosquitos, flies and lice.

Remember, bee stings only when explicitly provoked. Most bee stings will not have serious effects on your health, nevertheless, it is important to be careful. A lot of people have an allergic reaction to stinging insects. If you get stung, immediately remove the stinger and clear the spot.

Recommended Products for Sting Treatment or Protection from Wasps, Hornets and bees

Sting Treatment

Bee, wasp or hornet sting, while undesirable, is very common. If you were unfortunate and got a sting from these winged insects, don’t worry. You can deal with this issue at home. CDC suggests washing and cleaning the site with soap and water. Additionally, you have to remove the stinger.

However, if you are allergic, seek medical attention. If you don’t have allergic reaction, you can use these products for treatment:

  • Use Benadryl to help with itching and swelling.
  • To reduce redness and swelling use Hydrocortisone Topical Cream
  • To reduce the pain, take painkillers such as Ibuprofen

Prevention

Correct treatment is very important, but it is always smarter to prevent the sting and protect yourself.

There are different types of products that can be used to minimize exposure to insects:

  • Peppermint oil – peppermint is an effective wasp repellent. You can use it to make a homemade solution and spray around your home and garden.
  • Raid Wasp and Hornet Killer Spray – the sprays are proved to be very effective against insects, especially wasps and hornets.
  • Electric Bug ZapperThere are various types of zappers. Since bees mainly work during the day, it would be wiser to get the racket type. The other type uses light to distract insects and it would not be very effective against bees.
  • Ultrasonic Pest Repeller – Ultrasonic pest repellent works most efficiently indoors and can be an effective product.
  • Bee Trap – These traps are especially effective against wasps and carpenter bees.

Overall, hornets, bees and wasps are very useful and important even though they might be frightening for some of us. It is important to remember, they do not sting unless provoked. So, if you come face-to-face against them, try to hold still and do not make sudden movements. If they still sting you, make sure you follow the recommendations by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bees

What Do Bees Feed On?

Bees feed on pollen and nectar. They get energy from nectar while pollen delivers protein and other nutrients.

Where Do Bees Live/Nest?

Bees live in beehives that have nests mainly above the ground. Honey bees build their nests in the open or in hollow trees. However, you will come across ground nesting bees. Solitary  bees nest is located underground. Different nesting habits are observed among carpenter bees. They dig holes in wood and carpenter bees nest in softwoods.

How Many Species of Bees There Are?

There are almost 22,000 species of bees recorded in the world.

Can Bees Sting More Than Once?

Sting is fatal only for honeybees. Other bees such as the bumblebee can sting several times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wasps

What Do Wasps Feed On?

Generally, wasps are predators. However, Natural History Museum of the United Kingdom reports that adult wasps do not eat their prey, but feed it to young wasps. Social wasps capture and chop insects, while solitary wasps are more brutal.

Solitary wasps use venom to paralyze arachnids. Overall, both wasps stop feeding on their prey when they are adults. They feed on sugar which they get from nectar.

Where Do Wasps Live/Nest?

Most wasp nests are made of wood pulp and have a paper mache appearance. As a nesting location they like to choose a covered place which has easy access to outside. Garages, natural cavities, roofs and abandoned rodent burrows create a perfect space for nesting, while garbage is a food source.

Homeowners should pay extra attention to cracks because bald-faced hornet tends to have a nest there.  Solitary wasps nest and yellow jackets’ nest is underground.

How Many Species of Wasps Are There?

Overall, there are over 30,000 species of wasps identified around the world, according to the National Geographic. While there are two main species of wasps: social and solitary, people mainly see social wasps which account for only 1,000 species out of 30,000.

Solitary wasps are parasitic, which are very beneficial for agriculture and pest control. Social wasp species include yellow jackets, paper and umbrella wasps.

Other articles you might be interested in:

  1. How to get rid of ground bees
  2. How to get rid of bumblebees
  3. How to get rid of carpenter bees
  4. How to get rid of wasps
  5. How to get rid of hornets

Frequently Asked Questions About Hornets

What Do Hornets Feed On?

Hornets often eat flies and other insects. Hornets also drink sap from the trees. They might feed on fallen fruit.

Where Do Hornets Live/Nest?

You will often come across hornet nests on tree limbs or hollows. They usually build nests in late spring. Hornets have brown, paper-like nests made of wood fibers.

How Many Species of Hornets There Are?

According to National Geographic, there are 20 hornet species. Mainly they live in tropical Asia. In North America hornets were brought by humans and the most common species is European Hornet.

Sources:

  1. The National Wildlife Federation: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Bees
  2. Student Conservation Association: https://www.thesca.org/connect/blog/bumblebees-vs-honeybees-what%E2%80%99s-difference-and-why-does-it-matter
  3. BBC article about wasps: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41042948
  4. UK Natural History Museum: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/what-do-wasps-do.html
  5. National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/facts/wasps
  6. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/insects/beeswasphornets.html

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