While we may be a bit surprised to be stung by any of them, not all flying insects with a stinger are the same. In particular, people often have questions about exactly what the differences between wasps and bees are (beyond the famous honey-making, of course).

Bees and wasps both belong to the same order of insects – the hymenoptera order – and they share some similarities. However, this order of insects is one of the largest and most diverse, boasting over 150,000 species worldwide. What unites them? Among other things, complex social behavior and significant ecological impact.

Yet, while wasps and bees do share these traits, there are also distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Wasps vs. Bees: How Are They Different?

original infographic stating difference between bees, wasps, and yellow jackets

Physical Appearance

The first tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with different species have to do with physical differences:

  • Wasps have smooth, slender bodies with a narrow waist between their thorax and abdomen that give them a segmented appearance. 
  • Bees have a thicker, more robust, and hairy appearance, with coloration including variations of yellow, brown, and black.

Nesting Behavior

Bees and wasps look different, but they also behave differently. One place this is clear is in how they nest:

  • Wasps build paper-like nests from saliva, wood fibers, and other materials. Where they build them is influenced by what species they are. Some live underground, in hollow trees, or in vegetation like shrubs. Others often construct their nests in protected locations that bring them in close contact with humans – under eaves, in attics or sheds, in wall cavities, or other structures.
  • Bees construct wax honeycombs within hives. Beehives can also be found in various locations: trees, walls, or specialized bee boxes. Beekeepers construct and tend bee boxes for various reasons, such as honey production, for products (such as beeswax), and for their valuable role in pollination.

 Dietary Habits

Another distinction between wasps and bees is their dietary preferences:

  • Wasps are primarily carnivorous, preying on beetles, spiders, and other small insects. While it might make us squeamish, wasps play a role in controlling pest populations.
  • Bees are herbivores, with their primary food source being pollen and nectar collected from flowers – thus their crucial role in pollination, aiding the reproduction of flowering plants and the production of fruits and seeds.

Stinging Behavior

A final behavioral difference has to do with how and why bees and wasps sting – a behavior that both engage in, but with different motivations:

  • Wasps are generally more aggressive. Not only are they more quick to sting, but they may sting multiple times when threatened or provoked.
  • Bees, on the other hand, are typically docile and sting as a last resort to defend their hive or themselves. After stinging, a bee’s stinger becomes embedded in the skin, leading to its death.

What About Yellow Jackets?

Yellow jackets are actually a type of wasp. They’re known for their distinctive yellow and black markings and their aggressive behavior. Because their coloration is similar to that of bees, they’re often mistaken for them. However, you can tell the difference by their slimmer, hair-free bodies.

While most wasps are carnivorous, yellow jackets are omnivorous and scavenge a variety of foods, including fruits, insects, and human food scraps. Because they like our leftovers, they’re notorious for building nests in areas humans inhabit.

A yellow jacket nest is a paper-like structure, often found underground or in enclosed spaces, housing a colony of wasps and consisting of multiple layers of hexagonal cells.

What To Do if You Have Wasps or Bees on Your Property

If you notice a winged presence on your property, begin by identifying what you’re dealing with. Knowing whether you have wasps, bees, or something else, will help you develop an appropriate plan to remove or relocate them. If it’s tough to tell, don’t worry. We can help you make the diagnosis.

Next, assess the situation. If bees are not posing a threat or doing damage, they may be beneficial to keep around. If they are, contact a beekeeper to remove and relocate the bees if possible. In the case of an aggressive insect such as wasps, it’s natural to want to get rid of them ASAP.

There’s no reason to live with a pest nuisance around your home or on your property, even if it’s not a big presence – especially because wasp infestations can grow bigger over time. No one wants to be worried about being stung in the comfort of their own home base!

We Offer Wasp & Bee Control Services

To safely, fully, and effectively ensure wasps, bees, and other insects stay off your property enlisting the services of a knowledgeable pro saves time and headaches…and potentially some stings. You can call us or get a free estimate online to get the ball rolling on removing wasps from your property.

Whether you’re dealing with bees or wasps, don’t disturb the nest. If agitated, they’ll be more likely to become aggressive. Rather, make the call to our friendly pros and let us help you turn your home back into a sting-free zone.