Often mistaken for one another, wasps and bees (also known as honey bees), are similar entities that are noted for their mutual capability of delivering painful stings to humans. Unfortunately, there are species of bees and wasps and identification is often difficult.
Many similarities exist between wasps and honey bees; however, just as prevalent are their many eminent differences. Among the most crucial differences lies within the predatorial tendencies exhibited by wasps that render them particularly aggressive and attack-ready at all times.
In contrast, honey bees are well-known for their near-universal defensive behavioral tendencies. Found on almost every continent in the world, honey bees are very rarely found to be a threat to humans, with the exception of extraordinarily rare species.
Rather than exhibiting the perpetual at-the-ready aggression found within wasps, honey bees are far more fixated on the essential task of accumulating nectar and pollen from plants and flowers, with the fundamental goal of honey production.
Despite their innocuous dispositions, honey bees should be regarded as viable threats. When intruded upon, they react collectively in a defensive manner with the ultimate intent of protecting the entrance of their nest.
In addition to their differing behavior towards humans and threats, there is an additional abundance of distinguishing factors between wasps and honey bees. It is crucial importance to be able to identify the differences between these two ubiquitous insects and are of particular consequence for homeowners seeking pest control services and those that reside in locales with significant populations of the insects and must know how to properly identify an insect-specific wound and its particular method of treatment.
Read on below for a comprehensive primer on the many differences and similarities found between wasps and honey bees in addition to learning how to identify their nests to provide an early indication of any preventative measures you may want to undertake.
At-a-glance: Chart of notable differences between wasps and honey bees
Primary physical difference
A very narrow waist referred to as a petiole, which divides their thorax from their sharp, pointy abdomen
Honey Bees have:
A distinctly round abdomen and thorax
A length of typically 1-inch long
A body which can be a solid black, a mixture of black with brown tones, or with yellow and orange linear demarcations
Primary identifying features
Wasps exist in every color imaginable, with species coming in:
Drab brown tones
Glittering metallic blue and lilac shades
Startling hues of red
The ubiquitous yellow that is commonly associated with this insect
A hairy body
A shorter stature than wasps
Critically important information
Wasp species that are brightly colored are associated with the Vespidae class which encompasses the collective of wasps with stinging abilities
Watch out for the bumblebee. A humongous bee, it is loud and has boldly yellow and black stripes.
Bumble bees pollinate like their honey bee counterparts but are capable of stinging multiple times similar to wasps
Wasps are characteristically:
Exhibit an at-the-ready, predatorial demeanor
Honey Bees characteristically only attack in a defensive manner when:
When their nest is perceived as being under threat
Have smooth, hairless and slightly sheened skin
Brightly colored, black and yellow patterned bodies
A distinctly narrow waist
Honey Bees typically have:
A range in coloring from all-black to black mixed with brownish tones or even brown with distinct orange or yellow linear marks
Up to 1.5 inches in length
Honey Bees measure:
Up to 1 inch
Physical size relativity
The length of a typical Wasp is:
About the same as a standard paper clip
The length of a typical Honey Bee is:
About ½ inch shorter than a standard paper clip
Make pollen to eat honey
A group of wasps is referred to as a:
Note: Some wasps are solitary, depending on the species
A group of wasps is referred to as a:
Wasps do not die after attacking humans or other threats.
They can sting multiple times and will attack even when unprovoked, by contrast, do not die after stinging. They are known to attack unprovoked and chase people over long distances
Honey bees die when they sting due to their stinger becoming detached from their thorax and embedded within human skin
Honeybees will generally leave you alone unless bothered
Wasps are carnivorous predators and eat other insects
Honey bees are engaged in pollinating, collecting pollen, and eating honey
Did you know?
Despite their fearsome presence, wasps are considered to be immensely beneficial for agriculture, major corporations, and humans in general
Highly adept at controlling pest populations that are a bane to global agricultural industries, wasp populations are now regularly and systematically deployed in a purposeful manner to protect crops and encourage profits
Honey bees play a big part in how medicine is changing today
Using resin found from Poplar and Evergreen trees, honey bees employ it as a caulking glue to reinforce their hives durability
Humans use this same resin in medicine to stave off various viruses, fungus, and forms of bacteria
At-a-glance: Chart of notable similarities between wasps and honey bees
Both wasps and honey bees are part of the Anthropoda suborder
Both wasps and honey bees have rear-facing, backward stingers with barbs on them to penetrate an attacker
Both wasps and honey bees are part of the Hymenotera insect class
Both wasps and honey bees have long, dangling legs
Both wasps and honey bees are part of the Anthropoda phylum
Both wasps and honey bees can deliver excruciatingly painful stings
Wasps vs Bees
Differences in physical characteristics
Differences in behavioral characteristics
Differences in habitats (nests and hives)
Differences in lifestyle
1. Differences in physical characteristics
Both honey bees and wasps are members of the Hymenoptera insect class. Despite coming from the same class, their physical bodies exhibit a multitude of differences, from length to exterior coloring and the texture of their skin.
Overall, wasps and bees have a multitude of physical differences marking the exteriors of their bodies with most of the differences found primarily on their abdominal and leg structures.
Honey bees measure around 1-inch long while wasps typically measure 1.5 inches long. A honey bee’s body can be a solid black, a mixture of black with brown tones, or with yellow and orange linear demarcations.
Wasps come in a shocking array of colors from bright hues of blue, crimson, and purple to drab tones of earthy brown.
Honey bees are always hairy. With their hairy bodies and hairy legs, honey bees are relatively easy to identify. In comparison, wasps have a distinctly smooth, hairless exterior on their bodies that is slightly sheened.
With their similarly smooth legs, wasps are free of much of the hair found on honey bees. It should be noted that the legs of a wasp are rounded with a waxy look and feel. Comparatively, honey bees have legs that are widely flattened.
A wasp has a barrel-shaped abdomen with slightly rounded curves and a slim waist, whereas a honey bee has a distinctly round abdomen and thorax.
In contrast, wasps have a narrow waist that almost appears cinched, four exterior wings, and can often be easily identified by their boldly colored exteriors.
2. Differences in behavioral characteristics
Behaviorally, wasps and bees lead distinctly different lives. While a wasp is an omnivorous predator that engages in the hunt for insects such as flies and caterpillars, bees live a seemingly more benevolent lifestyle.
Honey bees are spending most of their time pollinating flowers, collecting a supply of pollen and sipping on honey and water while also using water to clean their hive.
It’s of interest to note that wasps are commonly attracted the smells associated with human forms of food, particularly yeasty beer and sugar-laden soda beverages.
Bees are defensive creatures that will attack out of necessity to protect themselves and their hives. With the poison located in their sharp, pointed stingers, they sting human intruders with a painful sting, leaving the stinger embedded in the human’s skin. The act of stinging renders a bee incapacitated; with its stringer stripped from its thorax and embedded in the human skin, the bee loses an essential body part and dies.
Wasps are infamous for their aggressive behavior and exhibit behaviors associated with other predator types found in the animal kingdom.
Easily provoked, a wasp will sting a perceived threat and subsequently elicit pheromones to other members of its colony, which then come out in a swarm to collectively attack the intruder or threat. Wasps have been known to chase people down for hundreds of yards when in attack mode.
In general, honey bees will leave humans alone so long as the humans do not intrude upon their nest or nesting habits. When left alone, honey bees are busy creatures intent on their pollinating missions and the eating of honey.
Wasps should be avoided at all costs. Until a safe assessment can be made as to what species the wasps are and what their stinging abilities entail, wasps should be considered dangerous. Unlike bees, wasps can sting human multiple times during attacks. Their stingers do not become embedded in the human skin and don’t become unattached. Thus, they can engage in a fierce attack while sending pheromones out to their colony members to join the attack.
3. Differences in habitat
Bees are extremely social insects that live in colonies headed by a single queen bee and a collection of inner-hive drone among countless worker bees. With the ability to house up to 40,000 bees, a honey bee hive is packed tightly with angular cellular structures that comprise an incredibly detailed honeycomb that is used to store pollen and honey, as well as providing a haven for pupae, larvae, and eggs.
Honey bee nests have been found in locations such as hollowed out trees, within the deep recesses of caves, and inside rock cavities. Regardless of the locale in which they are found, honey bee nests share marked commonalities. With a careful eye, humans will be able to spot clearly exposed honeycombs that are situated parallel to each other with a nest showing a single main entrance.
Typically, the nest of a honey bee will be:
At an above-ground height of between 3 feet and 16 feet
Have single entrances that tend to be facing south and positioned downwards
Will have a geometric-styled waxy and smooth exterior
Located within 980 to 1000 feet from a parent colony
Inhabited by bees for many years
Typically, the nest of a wasp will be:
Paper: Made from the pulp of wood; unlike bees, wasps do not produce wax and do not live in waxy hives
Fibrous: Material for building their hives is accumulated by wasps systematically moistening fibrous wood pulp through their saliva and then chewing it until soft and pliable enough to make nests and bombs to rear a brood
In soil: Wasps nests are very commonly found in soil ground terrains as well as the stems of plants
In higher-up locations: Depending on the wasp species, nests can be found on trees, within various holes in the ground, or even within attics
Made of mud: Sometimes wasps nests are constructed primarily from mud
4. Differences in lifestyle
There are myriad differences between the lifestyles and habits of honey bees and wasps. With honey bee colony populations numbering over 75,000, wasps populations pale in comparison, with typical colonies having just under 10,000 members.
Queen wasps are responsible for the building of her colonies nest. Tasked with this solitary responsibility, the queen spends significant time building a fibrous, papery nest in the locale of her choice while also ensuring that it is stable and functional for her 10,000-member colony.
Comparatively, it is the responsibility of worker honey bees to construct and create hives for their honey bee colony. They are also tasked with the responsibility of maintaining the hives.
During the cold winter months, wasps are found hibernating until the upcoming autumn season, where they will come out and build new nests.
In stark contrast, honey bees do not hibernate at all. Rather, they live on the massive amount of stored honey located within their hive and stay warm as a collective among the thousands of their honey bee colony members who not only help to build up the honey supply but also provide much-needed warmth during the frigid winter season.