You hear something buzzing by and catch a black and yellow streak out of the corner of your eye. Quick! Was it a bee or a wasp? And what’s the difference anyway?
While you certainly wouldn’t mistake an inch long bumble bee or a carpenter bee for a common wasp, wasps and honeybees can sometimes look very similar. Honeybees come in black and yellow—like yellow jackets—but also solid brown or solid black. Honeybees are rotund and fuzzy. They can only sting once, and then they die. This makes them more hesitant to sting people than wasps, which have narrow waists and are smooth and shiny. Wasps come in a variety of colors and patterns and can sting multiple times and come back for more.
Like honeybees, many species of wasps are social wasps. They make large, paper-like wasp nests out of wood pulp and saliva where they lay eggs and raise their young. These are known collectively as “paper wasps”.
If you’re wondering about hornets, the main difference between wasps and hornets is the size. Wasps tend to be smaller and have black and yellow stripes, whereas hornets are larger and have black and white stripes. This is with the exception of the mud dauber; the mud dauber is a solitary type of wasp that prefers not to sting humans or animals.
Bees are also social animals, building a bees nest to raise their young. The queen sends out worker bees to collect pollen and protect the nest, so most any honey bee you encounter will be a worker bee.
Both bees and wasps serve an important role in our ecosystem. Bees pollinate our plants and wasps consume pest insects.
No matter what type of stinging insect you encounter you’ll want to be careful. Wasp and bee stings can sometimes be life-threatening if the person has a bee or wasp venom allergy. So be careful around them. If you find a nest too close to where you live or play contact a pest control company. They can verify whether you’re dealing with honey bees (in which case, they’ll likely relocate the nest) or wasps or hornets (in which case they’ll dispose of the insects as pests).
So the next time you hear that buzz, take a closer look (if you’re not allergic!) and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp.