The Difference Between Wasps, Bees, and Hornets

18 min read| Updated for March, 2019

There are over 90,000 species of insects and during the spring and summer months is when they breed in abundance and are most active. Bees, hornets, and wasps are some of the common nest-building insects that homeowners need to look out for when protecting their homes. The hives and nests that these insects construct can destroy the walls of homes and their propensity to sting poses a health hazard to the occupants as well. It is important to be able to recognize these insects and understand how they can be a threat to you and your home.

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Bee Sounds

The buzzing sound associated with bees is due to their wings and are actually a vibration. The buzzing may increase if they are aggravated or threatened, thus the wings moving more rapidly or aggressively, but generally bees are happy to be busy buzzing flowers. Honey bees are also known for emitting a ‘piping’ sound, a particular type of high pitched buzzing.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Bee Poop

If you live close to a bee hive, or close to its food source, you may have noticed a build up of sticky, yellow clumps. And since bees keep their hives immaculate, business is done back and forth from the food source. Keep an eye out for the increase of sticky, yellow clumps (on the ground, on a tree, on your car), specifically from spring to summer when bee numbers are at their highest. The dropping are hard to remove, but if on a building, car, or clothing you can try a lengthy soaking before a thorough washing.

Identifying Animal Tracks

 

honey bee with dew on it

Identifying Bees, Hornets and Wasps

Most people may see a wasp and mistake it for a hornet or may even believe that all species of bees create honey. Bees, hornets, and wasps are similar but also play very different roles in the ecosystem. Since these creatures are often confused with each other, understanding their behaviors is the best way of telling them apart.

All bees have an oval or round shaped body that is sectioned into three parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen.

Physical Features and Characteristics of Bees

There are over 20,000 species of bees, and they can be found in every continent except for Antarctica; all bees have an oval or round shaped body that is sectioned into three parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen. Bees have two sets of wings: forewings and hindwings; the forewings are the bigger of the two sets of wings and are used for flight, while the hind wings are primarily for cooling the colony.

Whether bees produce honey or not, they are all typically characterized by bright colors like yellow or gold. The carpenter bee, for example, is black and yellow, while the honey bee is a brown or golden color. Carpenter bees may sometime be confused with yellow jackets; however, carpenter bees have a larger hairier body where yellow jackets are slimmer and have little to no hair.

Honey bees do not get any bigger than a paper clip and do not hibernate in the winter. Instead, they cluster together for warmth and feed on the nectar they have foraged through the summer. The typical life span of a worker bee is about three weeks, but queen bees live at least 12 months and can live up to 4 years. Bees are herbivores and have a diet of mostly nectar and pollen but are prey to other flying insects like hornets as well.

hornets on tree bark

They are between an inch and an inch and a half with dark colored bodies and white or brown stripes on their abdomen.

Physical Features and Characteristics of Hornets

There are about 20 species of hornets, the majority of which can be found in Asia but also exist in North America, Europe, and Africa. Hornets closely resemble Yellow Jackets and are even in the same family Vespidae. They are between an inch and an inch and a half with dark colored bodies and white or brown stripes on their abdomen.

Hornets are social insects that build a nest which can accommodate as many as 1,000 hornets and consists of workers, drones and queen hornets. The sterile female workers feed and protect the entire hive. They prey on flies, gnats, bees, and other small insects, but also eat tree sap as well. A hive has at least two queens but can have up to five or more, the male hornets do not sting and exist primarily to eat and reproduce.

Hornets have an average life span of about 20-30 days and the queen lives for about 12 months. In winter the queen hornets take the remaining young and make their homes in hollowed out trees or in people’s houses. The queens survive to the next year to build the new hive and lay the eggs that become the future colony.

wasps around their nest

They can be red, brown, metallic blue and yellow with the brighter colored wasps being from the Vespidae family.

Physical Features and Characteristics of Wasps

You can find wasps in every continent except the Artic and in many assortments of colors and sizes. They can be red, brown, metallic blue and yellow with the brighter colored wasps being from the Vespidae family. Wasps are often most confused with hornets, while the black and yellow wasp may be confused with bumble bees. However, bumblebees have shorter legs and rounder bodies, and more hair as opposed to wasps who are thinner with little or no hair.

Wasps are omnivorous and eat ants, caterpillars, flies, bees, and nectar from flowers. They are slender and have a thin petiole that separates their thorax and abdomen. Wasps can be either solitary or social; social wasps build nests and hunt for the entire colony as opposed to a solitary wasp which would only build a nest large enough to support its offspring.

Social wasps are very aggressive and territorial and may sting if they believe their nest is threatened. Solitary wasps, however, are not as territorial and though they may sting are not as apt to. Take caution whenever faced with any type of wasp as their sting does have a small amount of venom and multiple stings could prove to be deadly to anyone.

Detecting Infestation

In order to protect from an infestation, you will need to be able to recognize the signs as soon as possible. Each of these insects builds nests, however just as each of these insects are different there are also different signs that one of them has decided to make your home their home.

You may notice that bees are frequenting an area around your house and may become more aggressive once you get closer to that area.

Identifying Bee Infestation

Honey bees choose to make their hives in rock crevices, hollow trees, people’s attics and inside of walls. The honey that they store is very destructive for homes as it will seep through the walls and slowly destroy the structure and attract more bees and other insects.

You may notice that bees are frequenting an area around your house and may become more aggressive once you get closer to that area. If you see an increase in the bee population around your house or garden and you smell or notice honey staining the inside of your walls you may have an infestation on your hands.

bees flying around entry to house

Identifying Hornet Infestation

Hornets build their nests in bushes, trees and shaded areas such as eaves, patios and in the corners of gazebos. Any place that can shelter a hornet’s nest from the elements and is three feet above ground is an appealing location for them to settle in and houses are often perfect places.

A hornet’s hive is between two and two and a half feet long and are round or oval shaped with only one entrance. Hornets are always prowling for food, and you may notice a congregation of the flying insect on or around your house.

Hornets are the most intimidating of the stinging insects because they are very territorial and protective of their hives. Their aggressive behavior makes getting rid of them a quite arduous task if not done correctly. They can sting multiple times, and they subsequently let out toxins that alert other hornets to attack as well.

The nests are also called umbrella nests because of their appearance and resistance to rain.

Identifying Wasp Infestation

Wasp nest are very common because the red paper wasp will find any crevice possible to build the nests. The nests are not very large and are made of a waxy waterproof substance that the queen wasp creates by chewing wood into pulp. The nests are also called umbrella nests because of their appearance and resistance to rain.

Wasps have little discretion when building their nests and because they share our love for food do not mind being in close vicinity of a person’s house.

Like hornets, wasps are very aggressive when they feel threatened; they can also sting multiple times and attract other wasps with their stings. Paper wasp’s nest are smaller and only consist of about a couple dozen wasps making their removal far easier but should still be done with caution.

bees around a wooden hive

Preventing infestation

It is harder to remove these insects as they are very protective of their hives. However, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid ever having an issue in the first place.

If your house has been residence to bees before, make sure to remove the previous hive as bees can sense pheromones of the previous hive.

Preventing Bee Infestation

To prevent an infestation, you should cover any openings with caulking to ensure bees do not have access to your home. Also remove any old unused cars, riding mowers or overgrown vegetation as it serves as a food source for them. If your house has been residence to bees before, make sure to remove the previous hive as bees can sense pheromones of the previous hive.

If an infestation does occur, it is best to let a professional handle the problem as bees will sting when it comes to defending their hive. They are also a dwindling species, so it is best not to exterminate them but to remove them professionally instead.

You will need to remove the whole nest and ensure that you have exterminated all wasps or hornets.

Preventing Hornet and Wasp Infestation

Hornets and wasp are from the same family Vespidae, and both become very aggressive if disturbed. It is best never to let these creatures settle as they are hostile and hard to rid of because of their violent nature.

The best way to prevent them is to spray wasp and hornet aerosol in crevices under your porch, patio, gazebos, lawn equipment and around specific vegetation that may potentially house these insects.

If either of these creatures does set up residence and you intend to remove or exterminate them on your own, it is best to attempt to do so at night. You will need to wear a bee keeper’s hat if available and long sleeves and gloves. Do not shine any light on them as it will rouse and anger them. You will need to remove the whole nest and ensure that you have exterminated all wasps or hornets. Removing on your own is an economical route to getting rid of the wasp or hornet nest. It’s best advised to call your local exterminator as these insects are very territorial and their stings in large numbers are potentially deadly.

hornets around a hive

Summary

Bees, Wasp, and Hornets are very common creatures that come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. These insects are everywhere and make their nests between March and June virtually anywhere they see fit. Bees are not inherently aggressive and are not trying to harm you; they are quite beneficial to our ecosystem and society as they help pollinate flowers and produce honey. Wasp and Hornets help to keep the insect population in check and are aggressive hunters and fierce when cornered and threatened. With knowledge of how these creatures behave you will be able to defend your home from their occupation without disturbing the natural role, these insects play in the ecosystem.

Sources:

https://www.americanpest.net/pest-identification/profile/stinging-insects
https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-articles/stinging-insects-101/
http://www.safebee.com/home/how-get-rid-wasp-or-bee-nest-5-steps
https://pestkilled.com/how-to-get-rid-of-bees/
https://www.jcehrlich.com/wasps/identification/