Flexible Pest Services Blog

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The Difference Between Bees and Wasps

Fearing the sting, people often use the term "bee" to describe any flying insect striped in yellow and black. Meanwhile, the insect in question may or may not be a bee. In fact, it may instead be a wasp, a quite different type of flying, stinging insect. While bees and wasps are related, their differences are significant for identifying as well as treating them.

Know the Difference

Shape

While there are a number of types of bees and numerous types of wasps, a quick means of identification is the insect’s waist. Honey bees, bumblebees and carpenter bees all have a rather fat middle where their thorax connects to their abdomen. In contrast, members of the wasp family—paper wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, mud daubers and cicada killers—all sport a distinctively pinched wasp waist between their well-defined thorax and abdomen. This more aerodynamic design lends wasps the remarkable maneuverability and speed that bees lack.

Color

Honey bees, bumblebees and even carpenter bees have fuzzy, downy yellow-and-black combinations. Those little hairs help collect pollen. However, among the wasps, colors vary, with no fuzzy down. For example, hornets are patterned in black and white while paper wasps may be reddish brown versus the more common yellow jacket’s shiny yellow and black. While a wasp may at first resemble a bee, the two are quite different.

Purpose

Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over half of all our fruit and vegetable crops as they collect pollen and nectar to make honey. They also feed on that nectar and pollen. Surprisingly, wasps can also play a beneficial role by preying on and eating other insects and larvae, many of them pests that can harm or destroy crops.

Sting

If a “bee” stings multiple times, it is most likely a wasp. For bees, to sting is to die because a bee can sting a victim only once. A bee’s stinger is an integral part of its abdominal muscles and organs but has a barb to anchor it in its victim. This usually limits a bee to one sting that leaves behind an attached venom sac. In contrast, the more aerodynamic wasps have a smooth stinger that they can repeatedly jab and withdraw with relative ease without doing harm to themselves. Unlike bees, wasps can sting multiple times. Bee or wasp, only females can sting.

Venom

The power of the sting depends on the capacity of the bee or wasp’s venom sac. While a honeybee can deliver about 50 micrograms of venom, wasps typically deliver a smaller quantity, about 2 to 15 micrograms per sting. The exception is the hornet, which boasts closer to a 30-microgram venom payload per sting. While a bee’s single sting is typically more potent, wasp venom contains a pheromone that alerts other wasps to join the attack.

Nests

Social creatures, both bees and wasps will defend their hive or nest against a perceived threat. However, each constructs its own specific type of hive or nest:

  • Honeybees will grow and expand a colony over years to number as many as 50,000 bees. Their nests are made of tiers or combs of beeswax. Meanwhile, bumblebee nests usually top off at 200 bees while carpenter bees are solitary creatures. Bees are typically looking for a suitable cavity or space that will hold and shelter their hive. This can include old animal burrows, spaces in rock formations, or protected pockets or void areas in buildings. When a hive grows too large, honeybees will swarm in search of a new site.
  • Wasps use a nest for just one season, spring to fall. Most construct their nests of a papery substance they make by chewing wood to a pulpy mixture that they then form into tiers or combs. Nests are often ovoid, football-like or umbrella-shaped, with an opening at the bottom. Others may be a single papery layer. Sizes vary widely, as a hornet nest may house up to 700 wasps while a yellow jacket colony may number 3,000 or more. A paper wasp nest may hold a comparatively small 75. Meanwhile, wasps like mud daubers or cicada killers are solitary dwellers. Locations can vary as well. While nests are often found in inconspicuous elevated corners or cavities, some yellow jackets and other wasps will also nest in the ground.

When Bees or Wasps Present a Danger

Bees and wasps can become a stinging danger when they nest too close to or in people’s homes, commercial buildings or public spaces. A single sting can be life-threatening to individuals allergic to the venom. Likewise, multiple stings can be especially dangerous to young children, the elderly, or people with heart or breathing problems. To remove bees or wasps, the nest or hive must be moved or destroyed, which can be a dangerous endeavor.

If bees, wasps or other stinging insects are affecting your ability to enjoy your home and yard, reach out through our website, or call us at 770.450.6524. We have the experience to quickly identify and safely treat stinging insects and their nesting sites. Contact Flexible Pest Services, and let us worry about the pests.

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