The difference between bees and wasps

Jul 14, 2023, 12:57 PM by Fred Speer

One of the most visible and commonly encountered pests of summer is the bee. Or is that a wasp (e.g, a yellowjacket or hornet)? Is there really a difference?

There are more than 1,600 recorded bee species in California. Determining which ones can threaten humans and which ones benefit our ecosystem is not always easy.

Bees and wasps are both members of the order Hymenoptera. They share some similarities, but they also have several differences. Here are some of the key differences between bees and wasps:

  • What they look likeBees and wasps have different physical characteristics. Bees are rounder and more robust in shape, with hairy bodies that help them collect and distribute pollen. Wasps, on the other hand, tend to have slimmer bodies with a more defined waist, and they have a smoother and shinier exoskeleton.

  • What they eat: Bees are primarily herbivores and feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. They are important pollinators and play a crucial role in the reproduction of many plant species. Wasps, on the other hand, are carnivores and feed on other insects, spiders, and sometimes even carrion. Some wasps are also known to scavenge for sugary and greasy substances like fruit juices, soda, or the grease from a grill.

  • Family structure: Bees are typically social insects that live in colonies. They have a hierarchical structure with a queen, worker bees, and drones. Bees build complex nests, such as honeycombs, and work cooperatively to maintain the colony and care for the young. Wasps can be social or solitary. Social wasps, like yellowjackets and hornets, also live in colonies with a queen, workers, and drones. However, solitary wasps, like mud daubers and solitary wasp species, do not form colonies and live and hunt individually.

  • How they sting: Both bees and wasps can sting, but their stinging behavior differs. Bees can only sting once because their stingers are barbed and become embedded in the skin, causing the bee to die after stinging. In contrast, most wasps have smooth stingers and can sting multiple times without losing their stinger. However, some wasp species, such as certain types of paper wasps, do have barbed stingers and can only sting once.

  • Where they nest: Bees construct nests made of wax, such as honeycombs, which are used for brood rearing and honey storage. They build nests in various locations, including tree hollows, underground burrows, or man-made structures like beehives. Wasps construct nests from wood fibers, saliva, and other materials. These nests can be found in various places, including trees, bushes, underground, or attached to structures like eaves and buildings.

  • Pollination: Bees are important pollinators and have specialized adaptations, such as pollen baskets on their hind legs, which help them carry pollen back to the hive. They actively collect pollen while foraging for nectar, transferring it between flowers and

aiding in the fertilization process. Wasps, being primarily carnivorous, do not play a significant role in pollination. However, they may inadvertently transfer some pollen while visiting flowers in search of nectar or prey.

Why are wasps more aggressive?

Wasps can be perceived as aggressive for several reasons, although it is important to note that not all wasps exhibit aggressive behavior. Wasps will appear and act more aggressive under the following conditions:

  • When they are defending their nest or are disturbed, wasps will become defensive and exhibit aggressive behavior to protect their colony and offspring.

  • Wasps have a strong instinct to protect themselves and their territory. If they feel threatened by the presence of humans or other animals, they may display aggressive behavior as a means of self-defense.

  • Some wasps are attracted to sugary substances like fruits, nectar, and sweet beverages. In situations where these resources are limited, wasps may become more aggressive in their quest for food, often leading to encounters with humans.

Got pest questions? Call Clark.

If you have questions about stinging insects – which Clark strongly recommends not attempting yourself – and which ones are a threat, call California’s trusted, friendly stinging insect control expert, Clark, at (800) WE-NEED-YOU (936-3339) or email us at Until next time, the pest management professionals at Clark Pest Control thank you for helping to keep unwanted pests out of your home.

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