Bees vs Wasps

We often get calls for swarm removal. Before heading out, we like to make sure the colony we are dealing with is honey bees and not wasps. Here are some of the major similarities and differences between bees and wasps.
In this photo, you can see bees and wasps drinking from the same sugar syrup, which we spilled outside the hive.


Belong to order Hymenoptera
Females raise young on a diet of pollen and nectar.
Hairy-bodied and hairy-legged (helpful for collecting pollen)
Honey bees build nests out of wax and fill the wax comb with honey.
Honey comb
Honey bees do not actively seek to sting people unless they feel threatened.
Females play a major role in plant pollination.
When bees sting, their stinger remains in the skin because of one-way barbs on the stinger.  Stinging kills the bee.
Two Categories of Bees:
1. Social bees
2. Solitary bees
Social bees produce a colony.  Examples include honey bees (Apis Mellifera)
Honey Bee
and bumble bees (Bombus spp.).  Bumble bees annually establish new colonies.
Bumble Bee
Solitary bees individually create colonies underground or in a soft substrate.  Examples include leafcutter bees (usually Megachile spp.) and digger bees.
Leafcutter bee (and crab spider)


Belong to order Hymenoptera
Young develop as a predator or parasite of other insects or are scavengers.
Smooth-bodied and smooth-legged
Social wasps build paper nests.
Baldfaced hornet nest
Wasps can be aggressive in late summer, when their diet changes to sweets.  At this time, they may sting more frequently.
Males play a minor role in plant pollination.
Wasps can withdraw their stinger to sting again.
Three Categories of Wasps:
1. Parasitic wasps
2. Solitary hunting wasps
3. Social Wasps
Parasitic Wasps lay eggs in or on other insects.  Young usually kill the host.  Females have a long stinger for laying eggs.  They are non-aggressive and if they do sting, it causes little pain. Parasitic wasps are considered beneficial because they kill harmful garden and crop pests.
Parasitic wasp
Solitary hunting wasps create rearing cells in some sort of nest.  Females paralyze prey to provision nest cells, then lay eggs in the cells and seal them.   Nests are made by digging into soil, mud nests, and piths of hollow plants. Examples include Sphecidae and Pompilidae families.  Sphecidae hunt insects and have a mild sting, Pompilidae hunt spiders and have “the most painful sting of any insect” (Cranshaw 2008).
Solitary hunting wasp (digging wasp)
Social wasps (family Vespidae) most often sting humans.  Social wasps establish colonies annually and die off each fall, leaving a few fertilized queens for next season.  They make paper nests from chewed wood pulp.  Examples are western yellow jackets (Vespula pensylvanica) and hornets (Polistes and Mischosvttarus spp.).  Adults feed larvae chewed up prey and larvae secrete a sweet substance, which adults enjoy.
Yellowjackets conceal nests out of sight, like in children’s playground equipment or fence posts.  They feed on insects and scavenge sweets and proteins.  They can be a nuisance at picnics or around uncovered garbage cans.
Hornets sting humans less often than yellow jackets, but are more readily observed because they build large paper nests in trees or under house eaves.  Hornets primarily feed on other insects and don’t frequent outdoor meals.
Bald-faced Hornet
Paper Wasp
Posted in Bee Biology, the Honey Company and tagged , , .

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