Bees vs. Wasps vs. Hornets

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There are over 4,400 species of bees in North America. However, wasps and hornets are not a part of the bee family. Instead, they have their own unique features and behaviors.

In this informative guide to stinging insects, you’ll discover:

  • The Differences Between Bees, Hornets, and Wasps
  • Identifying Characteristics of Each Species
  • The Features That Make Carpenter Bees and Bumblebees So Similar
  • The Types of Bees and How They Behave Around People
Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!

Table of Contents

    Carpenter Bee Vs. Bumblebee

    Carpenter Bee Vs. Bumblebee

    The carpenter bee and bumblebee are in the same family. However, there are several differences between the species we will show you here.

    Carpenter Bees

    Carpenter bees are about 3/4 to one inch long, are mostly black, and have a shiny, hairless abdomen. They build nests in hollow trees or openings around your home, such as eaves and porches. If none are available, they will excavate unpainted, weathered wood to lay their eggs.

    Carpenter bees overwinter individually in hollow tunnels. Those that make it through the winter, usually females, will emerge in spring to mate and build new tunnels.

    Bumblebees

    Bumblebees look similar to carpenter bees, except their abdominal area is covered in hair, whereas the carpenter bee has a smooth abdomen. Bumblebees also have black and orange markings that carpenter bees do not possess.

    Another difference between these two is their nesting habits. Carpenter bees nest above ground, while bumblebees prefer to make their home in abandoned rodent burrows.

    Both species can sting multiple times. Also, both are essential pollinators, making each beneficial to the environment.

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    Bees vs. Wasps

    There are over 18,000 types of wasps in North America. They are neither bee nor ant, yet belong to the same order as both.

    They do not build hives or honeycombs like bees. For example, paper wasps construct nests out of a paper-like material they manufacture with tree pulp and saliva.

    Wasp nests are typically small, containing between 50 to 100 workers. In contrast, a single beehive can number in the thousands.

    Mud daubers are another species of wasp. Instead of making paper nests, they build large structures out of mud.

    A wasp stings multiple times. However, it will only happen if you actively disturb the nest. And then, it will take a while before you make them angry enough to sting you.

    Bees share many traits with other insects.

    They possess strong exoskeletons that protect their fragile bodies. They have three body segments, including the head, abdomen, and thorax.

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    Bees vs. Hornets

    European hornets look similar to bees. They have the standard colors of yellow and black alternating down their bodies to warn predators not to bother them.

    Hornet nests look similar to that of paper wasps. The fertilized female (queen) lays eggs in each cell, and after about six to eight days, they hatch. Thus, the hornet’s life cycle typically takes about two weeks to complete.

    Unlike a honeybee, a hornet stings multiple times without dying. This aggressive stance could explain why hornets are such hardy insects.

    Bald-faced hornets are not true hornets but more akin to wasp species. They look nothing like bees or wasps due to their unusual layering of black and white.

    Bald-faced hornets are one of the most combative species, repeatedly stinging anyone who gets close to their nest. If you usually have an allergic reaction to bee stings, you will probably need medical attention after being stung by bald-faced hornets.

    Asian giant hornets attack honey bees and feed off their larvae. They are so aggressive that they can wipe out an entire hive within an hour.

    Bees vs. Yellowjackets

    Yellowjackets are predatory social wasps that have close to the same color scheme as worker bees. However, unlike honey bees that are hairy, yellowjackets are smooth and nearly hairless.

    All species of yellowjackets have either white or yellow on their face. In addition, they possess strong mouthparts for chewing insects and sucking nectar and fruit juices.

    Yellowjackets build paper nests made from the pulp of wood fibers. Although you will find them in outdoor areas, they prefer to protect these small structures in locations around houses, including:

    • Under porches and patios
    • Openings in eaves and overhangs
    • Attics
    • Crawl spaces
    • Tool sheds

    German yellowjackets are an invasive species that sometimes build their nests in attic spaces. Their colonies can reach over 15,000 workers. That means their nests can be as much as five feet wide and three feet deep.


    What Are Bees?

    Most people imagine a bumblebee or honey bee when they hear the term “bee,” but the word has a much broader meaning.

    A bee is any member of the scientific Apidae family, including insects that fly and collect nectar and pollen. Not all of them sting, but many do, so it is best to be careful around them.

    Anatomy

    Bees share many traits with other insects. They possess strong exoskeletons that protect their fragile bodies. They have three body segments, including the head, abdomen, and thorax.

    Because bees count as insects, they have three pairs of legs. Most will also have two pairs of wings and round, fluffy bodies.

    Do Bees Always Sting You?

    Most bees can sting, but they tend to avoid humans as much as possible. The bee’s stinger is barbed and cannot be removed from its enemy’s flesh.

    Unfortunately, when the bee tries to fly away, it leaves behind part of its abdomen and digestive tract. Consequently, the bee dies shortly thereafter.


    Final Thoughts

    Bees, wasps, and hornets are all vital pollinators, and therefore, are beneficial to their fragile ecosystems. However, having an infestation of stinging insects under your porch presents a challenge.

    No matter the species, bee nests are difficult to bring down on your own, especially if you are allergic to bee stings. Additionally, most homeowners are not comfortable handling pesticides, whether the EPA registers them or not.

    You could hire a certified beekeeper, but they typically only remove honeybee hives with a surviving queen. For that reason, it’s best to start with a qualified pest control provider. Their technicians have the training and experience to tackle even the most extensive bee infestations.

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