Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Identification

There are many people who get confused between bees, wasps, and hornets. Some are just too scared to be near these stinging insects and just run away from them. Others mistake them from other insects, which makes them more scared of getting near any insects. If you are one of these people, then it is important that you learn how to differentiate each of them.

Differences in Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

Wasps, hornets, and bees all have their differences. They differ from their physical characteristics, activities, to their nests. Knowing these will help you identify which ones are living in your property and which of them has a more painful sting.


Bees and wasps are oftentimes identified incorrectly by people. However, among the common characteristic of bees is that they are beneficial insects. They are known as important pollinators as they spread the pollen from one plant to another every time they eat nectar. Other characteristics of this insect are:

  • Their favourite location in homes are the chimneys. They can also be found in hollow trees.
  • Almost similar to wasps, their size is about 15mm long.
  • When flying, they are fairly fast. Their long back legs are usually hanging down as they fly. You’ll find them clustering at the entrance of their nest.
  • You will hear high pitch buzzing noises coming from the nest. It may sound like roaring when they are hiding in the chimneys, as there are thousands of bees living in one nest.
  • They have fluffy backs and always have visible pollen whenever they return to their nest.

What makes bees easy to identify is that they have hairy exterior. Their branched hair regulates their body temperature and at the same time carry pollen. Similar to other colonial insects, their body is divided into three sections: head, abdomen, and the thorax.

They have a barbed sting and two sensory antennae. Their stinger is connected to their abdomen. When bees sting, parts of the abdomen will be pulled out resulting in death. Their waist is not clear and is bulgy and wide as the other parts of their bodies.

Quick Facts about Bees

  • Only honey bees are producing food for human consumption
  • Honey bees are able to fly at 15 kph
  • Bees dance their way to communicate with other bees
  • They can count to four
  • They are able to recognize the faces of humans
  • Honey bees don’t sleep
  • There are 20,000 classified species of bees in the world.
  • Bees belong in the Apoidea superfamily
  • Megachile Pluto measuring 3.9 cm in length is the largest species.
  • Perdita Minima measuring around 2mm long is the smallest species.
  • They can be in any colour. The most common colours are black and brown with red, blue, and yellow stripes.


Just like bees, there are also different types of wasps but only a few are known as pollinators. They are a part of the Vespidae Genus. However, wasps are often used as a general term for various predatory colonial insects like yellow jackets and hornets.

Most wasps are predators or parasitic and would eat pest insects. It requires a thorough inspection for you to accurately identify wasps from other insects. Other characteristics of wasps are the following:

  • During springtime, there are around hundreds in their nest. They increase in population from hundreds to thousands in late summer.
  • They measure about 18mm long
  • Their favourite hiding spots are roof spaces like lofts. They can even build nests in holes found in the ground.
  • They usually fly fast in straight lines.
  • There is little to no amount of clustering found in their nest entrance.
  • They create tapping, scratching, and clicking sounds coming inside the nest.
  • Unlike bees, these insects return to their nest carrying parts of insects in their mouth.
  • Their exterior is not fluffy.

Though wasps don’t have a fuzzy body like bees, they have similar body segments composed of the head, abdomen, and thorax. Wasps have a significant waist that is clearly pinched and a pair of wings. Their colours are usually in brownish red, black, and yellow.

They have two long rear legs that are noticeable when they fly. When flying, these legs usually dangle with hands straight down. As soon as they land, they pull in their wings.

If bees have barbed stings, wasps don’t. Thus, allowing them to sting their prey or even predators multiple times.

Quick Facts about Wasps

  • They are social insects. One nest is able to accommodate more or less 10,000 wasps.
  • These insects are omnivorous. They feed on both parts of other insects and plants.
  • Caterpillars are their preys and are considered as “farmer’s friend”
  • The average size of wasps is similar to that of a paper clip.
  • Unlike hornets and bees, wasps don’t swarm.
  • Species like Northern Paper Wasp are most common in temperate locations in North America.
  • If you are stung by a wasp, you can treat it easily using a deodorant that is aluminum-based.


Included in the Vespa genus, hornets are larger and aggressive members known in the Vespidae family. Bigger species can grow to about 5.5cm and are known predators of agricultural pests such as caterpillars and insects. They have soft stingers and poisonous venoms that are fatally harming to some victims.

Since they are still in the wasp family, they also have thin waists. Hornets differ from wasps with their gasters – a part of the abdomen near the thorax – that are more rounded. Other facts about hornets are the following:

  • The largest species of wasp is the Asian Giant Hornet
  • Unless threatened, hornets rarely sting.
  • Most stings from hornets are less toxic than bee stings.
  • Females are larger than males
  • Hornet Queens are able to lay approximately 1500 eggs throughout its lifetime
  • Japanese Bees developed a new form of defence against the Asian Giant Hornet. They offer a bait while others are surrounding it to form a patch and then sting the hornet till it dies.

Hornet species such as European hornets are more dominant on the East Coast part of the United States. Bald-faced hornets are North American insects that can build a huge paper nest for an entire social colony.

Use the abovementioned details for every insect to easily identify which ones are living in parts of your home. If the insects are already causing nuisance, you can try using pest control products. However, calling an exterminator is advisable for a high level of infestation.