The Difference Between Bees, Wasps and Hornets

European giant hornet close up

It is prudent to point out that a ‘bee wasp’ is not a correct term because ‘bee’ and ‘wasp’ are two different types of insects, also different from the hornet. Here, therefore, are three distinct types of stinging insects; bees, wasps and hornets.

All three are classified under the insect order Hymenoptera because they have biting mouthparts. Although closely related, there are distinct differences between the three.

Differences between Bees, Wasps and Hornets

Hornets are a subset of wasps but the two are not identical and their names are not interchangeable. Different species of bees such as the honeybee and bumblebee also show distinct differences between themselves.

Colour

Colours vary depending on the species of bee, wasp or hornet but generally speaking, bees are black and yellow (bumblebee) or a mixture of black, brown and amber (honey bee). Most wasps are a bright yellow and black which is why people may confuse them for bumblebee. Hornets are typically chestnut brown and yellow in colour.

Solitary bees vary in colour.

Hair

Bees are noticeably furry although some species of bees such as the honeybee and solitary bee have short hair while the bumblebee has long hair. Wasps have no hair (or may have very little hair) while hornets have a little hair.

Size

Queens and workers vary in size in the insect world where the queen is significantly larger than the workers. The same can be said for bees, wasps and hornets.

Queen Bee: measures between 1.6 cm and 1.8cm for honeybee and 2cm-3cm for bumblebee

Worker Bee:  measures between 1.2cm and 1.4cm for honeybee and 0.8cm to 2cm cm for bumblebee.

Queen Wasp: measures roughly 2cm

Worker Wasp: measures 1.2cm to 1.8cm

Queen Hornet: measures roughly 3.5cm

Worker Hornet: measures between 2cm and 3cm

Generally speaking though, the hornet is the largest of the three, followed by a wasp and finally bees. This is however not always the case.

Diet

Bees eat nectar from flowers. The wasps’ diet depends on the season and ranges from sugary drinks, insects, and nectar and food waste. Hornets mainly feed on insects. Both wasps and hornets are carnivores and prey on small insects. This is an advantage since they control pest insect populations in areas where they nest such as your backyard or garden.

Habitat

The habitat here refers to where the insect likes to nest. Bumblebees prefer to build their nests in soil cavities while honeybees prefer wall cavities, hollow trees and roofs. Solitary bees prefer sandy soil, in mortar in between bricks and in soft cement.

Wasps like undisturbed locations such as in attics and lofts, inside wall cavities and in hollow bushes and trees.

Hornets mostly like attics, hollow walls and tree trunks.

Temperament/Habits

Bees seem to be the most gentle natured among the three and only sting when provoked. Bees actually seem reluctant to sting in most cases and they die after stinging. Bumblebees and solitary bees do not swarm while honeybees swarm in spring and summer.

Most species of wasps are aggressive in nature and sting with little provocation. Others such as the mud dauber wasp are far more docile and rarely sting. A wasp doesn’t die after stinging and can sting repeatedly. Female wasps have a stinger while male drones do not. Wasps are more common in late summer when they are looking for food and tend to invade beer gardens and picnic tables. Wasps do not swarm.

Lastly, hornets are less temperamental than wasps and typically only sting when provoked. Hornets can also bite and sting simultaneously. They do not swarm.

How to Get Rid of Bees, Wasps and Hornets

The best solution if faced with a bee, wasp or hornet nest is to hire a professional wasp exterminator Toronto to handle the problem. Correct identification is a must before you can remove the nest safely. You also need full-body protective gear and specialized knowledge to guarantee that your children, pets and neighbours are safe while you attempt to remove the nest. Prefer an expert who provides a warranty for the service.