Wasps and bees are commonly encountered in backyards, gardens and forests. Due to their small size, these two flying, yellow-bodied, and stinging insects are often confused with one another, leading to potentially dangerous accidents. This confusion can also lead to the indiscriminate killing of bees, which are actually important to the ecosystem.
How is a wasp different from a bee?
Several species of bees and wasps exist, making identification quite difficult, even for seasoned beekeepers. In general, however, bees are hairier and fatter-looking than wasps. Additionally, only bees make honey. Wasps are considered more aggressive, and can sting more than once.
What is a Wasp?
A wasp is a narrow-waisted and often hairless flying insect. Wasps hunt for pests such as ants, mosquitoes, as well as other insects and their larvae.
Wasps possess two pairs of wings. Their females carry an egg-laying ovipositor that can turn into a defensive stinger when threatened. Most species are 1.25 to 1.9 cm long. Their bodies can appear hourglass-shaped due to the narrow region between the abdomen and thorax.
Unlike bees being part of a hive, many wasp species are solitary or parasitic. They can quickly turn aggressive and attack humans who have entered their territory or disturbed their nest, and a single wasp can sting multiple times.
What is a Bee?
Bees are flying insects with fuzzy bodies due to the presence of tiny, feathery hairs onto which pollen can cling. They gather pollen and nectar from flowers as a source of food; they also convert nectar into honey for storage in their hive.
A honey bee is usually part of a hive colony that can consist of tens of thousands of members. Like wasps, they have four wings, and their females possess stingers at the ends of their thoraxes. Honey bees can be quite small, averaging 15 mm in length.
Bees are quite helpful for producing honey, which is a classic human treat. Their work in pollinating flowers is also an essential part of the ecosystem.
Differences between a Wasp and a Bee
Wasps hunt insects, dismembering them and feeding their body parts to their larvae. Parasitic species even lay eggs in other insects, with their larvae using the bodies as their food source. Surprisingly, adult wasps mainly eat sugars from nectar or honeydew.
Bees dine on pollen for the protein and other nutrients, and nectar and honey for energy. Worker bees regularly snack on nectar as they carry out pollination. Bee larvae eat a mix of pollen and nectar called beebread. Additionally, female larvae consuming royal jelly turn into queens.
Worker bees tend to keep to themselves while harvesting pollen. Wasps, on the other hand, can be attracted by human food and fly onto exposed pieces of meat, bread or other dishes.
The majority of bee and wasp species are solitary. However, honey bees and bumblebees – two of the most commonplace bee species – are eusocial and live in a hive.
Both insects are territorial and can fly into a stinging frenzy when aggravated.
Bees are traditionally seen as gentler than wasps. When they are in a stinging mood, it is usually due to their hive being disturbed by animals, poor weather, or the death of a queen.
Wasps are more readily aggressive. Slight disturbances can cause them to sting. Feeding on sugars can also make wasps “intoxicated”, leading to them being more likely to attack.
Many wasps and bees have black and yellow color patterns.
Bees are hairy and plump-bodied, with flat and round legs. Their abdomen and thorax are typically fat or bulbous.
Wasps lack hair. Their bodies are smoother and leaner, with their abdomens and thoraxes being more cylindrical or conical.
Habitat (Wasp Nest Vs Bee Nest)
Bee colonies reside in hives composed of honeycomb wax. These hives can hang from trees, ceilings, or posts. Some species prefer digging homes in soil or other creatures’ nests.
Wasp nests are created with a papery substance from plant material. Nests can be found in attics or hollow trees, or hanging from tree branches. Many are also found on the surface.
Bee and wasp stingers evolved from egg-laying organs called ovipositors.
Wasp stingers are smooth, retractable, and typically longer than those of bees. They are also able to sting multiple times.
Bees have barbed stingers that get stuck on surfaces. Pulling out to fly away will cause the bee to die, leaving behind strands of its organs and the sting’s venomous sac.
Bee honey is nutritious and a popular human food source, with royal jelly also being used for medicinal and dietary purposes. Additionally, beeswax is used in many industrial processes.
Bees also contribute heavily to pollination, which is required for agriculture and plant reproduction.
Wasps have their uses as well. They help in regulating the population of various insects and pests, and also play a role in pollination.
Comparison Chart: Wasp Vs Bee
|Diet||Insects, scrap food, meat (larvae); sugars (adults)||Nectar and pollen|
|Behavior||Adventurous and aggressive||Docile, fixated on pollination|
|Aggressiveness||Territorial; extremely aggressive when provoked||Territorial; aggressive when provoked|
|Physiology||Smooth, hourglass-shaped body||Hairy, plump-bodied|
|Habitat||Paper nests||Honeycomb colonies|
|Sting||Smooth, long, retractable. Can sting multiple times.||Barbed. Dies after stinging.|
|Benefits||Pest control, pollination||Pollination, source of food and medicine|
How are Wasps and Bees similar?
Bees and wasps are nearly identical to each other at first glance.
These flying insects are part of the order Hymenoptera alongside ants and sawflies. Both wasps and bees usually have two wing pairs, a proboscis or set of mandibles, a pair of compound eyes, as well as an ovipositor in females for reproduction, hunting and defense.
In addition, their larvae are typically limbless and soft-bodied, turning into pupae and undergoing complete metamorphosis to reach adulthood.
Is a wasp a bee?
Although they belong to the same order (Hymenoptera) and sub-order (Apocrita), wasps are genetically distinct from bees, as well as their distant ant and sawfly cousins.
Wasps have diverged from bees in terms of their feeding habits, level of aggression, physiology, habitat construction, and defense mechanisms, among other things. Several species are known to parasitize insects and larvae as part of their reproductive cycle.
Most Wasp species are in the family Vespidae, which includes common wasps such as yellow jackets, daubers and hornets.
What makes honey so sweet?
Honey is a syrupy substance made primarily from fructose and glucose. Apart from these sugars, it also has vitamins and minerals, fragrant compounds, as well as some pollen.
Bees make honey from nectar, which is watery and less sweet. It breaks down the complex sugars in nectar into the above two sugars, which makes honey more digestible than regular table sugar (sucrose).
Fructose is also nearly twice as sweet as table sugar, contributing to the much stronger sweetness in honey.
The differences between bees and wasps are evident when one looks at their physiology and behavior.
Wasps hunt insects; their adults eat sugar, but hunt and feed insects to their young. They are smooth-bodied and hairless, and often larger than bees. Wasps are easily provoked, especially when their paper nests are disturbed, and can sting several times.
Bees – larval and adult - feast on nectar and pollen. They also make honey. Their bodies are hairy and plump. Most species only attack when their honeycomb hives are disturbed, are less aggressive overall, and sting once.