The Difference Between Wasps and Bees

By John Lindell
The Difference Between Wasps and Bees

Wasps and bees are all capable of stinging people, but there are some very noticeable differences between the two. Wasps can sting you more than once, while bees will die after they sting you because their stinger, which is attached to the very end of their digestive system, is barbed and remains in the skin, causing the bee to eventually perish. Here are some more differences between wasps and bees.

One of the visual differences between wasps and bees is their appearance. Wasps have a much more slender body that narrows at the waist area. They look like they are shiny and have a smooth body surface. Bees on the other hand are "plumper" than wasps. They are also hairier and the back legs are flatter . Bees have a pollen basket on their hind legs while wasps do not. The wasp has back legs that hang down during flight but you can't see a bee's back legs at this time. The stinger on a wasp is not barbed as it is on a bee.

Although there are many species of both wasps and bees the most common are honeybees and bumblebees for the bees and paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets for the wasps. Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, occasionally getting food from trash in the form of sweet leftovers. Wasps are carnivorous predators that dine on other insects, feeding them to their young in the nest.

Both wasps and bees are very beneficial to nature. Honeybees have been estimated to be responsible for up to 80% of the pollination of fruit trees, vegetable plants, and legumes as well as ornamental flowers. Bumblebees also play an important role in pollinating many plant species. Wasps control many insect populations with their carnivorous ways. Flies, crickets, caterpillars and other insect nuisances all fall victim to wasps.

There are major differences between wasps and bees in where they make their homes. Both are found on every continent except for Antarctica. Wasps will construct their nests from a pulp-like secretion that they make by chewing wood fibers and mixing it with saliva. Yellowjackets and hornets will build a series of combs one on top of another and surround them with an envelope of pulpy layers. Yellowjackets will build theirs below the ground in holes they "borrow" from animals or in hollowed trees, shrubs, inside the walls of structures, and underneath the eaves of buildings. Hornets can make their homes up in trees or along the side of a building. Paper wasps will build a single paper comb with no surrounding envelope under just about any horizontal surface area. Honey bees however make a string of vertical combs out of wax. They can nest in tree cavities but most of their nests today come from humans in the form of prefabricated hives. Bumblebees call empty burrows and openings in buildings their home.

In the cooler fall months wasps will change their focus from insects and other protein sources to carbohydrates. If you have ever gone to your kid's soccer games in the autumn you have undoubtedly noticed yellowjackets flying about, landing on soda cans and in garbage receptacles. They are looking for anything sweet that they can eat. Wasps and honeybee colonies do not survive the winter in cold climates, with only new queen bees making it though the cold hidden wherever they can stay warm. Honeybee colonies, however, can live for more than one year.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.