The Difference Between Bees and Wasps

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Two bees on a sunflower

Shutterstock/Amit Ere

We’ve all experienced the agonising pain of being stung by a bee or a wasp. It’s not pleasant by any means, but it’s even more unpleasant if you can’t determine if it was a bee or a wasp.
Because of their similarities, bees and wasps can be hard to distinguish mid-flight. There are some features of both insects that make them different, but if you are not an expert then we doubt you’ll notice them.

Worry not because we are here to show you the difference between wasps and bees and how you can learn to recognise them!

Bees

As lovely and cute as they are, bees can also pack one heck of a punch in their stingers. While it’s not a big problem for most of us, some people can have an adverse allergic reaction. This is why it’s very important to identify a bee sting and to know what to do if we or someone around us has been stung.

Difference Between Bee and Wasp Sting

Bee Sting

Bee stinging and leaving it's sting

Shutterstock/Mirko Graul

As a kid, we’ve all been stung by a bee. But that’s not for a reason. Bees rarely attack without a need. Every time they decide to sting us this means certain death for them, and who needs that? This means that almost always when a bee stings us it’s our fault. That’s because bees sting only if handled roughly or if they perceive you as a threat to their hive.

Usually, bee stings cause mild irritations for us. It usually goes in this order:

  1. Instant burning pain on at the sting site
  2. The skin around the sting area gets red
  3. A slight swelling appears in a couple of minutes

Nothing dangerous.
If by chance you experience a severe allergic reaction you must make sure you get to the hospital as soon as possible! You can identify an allergic reaction from a bee sting if:

  1. There are symptoms of dizziness
  2. Fainting
  3. Difficulty breathing  
  4. Vomiting and diarrhoea

Wasp Sting

A wasp flying off a sting site

Shutterstock/Irina Kozorog

When comparing a wasp sting to a bee sting, think of the wasp as the bully that always beats the little fluffy bee. Wasps, unlike bees, can sting multiple times. They won’t die after one sting and they know it.
Wasps are more aggressive by nature. However, a yellow jacket wasp will not sting if not irritated. Just like with bees, most wasps attack only when they are threatened. Oftentimes a wasp may lend on humans, but that’s because something got its attention. If you don’t do any sudden movements the wasp will most likely leave you without doing any harm.

Most wasp stings go away within one or two days. Just like with bee stings there is minor redness, swelling around the sting area and burning pain. However, the wasp has a different venom from bees and this might result in a different reaction.

If by any chance you experience an allergic reaction from a bee sting there are a few symptoms that you should be looking for:

  1. Swelling of the throat and face
  2. Difficulty breathing
  3. Dizziness

If after a sting you, or someone around you, start having these symptoms then make sure to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

The Difference Between Bees and Wasps

Bees and wasps seem the same to the naked eye. There are some key differences once you start examining both insects closely. Although bees and wasps are closely related they aren’t the same.

How to recognise a bee from a wasp

The easiest way that you can recognise a bee from a wasp is taking a closer look at their bodies and the way they move during a flight.

  • Bees are furry insects. They are also chubbier and have bigger legs than wasps. When bees fly they usually look heavy and slow.
  • Wasps have slimmer bodies and are smooth. They tend to have longer legs and when in flight wasps look faster and lighter than bees.

By their lifestyle:

Another way that you can differentiate bees from wasps, and vice versa, is by their lifestyle. This is where both insects have big differences between each other. While wasps hibernate during the colder seasons, bees live in their hives and feed on the honey that they have collected.

Hives

The hives of both insects is another sure way to differentiate them. Since the dawn of time, humans have looked after bees for their honey. However, in the wild bees live hives made in the cracks of rocks.

While wasps also prefer to nest in similar locations as bees, their nest is quite different. Wasp nests are mainly made from a paper-like substance. This makes them very flammable.

Interesting facts about bees and wasps

Bees

  • Bees and wasps are closely related.
    Yet they are vastly different from each other. While bees can carry pollen in their legs, wasps can’t. That is why wasps have slimmer bodies.
  • There are around 20,000 known species of bees.
    Bumblebees and honeybees are only a small portion of the world’s bee population.
  • Bees inhabit every continent except Antarctica! They can also be found in every habitat that has insect pollinated plants.
  • You can find bees any various sizes. From 2mm stingless bees to 39 mm in size (being the biggest). That’s scary!
  • Bees store their venom in a sac connected to the stinger.
    And only female bees can sting.
    A queen bee uses her ovipositor to lay eggs as well as sting!
  • A bee can sting you only once!
    Yes! And the reason that is, is because bee stingers are meant to sting other bees.
  • Bees see all colours except the colour red.

Wasps

  • Wasps have spread into all continents except the polar.
    Which means that if you can find a bee, it’s almost sure that you will find a wasp too.
  • Wasps feed on other insects, as well as sweet plants, nectar and honey.
    Yes, this means wasps are omnivores. However, they prefer to eat sweet nectar. When there is not enough food, wasps can even eat big caterpillars!
  • Unlike bees, wasps can sting multiple times without dying.
    And even without a stinger lodged into you a wasp venom can cause damage.
  • There are over 100,000 species of wasp.
    Two common types of wasp are the yellowjacket wasp and the hornet.
  • The wasp is both a pest and a benefit.
    Certainly, they eat fruits and berries, but at the same time they keep the number of flies down, just as they eat insects that are destroying our crops.
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