An image of honey bee on a flower

What’s the Difference Between a Hornet, Wasp, and Bee?

Ant BeeBees & Wasps, Pest Control, Uncategorized

Buzzing and Stinging

With the change of season comes green grass, fresh young flowers and a disturbing buzzing sound.  While most people welcome the spring and summer months and the re-growth of slumbering plants and animals, we are reminded that, also awaking from a deep sleep, are thousands of insects, including the stinging varieties.

While we might think honey bees are almost cute, bouncing from one flower to another in an endless dance that will bring us wonderful honey, the first yellow jacket of the season can have us running for cover.  So what is the difference between the various stinging insects and why are some seen as beneficial while others are traditionally labelled as pests?

Which is Which?

Most of the flying insects that we might call “bees” fall roughly into three groups: bees, wasps and hornets.  In general terms, bees are usually smaller, furrier and more gentle than wasps or hornets. Bees typically have more uniform shaped bodies with fatter legs that are pulled in close to their bodies when in flight.  Wasps tend to have smooth, slimmer bodies, very thin waists, and thin legs that dangle in the air when they are flying.  Wasps tend to be much more aggressive than bees.  In the US, one of the most common wasps is the yellow jacket.  Hornets are actually a type of wasp and look similar to yellow jackets.  Hornets are usually larger than bees and other wasps but not as aggressive as some more common wasps.  There is a relatively small number of species of hornets in the world.


drawing of a bee, a hornet, and a wasp


According to the EPA, there are over 20,000 species of bees in the world.  The most common bees in the United States and Canada are the Honey Bee and the Bumblebee.  Most bees are content gathering both pollen and nectar from flowers to bring back to the hive to feed their young.  Bees are considered very important for pollination and certain species are frequently cultivated on farms to aid in that effort.  In general, bees are somewhat furry and have thick legs that are pulled in close to their bodies when in flight.  Why are bees furry or hairy?  Quite simply, since collecting pollen is so essential to a bee’s life, bees have developed more hair on which the pollen will stick, making collection more efficient.

Wasps (yes, Yellow Jackets are Wasps!)

Wasp species number in the tens of thousands and can be found in every climate across the world except the polar regions.  Since they are more aggressive than bees, they can be dangerous to people, especially children.  Outdoor pets can also be severely poisoned by stings, so care needs to be taken especially when dealing with wasp nests.

Mud Wasp

Mud Dauber Wasp (source: Didier Descouens)

Wasps can be either the “social” -living in large colonies or “solitary” variety but most species carry with them a nasty sting.  And unlike honey bees, which will die after a single sting, wasps can sting their victim repeatedly. There are four types of yellow jackets that make up the majority of the wasp population in the United States.

A Hornet is really a Wasp!

Hornet's Nest in a Pine Tree

Hornet’s Nest in a Pine Tree

Hornets are typically less common than bees and wasps in North America.  Hornets, being a type of wasp, share many of the same characteristics as other wasps, like yellow jackets.  However, hornets are usually not quite as aggressive, unless you disturb their nest.  They are known for their large round or oblong nests hanging from tree branches. There are around 20 species of hornets, the only true variety in North America being, ironically, the European Hornet, which was introduced by European settlers in the 1800’s.

Think the hornets you’ve seen are big? The largest hornets in world can be found in Asia.  The Giant Asian Hornet can grow to nearly 2 inches long and its sting can often be fatal!

A dead Asian Giant Hornet on an open palm

A Dead Asian Giant Hornet








If you think you have a bee, wasp, or hornet problem, give us a call and ask how we can help.