Bee Vs Wasp Vs Hornet Stings 

Is a hornet sting worse than a wasp sting and how do they compare to bee stings?  Which are most painful, and which have the most toxic venom?

Which stings are the most dangerous to humans, and do bees, wasps and hornets sting each other?

The short answer is:
According to one scientific paper, of the sample studied, 2 species of wasp delivered the most painful stings, and both were tarantula hawk wasps, yet their stings were also the least venomous.

A paper wasp, Polistes infuscatus had the most toxic venom.  The yellowjackets, honey bees and bumble bees included in the study appeared about mid-way in both tables.  Most solitary bee species delivered low-pain stings that were among the least venomous.  

Bee Vs Wasp Vs Hornet Stings: A Comparison

wasp stinging a human hand

If you have read my page 'Bees vs Hornets', you may be wondering how a hornet sting would compare with a bee sting, and where wasps such as yellow jackets fit into the equation in relation to sting pain and lethality (toxicity) of venom.

It so happens that we do have at our disposal, some data that will help to answer this question, at least for some species.  The data comes from an entomologist called Justin O. Schmidt, (author of Sting Of The Wild), who published a paper in 2019: Pain and Lethality Induced by Insect Stings1

In the study, the painfulness of stings of 96 species of stinging insects and the lethalities of the venoms of 90 species were assessed, and some of those insect species were bees, wasps and hornets. 

The data for those species has been extracted and is presented here, along with an explanation.  Full tables appear further down the page, but for now, let us consider the species occupying the top 3 slots for pain level and venom toxicity.

(Note that despite the name, 'velvet ants' are in fact, wasp species).

RankMost Painful StingMost Toxic Venom
1Synoeca septentrionalis (warrior wasp),
Pepsis grossa (tarantula hawk wasp),
Pepsis thisbe (tarantula hawk wasp).


Pain score: 4
Polistes infuscatus (paper wasp).

LD50 (mg/kg): 1.3
2Polistes infuscatus (paper wasp),
Polistes erythrocephalus (paper wasp),
Polistes canadensis (paper wasp),
Polistes tepidus (paper wasp),
Polistes annularis (paper wasp),
Dasymutilla klugii (cow killer velvet ant).

Pain score: 3
Brachygastra mellifica (honey wasp),
Polistes erythrocephalus (paper wasp).

LD50 (mg/kg): 1.5
3Polybia simillima (polybia wasp),
Agelaia myrmecophila (fire wasp),
Provespa sp. (nocturnal hornet),
Xylocopa sp. (giant Bornean bee).

Pain score: 2.5
Polistes instabilis (paper wasp),
Vespa luctuosa (hornet).

LD50 (mg/kg): 1.6

In general, what we can already see from this data, are the following points:

  • an insect species having the most painful sting, does not necessarily have the most toxic sting.  For example, the tarantula hawk wasps which apparently deliver a very painful sting, are not ranked within the top 3 for venom toxicity (they actually had among the least toxic venom of all the bees, wasps and hornets in the sample).
  • Most of the species appearing in each category (pain and toxicity), are wasps.
  • A hornet species ranks in both the top 3 for sting pain and venom toxicity, although they are different species.
  • There are no bee species ranked in the top 3 for venom toxicity, although a Xylocopa species (large carpenter bee) is ranked within the top 3 for sting pain.
  • Not all wasp and hornet and bee stings are the same, with some being more painful and slightly more toxic than others.

Is this the whole story with regard to sting pain?
Probably not, and there are some limitations with the data.  For example:  

  • Some species that were analyzed for venom toxicity were not assessed for pain, such as the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia.
  • It's worth remembering that although the sample is a large one, there are thousands and thousands of bee, wasp and hornet species, so the comparison is not complete.
  • Although, for example, the honey bees were discovered to have more toxic venom than the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, it's worth remembering that honey bees can only sting once, where as the hornet can sting multiple times.  In addition, a single Vespa mandarinia sting can deliver 10 times the venom than is ejected from the sting of a honey bee, and this is a point the author of the study makes himself (see my comparison of bee and hornet venom).
Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia perched on white flowerAsian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia


If you would like to know more about this research and the species compared (including honey bees and yellowjackets), please read on.  Otherwise, you might be interested to learn where stings hurt most.

Which Stings Hurts Most? 
A Comparison Of Pain From Bee, Wasp And Hornet Stings

In Schmidt's paper, pain level was graded between 1 and 4, with the score 4 allocated to the most painful stings.

Of the 58 wasp, hornet and bees species tested, the 3 most painful are highlighted in the table above.

After that, most of the remaining social wasps had a pain score of 2, including those commonly referred to as yellowjackets (both Vespular vulgaris and Vespular germanica).  They shared this score with the baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata, the honey bees, the bumble bees, and two further solitary bee species (both Xylocopa).

Although wasp species had the most painful stings, it was a solitary wasp, Sapyga pumila (club-horned wasp) that had the least painful sting of all, along with two solitary bee species (Triepeolus sp. (cuckoo bee) and Dieunomia heteropoda (giant sweat bee) all sharing a score of 0.5.

SpeciesInsect TypeSting Pain ScorePain Level
Synoeca septentrionalis
(warrior wasp)
Social Wasp4Most Painful Sting
Pepsis grossa
(tarantula hawk wasp)
Solitary Wasp4
P. thisbe
(tarantula hawk wasp)
Solitary Wasp4
P. infuscatus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp3
P. erythrocephalus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp3
P. canadensis.
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp3
P. tepidus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp3
P. annularis
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp3
D. klugii
(cow killer velvet ant)
Solitary Wasp3
P. simillima
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp2.5
Agelaia myrmecophila
(fire wasp)
Social Wasp2.5
Provespa sp.
(nocturnal hornet)
Hornet2.5
Xylocopa sp.
(giant Bornean bee)
Solitary Bee2.5
B. juncea colonialis
(fire-tail wasp)
Social Wasp2
Brachygastra mellifica
(honey wasp)
Social Wasp2
Vespula germanica
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2
V. vulgaris
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2
V. pensylvanica
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2
Polistes instabilis
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp2
P. arizonicus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp2
Parachartergus fraternus
(artistic wasp)
Social Wasp2
Dolichovespula maculata
(baldfaced hornet)
Hornet2
D. arenaria
(aerial yellowjacket)
Social Wasp2
Mischocyttarus sp.
(a paper wasp)
Social Wasp2
A. mellifera
(honey bee)
Social Bee2
A. dorsata
(giant honey bee)
Social Bee2
A. cerana
(Eastern honey bee)
Social Bee2
Bombus impatiens
(bumble bee)
Social Bee2
B. sonorus
(bumble bee)
Social Bee2
Xylocopa rufa
(nocturnal carpenter bee)
Solitary Bee2
X. californica
(carpenter bee)
Solitary Bee2
D. gloriosa
(velvet ant)
Solitary Wasp2
P. rejecta
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp1.5
Belonogaster sp.
(thin paper wasp)
Social Wasp1.5
Apis florea
(dwarf honey bee)
Social Bee1.5
Euglossa dilemma
(orchid bee)
Solitary Bee1.5
S. grandis
(cicada killer wasp)
Solitary Wasp1.5
Mutillidae sp.
(small nocturnal velvet ant)
Solitary Wasp1.5
Polybia occidentalis
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp1
Ropalidia flavobrunneaSocial Wasp1
Ropalidia sp.Social Wasp1
Xenoglossa angustior
(squash bee)
Solitary Bee1
Habropoda pallida
(white-faced bee)
Solitary Bee1
Diadasia rinconis
(cactus bee)
Solitary Bee1
Emphoropsis pallidaSolitary Bee1
Lasioglossum spp.
(sweat bee)
Solitary Bee1
Ericrocis lata
(cuckoo bee)
Solitary Bee1
Eumeninae spp.
(potter wasps)
Solitary Wasp1
Sphecius convallis
(cicada killer wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Sphex pensylvanicus
(great black wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Chlorion cyaneum
(cockroach-hunter wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Triscolia ardens
(scarab-hunter wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Sceliphron caementarium
(mud dauber wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Euodynerus crypticus
(water walking wasp)
Solitary Wasp1
Dasymutilla thetis
(little velvet ant)
Solitary Wasp1
Dieunomia heteropoda
(giant sweat bee)
Solitary Bee0.5Least Painful Sting
Triepeolus sp.
(cuckoo bee)
Solitary Bee0.5
Sapyga pumila
(club-horned wasp)
Solitary Wasp0.5

Which Stings Are Most Toxic? 
A Comparison Of Venom Toxicity From Bee, Wasp And Hornet Stings

In the study, 50 bee, wasp and hornet species were assessed for the level of sting toxicity.

In making his comparison, Schmidt used a measure known as LD50 (also commonly used in assessing the lethality of insecticides). 

LD50 is the quantity required to kill 50 percent of test subjects, and in this case, those subjects were mice. The less venom required for a lethal (killing), the more dangerous and toxic the substance.

Yellowjackets (three species) had a venom toxicity level comparable with three different honey bee species (including Apis mellifera, Apis dorsata, and Apis florea) and the hornet, V. tropica.

SpeciesInsect TypeLD50 (mg/kg)Toxicity Level
P. infuscatus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp1.3Most toxic venom
Brachygastra mellifica
(honey wasp)
Social Wasp1.5
P. erythrocephalus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp1.5
Polistes instabilis
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp1.6
Vespa luctuosa
(hornet)
Hornet1.6
P. arizonicus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp2
P. canadensis.
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp2.4
V. vidua
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2.6
Vespula germanica
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2.8
V. consobrina
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp2.8
V. tropica
(hornet)
Hornet2.8
Apis florea
(dwarf honey bee)
Social Bee2.8
A. mellifera
(honey bee)
Social Bee2.8
A. dorsata
(giant honey bee)
Social Bee2.8
B. juncea colonialis
(fire-tail wasp)
Social Wasp3
Synoeca septentrionalis
(warrior wasp)
Social Wasp3
V. simillima
(hornet)
Hornet3.1
A. cerana
(Eastern honey bee)
Social Bee3.1
P. simillima
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp4.1
V. mandarinia
(giant hornet)
Hornet4.1
Polybia occidentalis
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp5
Parachartergus fraternus
(artistic wasp)
Social Wasp5.3
V. vulgaris
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp5.4
Agelaia myrmecophila
(fire wasp)
Social Wasp5.6
Ropalidia flavobrunneaSocial Wasp5.9
P. sericea
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp6.1
Dolichovespula maculata
(baldfaced hornet)
Hornet6.1
V. pensylvanica
(yellowjacket wasp)
Social Wasp6.4
P. tepidus
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp7.7
D. arenaria
(aerial yellowjacket)
Social Wasp8.7
Ropalidia sp.Social Wasp10
P. annularis
(paper wasp)
Social Wasp11
Bombus impatiens
(bumble bee)
Social Bee11
Xylocopa rufa
(nocturnal carpenter bee)
Solitary Bee11
B. sonorus
(bumble bee)
Social Bee12
Xenoglossa angustior
(squash bee)
Solitary Bee12
Apoica pallens
(night wasp)
Social Wasp13.5
Ropalidia (Icarielia) sp.Social Wasp14
X. californica
(carpenter bee)
Solitary Bee14
P. rejecta
(polybia wasp)
Social Wasp16
Dieunomia heteropoda
(giant sweat bee)
Solitary Bee25
X. veripuncta
(carpenter bee)
Solitary Bee33
S. grandis
(cicada killer wasp)
Social Wasp46
Centris pallida
(palo verde bee)
Solitary Bee56
Crioscolia flammicoma
(scoliid wasp)
Social Wasp62
Habropoda pallida
(white-faced bee)
Solitary Bee70
D. klugii
(cow killer velvet ant)
Social Wasp70
Diadasia rinconis
(cactus bee)
Solitary Bee76
Pepsis grossa
(tarantula hawk wasp)
Solitary Wasp90
P. thisbe
(tarantula hawk wasp)
Solitary Wasp120Least Toxic Venom

Can bees, wasps and hornets sting each other?

Whilst defending their colonies, stinging may occur, although hornets have a tough exoskeleton in comparison with bees and smaller wasp species. 

Honey bees in particular, have evolved various methods to defend their colonies against the threat of hornets.

Bees may sting other bees during conflict situations, for example, competition for nest sites, or robbing of nectar stores.  Read more on may page: Can bees sting other bees?


How can I protect myself against stings?

You could try a repellent containing Picaridin.  However, in general, even hornets are not out to get you!  It's best to avoid disturbing colonies.

This topic is covered in greater detail on my page about preventing stings.




References

1. Schmidt JO. Pain and Lethality Induced by Insect Stings: An Exploratory and Correlational Study. Toxins (Basel). 2019;11(7):427. Published 2019 Jul 21. 













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