Bees, wasps and hornets belong to the insect order hymenoptera.
Whilst some species are relatively easy to tell apart, some are actually quite similar (as we'll see below).
It should also be said that there are always exceptions to the general rule, however, here are some key differences for most species:
A key difference between hornets, wasps and bees is in the diet fed to the young.
In order to feed the young, wasps and hornets are predators of other insects.
Whereas wasps and hornets provide a carnivorous diet to their offspring (in the form of other insects), bees feed their offspring on nectar and pollen.
Bees basically therefore, have a
vegetarian diet. According to 'Bees Of
The World', an exception to this is a small group of meliponine bees of the
genus Trigona, which also feed their young on other insects instead of pollen. Research has found these bees may also consumer other forms of meat if available. You can read more about this here. However, the bees are usually scavengers rather than killing their own prey as wasps and hornets do.
Whereas pollen is collected by bees, wasps and hornets do not collect pollen (or oils), and therefore, females of wasps and hornets do not possess any specially modified pollen collecting hairs.
Many bee species have stout legs with relatively few spines, whereas wasps and hornets have long thin legs with spines.
Nomada bees (like this one pictured above) have a very waspish appearance, both in their colouring and slender
bodies, not at all like the cuddly image we may have of bees. Yellow-face bees are also rather wasp-like.
carder bee could, at first glance, easily be mistaken for a wasp.
And in my experience, during talks about bees, audience members frequently mis-identify honey bees, believing them to be wasps, partly because their image of a honey bee actually conforms to the physical appearance of a bumble bee.
A short while ago, I received this photograph below from a contact in the USA.
The question was:
‘what kind of bee is this?’
It is actually not a bee, but a bald faced hornet! Although it is not a 'true hornet' but in fact is a type of wasp.
Arguably, at first glance it's not surprising we might get confused......especially when we throw in a few exotic species, like the Orchid Bee..
Sometimes it is simply a matter of practice and familiarity that helps us eventually distinguish them from each other, when out in the field.
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