What's The Difference Between Bees, Wasps And Hornets?

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), however, here are some key differences:


Feeding

A very key difference between hornets, wasps and bees is in the diet fed to the young.

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.

Nests

There is tremendous variety between nest building habits and structures, and indeed, parasitic species tend to inhabit the nests of their hosts.  There are also similarities in some of the types of locations used by various species of wasps, bees and hornets.

Bumble bees create roundish wax cells under or over ground.  Hornets and some species of wasps may create nest structures from shavings of wood, whilst other wasps may use mud. You can read more about wasp nests here.

Honey bees are known for nesting in tree trunk or cave cavities if not domesticated (where they will otherwise occupy a bee hive), whilst solitary bees have a variety of different methods and constructing their nests. 

Size

It really depends on the country in which you live, and therefore the species of wasp, bee and hornet in your region. But suffice to say, it appears that hornets are larger than the bee species found in their regions.

In comparison with bees in the UK, a hornet queen is larger than bee species found in that region, perhaps reaching about 3.5cm, in comparison with say the larger of the queen bumblebee species reaching up to 2.5cm). 

However, the Indonesian resin bee may reach 3.9cm in length – but then it should also be noted that the Asian Giant Hornet, the world’s largest is hornet is around 5cm in length.

Temperament

It is usually accepted that hornets and wasps are generally more aggressive than bees.

Hair

Wasps and hornets do have hair, although bees are usually considered to be hairier, but both wasps and hornets are pollinators.  Read more on my page Do Wasps Pollinate Flowers?

Bees can be mistaken for wasps and vice versa

Nomad beeNomad bee

Nomad 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.


Wool carder beeWool carder bee

This wool carder bee could, at first glance, easily be mistaken for a wasp.



Honey beeHoney bee

And in my experience, during talks about bees, audience members frequently mis-identify honey bees, believing them to be wasps.


A short while ago, I received this photograph below from a contact in the USA.

  The question was:

‘what kind of bee is this?’

Bald faced hornetBald faced hornet

It is actually not a bee, but a bald faced hornet!

However........

here is a picture of a violet carpenter bee:

here is the bumblebee, Bombus barbutellus

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..



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Not many people like wasps, but they have an important role in the ecosystem!

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