Wasps vs. Bees

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Wasps and bees are largely lumped into the same category: scary bugs that fly around and sting you. But these flying insects aren't all bad! Bees are very important pollinators, and wasps help control various insect pests. Knowing the difference between these two types of insects can help identify which ones may sting you, what their nests look like, and where you might see them and what to do if they're around your home and garden. There are hundreds of species, so this is a general guide.

See also: bee removal & control, wasp and hornet killer, how to get rid of yellow jackets

General info

Bees descended from wasps, so they are fairly similar. "Wasps" encompass both yellowjackets and hornets

20 Ant Jokes & Puns
        (click to enlarge)



  • Slender bodies                                                           
  • Often appear "pinched" in middle                                     
  • Slender cylindrical legs                                             
  • Smooth-skinned, almost always hairless


  • Robust, more stout bodies
  • Back legs are flattened  
  • Often very hairy to collect pollen

BOTH: Vary in color - can range from black, black and white, black and yellow, brown, etc. Color should not be a sole identifier when distinguishing between bees and wasps. Yellowjackets are often confused with bees because of their striped yellow and black appearance and stouter bodies.


The biggest difference in habitats for both bees and wasps lies in if they are social or solitary. Social bees have colonies and create hives, or nests, above ground. Solitary bees or wasps create nests (without colonies) in the ground, abandoned rodent burrows, and sometimes in wall voids or wood.

  •  Social Wasps
    Create nests out of a papery pulp made from chewed wood and saliva. Paper wasps create paper combs that do not have any outer covering (it is all exposed), while other species create a covered nest. They will create new nests every year.
  • Social Bees
    Honey bees create wax nests with combs inside, and reuse hives every year. Carpenter bees, which resemble less plump, less furry bumble bees, actually create their nests inside wood of trees or buildings.
  • Solitary Wasps and Bees
    Usually, these insects make nests underground in old rodent nests or in holes they create.Mud dauber wasps make tube shaped nests out of mud.



Wasps mainly eat insects (dead or living) and some species scavenge even garbage or rotting fruit. Sometimes they do eat pollen, but this is not a main food source.


Bees are pollinators and feed on nectar and pollen.

Stings (both):

Neither wasps or bees are generally aggressive.  They will usually sting if they are being closely handled against the skin, stepped on, or defending their colonies or nests. Some bees, like sweat bees, have very mild stings, and males of some bee species may appear aggressive, but are unable to sting. Honeybees can only sting once, and their stingers are barbed and remain in the skin (with a venom sac attached). Bumble bees and all wasps can sting multiple times, and their stingers do not detach and embed in skin. See our bee sting treatment page for more information.

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