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The Difference Between Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

Spot any yellow and black bug flying around outside and, chances are, you immediately worry about the possibility of getting stung. After moving safely away, you might wonder what kind of insect it is exactly. Is it a bee, wasp, or hornet? The answer can change what you expect from them behaviorally, so it’s helpful to identify these similar creatures. Learn the difference between bees, wasps, and hornets using these descriptions.

Bees

Out of the insects we discuss here, bees are the easiest to distinguish. They have an overall rounder body shape, owing to the hairs that cover them. Additionally, they are usually smaller than wasps and hornets—they’re often less than an inch in length. If you can see them clearly enough, bees can further be distinguished by the yellow pollen that they have stuck to their legs.

As you may have heard, bees can only sting once before they die, since their stingers detach from their abdomens. This translates to a reduced level of aggression—they will only sting when significantly provoked.

Wasps

Wasps are somewhat larger than bees and lack furry hairs. Whereas bees typically have black legs, wasps frequently have yellow legs and black or reddish-brown bodies. The black species may have yellow stripes on their abdomens that make them resemble bees, but the reddish-brown types lack striking color contrasts. In truth, the term wasp refers to countless species, so colors can vary greatly. What all wasps do have in common, however, is a narrow-waisted body shape and roughly triangular heads. They may eat fruit and other insects, so they can be attracted to your food as bees are.

In terms of danger, wasps are potentially more harmful than bees because they can sting repeatedly. They are also more likely to attack compared to bees.

Hornets

Hornets are a subgroup of wasps that are characteristically large. They may be around an inch and a half to over two inches long. Their heads and abdomens are rounder and wider than an average wasp and they are usually reddish-brown or black, though some also have yellow-orange coloring. You won’t usually see bright yellow on them.

Hornets have painful stings, but they aren’t as aggressive as smaller wasps. They also prefer to eat insects over food, so they’re not as likely to come around when you’re enjoying a meal or snack outside. It’s interesting to note that some species, such as the Asian Giant Hornet, are known to organize attacks on honeybees’ and other wasps’ nests.

Written by Logan Voss

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