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Bees, Wasps, or Hornets?


It’s the height of summer and the bees, wasps and hornets are out in full force. It’s important to know the difference between the different types of stinging insects as the wounds from their stings can require different treatments and some people are allergic to stings. In general, bees have more fuzz and are less aggressive than either wasps or hornets. Let’s review each more closely.


Most bees have shorter legs that are covered with tiny hairs where they store the pollen they harvest as they move from plant to plant. Most bees are happy to go about their business and are fairly non-aggressive. There are around 20,000 known species of bees on earth. Thankfully, not all of those species are common around here. Here are some common bees you might encounter.

Bumble bee – This bee is larger than a honey bee and has a fairly round furry body covered with dense yellow and black fuzz.

Carpenter bee – This bee has a black body with thick fuzz on their head and thorax. They’re primarily attracted to wood and will burrow into wood structures.

Honey bee – The honey bee has a golden or brown body covered with fuzz and black abdominal stripes. The honey bee is known as the gentlest of bees and rarely stings unless provoked. It’s important not to provoke them because they are one of the top pollinators of food crops and they have been disappearing due to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. The honey bee can only sting once and then eventually dies. When the honey bee stings, it leaves behind a portion of its abdomen, nerves and muscles. Honey bees are the only type of bee, hornet or wasp that die after only stinging once.


Wasps have longer back legs than bees and often have no fuzz at all or very little compared to bees. Wasps are generally more aggressive than bees and can sting multiple times, injecting their venom with each sting. There are about 30,000 species of known wasps across the world. The most common wasps in this area are generally the yellowjacket and the paper wasp.

Yellowjacket – Yellowjackets build their nests underground. They strongly resemble a bee with black and yellow stripes but have a hairless body and are generally more interested in foods like fruits and vegetables instead of flowers. Though they do help pollinate crops as well. They’re more aggressive than bees, especially the honey bee and often sting several times.

Paper wasp – The paper wasp is a small wasp with a brown, reddish or black body with yellow markings. They build hives out of a paper-looking material. The paper wasp will attack if they perceive you as a threat so if you see one of their hives, it’s best to keep your distance as they are aggressive and will attack, stinging several times.


Worldwide, there are only about 20 species of hornets. Hornets are generally larger than wasps and can be aggressive but are typically less aggressive than the yellowjacket. The primary species of hornet found in North America is the European hornet and was introduced to the continent by people. They are larger than wasps, have long legs, very little fuzz with a yellow and black body with red accents on the head and thorax. Hornets are most commonly found in Asian tropical areas but can also be found in Africa and Europe (and of course, the U.S.). Many species of hornet also create a papery-looking hive.

Knowing what type of stinging insect is buzzing around you can be the difference between a harmless encounter or a painful one. Avoid provoking any stinging insect and if you see a hive, stay far away from it. If the hive resembles a honey bee hive with visible honeycomb, a local bee keeper can help relocate the hive safely without harming the bees. If you see a papery hive like those of the paper wasp or hornet or insects coming and going from underground, it’s time to call the Pest Force to deal with the hive professionally.