Difference between Bees and Wasps
Both bees and wasps are extremely valuable to man and the environment. Their ability to help pollinate plants is well documented. In addition, they are very helpful as predators of many insect pests that infest crops, gardens and landscape plants. Bees and wasps are members of the insect order Hymenoptera.
Bees and wasps differ greatly in appearance. In general, bees are more full-bodied, hairy and appear to be fuzzy, a characteristic that helps them collect and disseminate pollen. Wasps are more slim-bodied, have slender legs and their body appears non-hairy and shiny.
Bees are not meat eaters and do not consume prey insects or spiders. Rather, they consume plant pollens and nectar from flowering plants. For most of the year, wasps are predators and feed other arthropods and insects to their young, but in late summer and fall, when queens stop laying eggs and their nest declines, they are more interested in collecting sweets and other carbohydrates. It is not unusual to experience aggressive yellow jackets who become scavengers around food and sweet drinks.
Bees make their nests from wax; wasp nests are made from paper-like materials of chewed wood particles and their own saliva. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are perennial insects and as long as the colony is healthy, the nest remains active for many years. Wasps and bumblebees only use their nests for one year because they have annual life cycles. Only a few specialized wasps reuse old nests.
Bee and Wasp Stings
Wasps and bees sting to defend themselves and their colony. Honey bees’ stingers are barbed, so after stinging and flying away, the stinger is torn from the bee’s abdomen and remains in the skin. Wasps and bumblebees can pull out their stinger, so they’re able to sting more than once without injuring themselves. More often than not, but not always, a wasp or bumblebee doesn’t leave its stinger in the skin.
Commonly Seen Bees and Wasps
The most commonly encountered bees are honey bees and bumblebees. Another type of bee that may be seen in open areas of yards during the spring are solitary, ground nesting bees. They do not form colonies, but are important pollinators of many plants. Commonly seen wasps are yellow jackets, hornets, cicada killers and numerous species of paper wasps.