Wasps and bees are often mistaken for each other – they’re both flying black and yellow bugs with stingers, so we understand the confusion. But they’re actually very different animals. There are approximately 20,000 species of bee and 30,000 species of wasp. In this article, we’re going to discuss the differences between wasps and bees that you’re likely to encounter in the UK. We’ll cover their appearance, how they live, how weather affects them and their threat to humans.
As we’ve mentioned, both wasps and bees have yellow and black stripes, and their wings are a similar translucent colour. Wasps are more slender and narrow with a smooth, shiny body. Whereas bees tend to be plumper, often more rounded and hairy – giving them a soft, ‘fuzzy’ appearance.
Bumblebees are fairly easy to distinguish from wasps due to them being very rounded and furry. However, the honey bee more closely resembles a wasp. Honey bees are more slender than bumblebees and have a similar body shape to wasps – but upon closer inspection, their hairiness and pollen pouch on their hind legs help to identify them.
Bees live in perhaps the most famous and intricate habitations in the animal kingdom: hives. Beehives are incredibly complex structures made up of honeycomb – a wax structure consisting of hexagonal pockets used to store honey, pollen, eggs and larvae. Worker bees construct hives in order to store food and protect larvae during the winter months where conditions are harsh and food is scarce. You’ll often find hives inside hollow trees or in rock crevices – areas that are deemed safe by scout bees.
Wasp nests, on the other hand, are made from chewed up wood and saliva, and the result is a paper-like structure. They’re often found in sheltered areas with easy access from the outside, such as on tree branches or in the guttering of a house. Some wasp species, however, will burrow into the ground and form a nest there. Like bees, wasps also use their nests to protect larvae.
Sensitivity to weather
Bees and wasps are cold-blooded, so winter poses a great threat to them. As such, it’s unlikely that you’ll see any bees or wasps during winter. Honey bees will do everything they can to protect the Queen bee and keep her warm during winter so that she can reproduce and rebuild the colony when spring comes, but unfortunately, many bees die during winter. Generally speaking, honeybees will stay inside the hive as much as possible during the winter, only venturing out on the mildest of winter days to find food for larvae.
Bumblebees often have a lifespan of approximately a year, with winter being the end for them. Queen bees that have already been mated with will burrow into the ground to hibernate until the weather warms up.
Wasp numbers also decline during winter, often due to food supplies such as fruit and other insects being in short supply. Queen wasps will hibernate during the winter, usually surviving while the males die off.
In most cases, if the Queen bee or wasp emerges from her hibernation too early, she will die, spelling the end of an entire colony.
Wasps and bees differ greatly when it comes to their feeding habits. Wasps are carnivorous insects, meaning they hunt and eat prey. They eat mainly invertebrates, such as spiders, ants, flies, and even bees. Adult wasps will often hunt prey in order to feed their young, and how they do it is rather unsettling. They’ll usually attack the victim with their sting, causing death or paralysis, and carry them, sometimes in pieces, back to the nest. If the victim has been paralysed instead of killed, they’ll be eaten alive by the younger wasps. Since adult wasps save their prey for the young, they’ll often feed on sugars from nectar, or even man-made produce (hence why you’ll often see wasps buzzing around your fizzy drinks and snacks).
Bees, on the other hand, are far less gruesome. They feed on pollen and nectar, and for the most part, they use it to make honey. Honey is a key food source for young bees, and bees will stock up on honey to survive the winter where pollen count is virtually non-existent. While this largely applies to honey bees, bumblebees also make honey, but in far smaller quantities.
Stings and threat to humans
There’s a general belief that wasps are aggressive and likely to sting you, whereas a bee is far less harmful and will only sting you in extreme circumstances. While the latter is true, the former is inaccurate. In fact, both wasps and bees will only sting in extreme circumstances – if they feel they’re being attacked or if their colony is under threat.
Wasp stings are very painful and can cause victims to go into anaphylactic shock if they have certain allergies. It’s best to consult a doctor as soon as possible after being stung, especially if you suffer a reaction. What makes wasps so dangerous is their close proximity to humans. Wasps often build nests around our homes, making them more of a threat than bees which tend to build hives in more remote areas. As a result, it’s important to teach children of the dangers of a wasp nest – children are curious and may interact with the wasp nest if they’re unaware.
Bee stings are similarly painful and contain a venom which can be fatal to those who are allergic. As with a wasp sting, it’s best to consult a medical professional if you have been stung. Whereas wasps can sting over and over again, honey bees will die after using their sting once. This is because it becomes detached from their body, leaving with it the bee’s digestive tract, muscles and nerves. Essentially, using their stinger tears a honey bee in half, so for your sake and theirs, it’s best not to provoke bees when you encounter them.
How big a threat are wasps and bees to humans? Generally speaking, they aren’t at all. As long as you leave them alone, they’ll mostly leave you alone too. That being said, you are far more likely to come across a wasps nest on your property, and if you do, it’s important to call a professional pest controller immediately.
Here at Inoculand, we have vast experience in removing wasp nests of all shapes and sizes in buildings and gardens around London and its surrounding areas. Our experts will give you the best advice to keep you and your family (and pets!) safe until we arrive on the scene. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can solve your pest problem.