How to tell the difference between bees and wasps

How to tell the difference between bees and wasps… It’s unusual in England for it to be a lovely day, so when we do, we make the most of it.

However, there always seems to be one thing that disrupts it – those annoying wasps!

Wasps and bees are frequently confused, so we’ll bet you’ve run away from a bee more than once in your life. But how can you tell the difference between a wasp and a bee? 

We are going to reveal here some of the main differences between them, and hopefully, it will help you next time.

In this article, we’re going to show you their key characteristics so that you can stop panicking every time you see a yellow jacket insect flying around your picnic area. So let’s find out how to tell the difference between bees and wasps: an illustrated guide.

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Table of Contents

Why are bees important to protect?

Honey bees and other types are important for our ecosystem to function. They pollinate the majority of plant life on this planet and as such play a vital role in agriculture and food production.

Bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy each year, according to The Telegraph newspaper. They contribute £150 million more than the Royal Family makes from tourism.”

Honeybee colonies have dropped from 250,000 in the 1950s to less than 100,000 today, owing to a dramatic reduction in worker bees.

There have been numerous efforts made to help the bumble bees and other types, some of which may be done at home by adding more flowers to your gardens and allowing your grass to grow a bit longer before cutting it.

bumble bee

Bees and Wasps Identification: An Overview

We’ve gone through the benefits of honey bees and other types, but social wasps aren’t all terrible; in fact, they’re excellent pollinators for our plants and crops. However, owing to their more aggressive behaviour, they have a poor reputation.

Bumble bees have furry bodies and are usually yellow, black or orange. They can’t usually sting more than once but generally don’t attack unless they feel that their hive is under threat.

Wasps on the other hand tend to be brown-grey in colour with long legs and one stripe around their abdomens. Their bodies are smooth rather than hairy, but some types of wasps do have hair which will make them appear darker coloured from far away. A Queen wasp and other types of wasps also fly quickly and aggressively.

wasp close-up

Wasp Nest Removal

If they aren’t causing you any problems, we recommend leaving them be. However, we understand that having them on a large scale, especially around children and animals, is an unpleasant experience. So it’s good to remove a wasp nest before they start to lay eggs.

Wasp stings are not particularly painful, and they generally leave little bumps that go away after a few hours. They can, however, be quite harmful, resulting in anaphylactic shock. As a result, unless the wasp’s nest is very early in its development, we strongly advise you to have a professional bug exterminator come out to get rid of it. Have a read of our wasp removal article that goes into more detail about this.

wasp nest in shelter

Bees Nest Removal

Bees nests on a smaller scale are much more common, and they usually do not require removal. Honey bees will only feel threatened if you come too close to their nest or startle them as they fly around the area looking for pollen.

If an entire beehive is established in your home, we advise that you contact a professional beekeeper who has experience with live honeybees.

The problem persists, though: how can we tell the difference between a bee and a wasp?

bee nest in nature

Bees and Wasps Identification: How to spot a wasp

Wasps have a smooth, shiny body and a slender waist that is connected to the thorax. Their antennae are straight with (elbows) at nearly 90 degrees whereas those of honey bees are bent. In addition, yellow jackets also have bright yellow or white markings on their chest as well as black or yellow bands around their abdomens. Here is a breakdown so you can digest this identification process:

Look at the body – Wasps have a waist, which is where their body joins. They are also thinner and have longer bodies and legs than that of a bumble bee.

What about the colour – When we think about wasps and bees, our minds jump to the black and yellow hues. The bright yellow stripes, on the other hand, are more apparent on a wasp than a bee. So if it appears bright yellow, it’s most likely a wasp.

What is the behaviour like – Wasps, on the other hand, are more aggressive by nature. They may not go out of their way to sting you, but they do tend to hover around people. Wasps will also be drawn to rubbish or human food if you believe your picnic is under attack, so it’s likely to be a wasp. Wasps can also attach beneficial insects

Analyse the nest – The nests of wasps are made from paper-like material with distinct grooves on them. They’re constructed of chewed wood pulp gathered throughout the early part of the year. A wasp nest is tiny at first (usually the size of a golf ball), but it can quickly grow to be larger than a football. They tend to fly in fairly direct flight paths after discovering a food source, therefore look for their activity wherever they’re coming from.

wasp stinger

Different wasp types

Yellowjackets: they are most commonly found in North America and can be recognised by their black heads with a yellow stripe across the thorax region. They also have golden-brown or reddish bands around their abdomens.

European hornet: these are some of the largest wasp species (largest in Europe) reaching up to 30mm long. Their nests usually grow very quickly, but will remain small if it’s not overpopulated with workers; this is because only fertilised queens survive winter hibernation. Therefore, European hornets tend to make larger nests than other types of wasps due to an abundant population size during summer months which makes them relatively easy targets for extermination.

Paper wasps: they are very thin and have brownish wings with a distinct set of yellow markings on their abdomens. Their nests usually consist of grey or paper-like material, which is why it’s also known as the “umbrella wasp”.

Potter wasps: these look for sheltered areas to build their nests such as hollow plant stems or crevices in rocks. They tend not to cause too much damage unless disturbed by humans, so any activity should be monitored rather than immediately removed from your property.

asian hornet in plants

Bees and Wasps Identification: How to spot a bee

Look at the body – Bees have a broad waist that joins the thorax to the abdomen. This means they are very hairy and rounder than wasps which tend to be more of an oval shape (although this is not always true).

What about the colour – There isn’t another insect with yellow and black stripes like bees, so you can easily distinguish them from was

What is the behaviour like – Bees are less aggressive than wasps and would rather flee from a person who approaches them. Bees will also tend to get “lost” inside homes, whereas wasps can easily navigate their way through small spaces; they’re more accustomed to living in colonies with one another instead of alone like solitary bees (which is unusual).

Analyse the nest – A bee’s nest consists of wax which is injected into the material where it then grows. This means that you will usually find their nests in trees, walls or other areas with hollow spaces for them to build upon.

bee eating honey

Different bee types

Honey bee: these are the most common type of bees that you’ll come across, making them easy to identify at first glance. They’re usually very hairy and big in size (compared to other types of queen bees), which is why they can sting multiple times like wasps if they feel threatened or agitated.

Bumblebee: their bodies tend to be much smaller than honeybees but will still have a similar yellow/black colouring with hair covering their entire body. However, bumblebees only have hair on parts of their thorax region instead of being fully covered – so it’s important not to get confused between this one and the honeybee!

Carpenter Bee: although carpenter bees aren’t as aggressive as some other species, they can still potentially sting if given the right circumstances (like any other type of bee). They’re usually black and yellow in colour but can also be brown which makes them hard to spot at first glance.

Cuckoo bees: these look very similar to honeybees as you might expect, but their abdomens are much hairier than others and tend not to have a typical yellow/black colouring either (more like dark orange or red instead).

Cuckoo bees in flowers

Do wasps kill bees?

Wasps are usually very territorial and will kill other insects that get too close to their nests; this is especially true if they feel threatened or think another insect has come in for food. Honey bees rarely cause any problems like wasp stings, so it’s best not to kill them without knowing what kind of bee you’re dealing with first (to avoid causing harm).


Bees pollinate our crops and produce honey and beeswax. It’s critical not to prematurely exterminate them since they are an endangered species that requires safeguarding.

Knowing the difference between bees and wasps will not only assist us in protecting them, but it will also likely prevent us from panicking when one flies across our next BBQ.

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Oliver Wright

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