What's the Difference Between Bees and Wasps? A Homeowner's Guide

Posted by Matthew Rathbone on February 04, 2023 · 4 mins read

If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve probably seen your fair share of buzzing insects in your backyard. But do you know the difference between the bees and wasps that call your yard home? Here’s a quick guide to help you identify these stinging insects and learn how to deal with them.

DIY Wasp removal recommendations

For non aggressive wasps I've had great luck spraying the nests with this Spectracide wasp remover in the evening. For more aggressive wasps I also use this rediculous looking upper torso Beekeeping suit. It seems silly, but trust me, it's amazing.

Bee Basics

Bees are typically plump and fuzzy, with rounder bodies than wasps. They’re often black and yellow (like bumblebees) or metallic green (like sweat bees). Bees are social insects that live in colonies, and they’re essential pollinators for many plants.

Types of Bees

There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world, but most of the bees you’re likely to encounter in your backyard fall into three categories:

  • Bumblebees: Large, fuzzy bees that are important pollinators for many flowers and vegetables.
  • Honeybees: Social bees that live in hives and produce honey. Honeybees are also crucial pollinators for crops like almonds and apples.
  • Sweat Bees: Small, metallic-green bees that are attracted to human sweat. They’re not aggressive and rarely sting unless provoked.

Wasp Basics

Wasps are generally slimmer and smoother than bees, with longer bodies and shiny skin. They’re usually brightly colored with black and yellow stripes, although some species are all black or black and white. Unlike bees, most wasps are solitary insects that don’t live in large colonies.

Types of Wasps

There are thousands of species of wasps, but here are a few common types you might see in your backyard:

  • Paper Wasps: Long, slender wasps with narrow waists and long legs. They build paper-like nests under eaves, in trees, or on other structures.
  • Yellowjackets: Aggressive wasps that live in large colonies and build papery nests in the ground or in enclosed spaces like attics or wall voids.
  • Mud Daubers: Solitary wasps that build tube-shaped nests out of mud. They’re not typically aggressive, but they can be a nuisance if they build nests in or around your home.

Dealing with Stinging Insects

While bees and wasps are important pollinators, they can also be a hazard if they nest near your home or if you disturb their nests. Here are some tips for dealing with stinging insects:

  • Stay Calm: If a bee or wasp approaches you, stay calm and still. Swatting at it or running away can provoke an attack.
  • Identify the Nest: If you notice a lot of bees or wasps in a particular area, try to locate their nest. Bees usually build their nests in enclosed spaces like hollow trees, while wasps prefer open areas like eaves or gutters.
  • Consider Professional Help: If you have a large or dangerous nest on your property, it’s best to call a professional pest control company to remove it safely.
  • Prevent Nests: To prevent bees and wasps from building nests near your home, keep your trash cans tightly sealed and clean up any food or drink spills promptly. You can also hang fake wasp nests (available at hardware stores) to discourage wasps from building real ones.

In conclusion, bees and wasps may look similar, but they have different behaviors and nesting habits. By understanding the differences between these stinging insects, you’ll be better equipped to identify them and deal with them safely.