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How to identify bees from wasps

Learn How You can Identify Bees From Wasps


When you hear something unknown humming by your head, it's natural to feel somewhat apprehensive, but you shouldn't always act on that sentiment. Bees and wasps are quite different, and taking the time to identify what you've encountered is the best way to deal with a situation. Here are a few signs to look for.


Although different species can be similar in size, a closer look will reveal some key distinctions. Unlike wasps, whose waists are extremely narrow, bees invariably feature thick, rounded bodies — This is partially because their fatter shapes make it easier for them to pick up pollen from flowers and carry it back to their nests. Wasps primarily feed on other insects, and they have an appropriately aggressive look. If your food seems to be attracting unwanted guests, they're probably wasps.

Other key differences to note include the fact that certain wasp species, such as paper wasps, have long rear legs that hang down while they fly. Hornets and yellow jackets, which are in the same family, tuck their legs up while they're in the air. These wasps' complete lack of pollen baskets, or big orange or yellow lumps on their rear legs, make it easy to distinguish them from bumblebees and honeybees.


Although common wasp species can sport a bit of hair, it's far less than what a typical bee has — Many look positively fuzzy. Once again, this is largely due to the different adaptations they've developed to support their feeding habits.


Most beehives hang from trees and other elevated spots, but a few are underground. Whereas these amazing structures are made of wax, wasps typically build their homes from paper that they create by chewing up dead plant materials.


Wasps and some bees can sting, but they typically only do so if you provoke them. While you'll usually be alright if you just pay attention to your surroundings, wasps tend to act more aggressively and may be willing to dive bomb you if you don't respect their personal space. Again, this typically happens as a reaction to you getting too close to their nest or stepping on one of them.

Also consider that while individual wasps can sting you multiple times, bees pay a high price for doing so — In most species, the stinger gets ripped off when used. This kills the insect, so they don't attack unless it's their last resort.

Dealing With Insects in Your Vicinity

Regardless of whether you confront a friendly bee or an aggressive wasp, the best reaction is to chill out. Staying calm or leaving the area are the smartest ways to avoid a bad situation.

Remember, these creatures play crucial roles in our already stressed-out ecosystem, with bees pollinating flowers and wasps consuming other insects in healthy food chains. In other words, needlessly harming any insect is never the answer. In most cases, you'll actually attract more aggression by hurting one of these creatures, so be kind — and smart — by just letting them be.