Bee vs. Wasp: Differences and Similarities

How can you tell one from the other?

Solitary digger wasp on Mallow flower.
Michel Rauch/Getty Images

Some species of bees and wasps look very similar. Both can sting, both can fly and both belong to the same order of insects, Hymenoptera. The larvae of both look like maggots. They have many differences, too, in terms of aggressiveness, body characteristics and food types.

Close Relatives

Bees and wasps belong to the same suborder, Apocrita, which is characterized by a common narrow waist. It is this thin junction between the thorax and the abdomen that gives these insects a slender looking waist appearance.

The abdomen and thorax of a bee are more round, meanwhile, a wasp has a more cylindrical body.

Aggressiveness

Compared to wasps, bees are less aggressive. Most honeybees will die after stinging a predator or threat. This is due to the fact that their stinger is barbed. It stays in the target of the sting attack. The loss of its stinger causes bodily injury to the bee that eventually kills it.

A wasp is easily provoked and is more aggressive by nature, since it preys on other insects, while bees do not. Wasps can sting a target multiple times since its stinger is smooth and slips out of its target. A wasp can sting while you try to brush it away. And, when a wasp is harmed or threatened, it can release hormones to mark the target for a swarm to attack.

In general, neither bee nor wasp will look to attack humans. It usually does it out of self-defense or to protect its colony.

Food of Choice

Wasps are more predatory in nature.

They eat other insects such as caterpillars and flies. However, wasps sip on nectar too. They are attracted to the smell of human food, such as sugary beverages and beer.

Bees are vegetarian and are pollinators. They sip nectar from flowers and can also drink water and bring water back to the hive to clean it.

Home and Social Structure

Bees are highly social creatures. They live in nest or colonies that live and die for the queen bee and the colony. Hives are manmade homes for bees. A hive's internal structure is a densely packed matrix of hexagonal cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb. The bees use the cells to store food, such as honey and pollen, and to house the next generations' eggs, larvae and pupae.

For the most part, wasps are social, however, they can also choose to be solitary and live entirely on their own. Unlike honey bees, wasps have no wax producing glands. Many instead create a paper-like substance primarily from wood pulp. Also, solitary wasps can create a small mud nest, attach it to any surface, and make it its base of operations.

The nests of some social wasps, such as hornets, are first constructed by the queen and reach about the size of a walnut. Once the sterile daughters of the queen wasp come of age, they take over construction and grow the nest. The size of a nest is generally a good indicator of the number of female workers in the colony. Social wasp colonies often have populations exceeding several thousand female workers and at least one queen.

Quick Look at Apparent Differences

CharacteristicBeeWasp
StingerHoneybees: Barbed stinger is pulled out from bee, which kills the bee

Other bees: Live to sting again
Small stinger that slips out from victim and wasp lives to sting again
BodyRounder body usually appears hairyUsually slender and smooth body
LegsFlat, wide and hairy legsSmooth, round and waxy legs