Differences Between Wasps, Bees and Hornets and How to Identify Them

What’s the Difference Between Wasps, Bees and Hornets

We’ve all had to deal with a stinging insect at least once in our lifetime. The most common ones are bees, wasps, and hornets, but what is the difference between them and how does that have any influence on us as their victims? These different insects are very often confused for one another. They are members the order Hymenoptera, they have their similarities in their looks and lifestyle, but they are not the same and have a lot of differences as well.

The Fantastic Pest Control team is here to get some answers and help you distinguish between them and identify them correctly.

Appearance: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets


Bees are the fuzzy, black and yellow flying insects that you see flying around flowers. They live in social colonies maintained by an egg-laying queen bee and worker bees. Evolutionary, they have something in common with wasps and ants. There are nearly 20 000 species of bees, but in the UK they are over 250 bee species, including the most commonly known honey bees, bumblebees, and stingless bees. They play a crucial role in plant pollination. Their main diet is flower nectar. And yes, bees are the main honey-makers.

* You should know that bees are protected by law and must NOT be killed. If you find a bees’ nest near your home, contact a beekeeper to take it away without hurting the bees.


Wasps are flying insects that evolutionary have nothing in common with either bees or ants. The most commonly known types of wasps are yellow jackets and hornets. Similar to bees, wasps can be seen living in large colonies maintained by an egg-laying queen and non-reproducing workers.

However, most wasps are solitary, and each female lays eggs independently. A lot of them also tend to lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps. Unlike bees, wasps play almost no role in plant pollination, save for a few specific species. They are not protected and if you find a wasp nest you can get it removed by a professional wasp control service.


As mentioned above – hornets are a specific type of wasp, easily distinguished by the relatively large top margin of the head and the rounded yellow segment of the abdomen just behind the waist. Hornets are the largest out of the three insects. Some species reach up to 5cm or more.

Hornets live in big colonies with an egg-laying queen and non-fertile female workers. Only one species of hornet is found in Europe, Russia, and North America, and that is the European hornet. All other species are found in Asia.

Appearance: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets

Bees Wasps Hornets
Fuzzy bodies; black and yellow stripes. Black and yellow bodies, no fuzzy parts. Body is brown with small yellow stripes. Some species are black.

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Nests: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets

Just as they are different in their appearance and in their diet preferences, they also build different nests. If you’re having trouble telling the insects apart just by how they look, you can identify them by their nests. There are a number of ideal places that bees, wasps and hornets prefer to make their nests at. Some of these areas are window sills, verandas, ceilings, attics, walls, trees and shrubs. Whereas some wasp species make their nests underground.

Bees’ nests

Bees make their nests in hollow spaces – the holes of bricks, holes in walls, hollow spaces in trees or wooden materials. Some species like to nest in different kinds of soil. Their ideal places to make a nest are near flowers or orchards so they can have quick access to food.

Wasps’ nests

Depending on the wasp species, they can build their nests in hollow trees or wall cavities. Also on attics, lofts, balconies, or even on the outside corner of your window.

However, paper wasps, for example, build their nests mostly in trees and bushes, and as close to your home.

Hornets’ nests

Hornets prefer to build their nests in the trunk of a tree. But it is not uncommon to build nests in hollow walls, cavities, and also in your attic. Especially if you leave a food source for them out in the open, you can bet that they will come to stay.

Nests: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets
Bees Wasps Hornets
Rock crevices, hollow trees in close proximity to flower fields. Aerial and ground and underground nests. Aerial large nests.

Check also:

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Diet and Pollination: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets

Everyone knows that bees are the main pollinators of plants worldwide. But what some people are confused about is whether the other species – hornets and wasps – contribute to pollination, too. To eliminate the confusion, you should know that some of the wasp and hornet species pollinate as well. It happens as a result of their feeding on the pollen and then flying around dispersing it unintentionally.

Bees’ diet

Bees’ main food sources are nectar, pollen, ripe fruit, and sugars as a whole. They feed on orchards blossoms, herbs, spices, flowers, bushes, and ripen food. They may also come to suck the sugar out of your fruit juice.

Wasps’ diet

Wasps, on the other hand, can feed on fruit and nectar, but they are scavengers and hunters and prefer to eat meat. Wasps can prove beneficial to your garden and produce, as they eat flies, spiders, centipedes, ants, and other insects.

That’s the reason why they circle around your picnic table and your garbage bin. They will eat almost any food scraps and remains that you have.

Hornets’ diet

Hornets also prefer to feed on smaller insects rather than pollen or nectar. Their diet often consists of grasshoppers, caterpillars, crickets, and other insects found in your garden, even wasps. This makes hornets and wasps nature’s pest control experts.

They would eat ripe fruit and drink sap from trees, and would also come to join your picnic table, so be careful.

Diet and Pollination: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets
Bees Wasps Hornets
Flower nectar, ripe fruit, honey. Bees play a huge role in plant pollination. Flower nectar, other insects; scavenge for sweets and proteins. Some species play a role in plant pollination. Prey on other insects, scavenge for sweets and proteins. Some species play a role in pollination.

Stings: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets

How bad is a bee sting?

If a bee is out and about in the fields, looking for flowers to gather nectar and pollen, it will most likely mind its own business. There’s nothing to worry about. But, if you’re in close proximity to their hive, that’s another story. Bees would vigorously defend their nest from anything they deem a threat.

When a bee stings you, the sting pierces the skin and the insect injects its venom. In most cases, the stinger gets stuck in the victim’s skin and tears loose from the bee’s abdomen. This is a massive injury for the bee, so it dies. Honey bees are the only bee species that die after stinging. Bee stings aren’t deadly, as long as the victim doesn’t have an allergy to the venom.

How bad is a wasp sting?

Wasps would usually mind their own business, like bees and only attack if the hive is being threatened. But in late summer, the social structure of the colony breaks down, so wasps become aggressive, even if you’re not close to their nest. If you try to swat them, they will sting.

Unlike bees, a wasp can sting multiple times, without dying. A wasp’s venom can be a lot more dangerous too, depending on the aggressiveness of the species. In general, a few stings by a single wasp are not deadly, as long as the victim is not allergic to wasp venom.

How bad is a hornet sting?

Hornets are the most aggressive of the stinging insects, especially if their hive is disturbed. Hornet stings are more painful to humans than typical wasp stings because the hornet venom contains a large amount of acetylcholine. They can also sting repeatedly, unlike bees. The toxicity of their stings varies depending on the species.

The European hornet sting is not fatal, as long as the victim has no allergy. But multiple stings by non-European hornets may cause death. The stings of the Asian giant hornet cause 30 to 50 human deaths annually in Japan. Allergic reactions can be treated, and the hornet venom can be taken out of the body, as long as the person manages to find a hospital in time.

Stings: Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets
Bees Wasps Hornets
Not aggressive, unless the hive is in danger. Aggressive not just near the nest, but away from it too. Very aggressive when the nest is disturbed.

Which is worse a hornet or a wasp?

Both are bad in terms of being annoying and scary when they get in your face. Both are aggressive and easily get in defence mode and will attack without much hesitation if they feel threatened, annoyed, or if you’re waving your hands at them.

Their stings are painful and harmful if you’re allergic. Hornet’s sting hurts more than the sting of a bee or a wasp, but it has less venom in it.

On the Schmidt’s Index, a wasp and a hornet stings are equal at level 2 and some species at level 3, and a bee’s sting is at level 1.

How big is a hornet compared to a wasp?

Some hornet species can reach up to 5-5.5cm in length. That’s almost twice the size of a large wasp. The largest wasps can reach up to 2-2.5cm in length. And both are bigger than any bee species where the larger females can reach up to 1.5cm in length.

But is a queen wasp or a hornet bigger? Can you tell them apart? Yes, you can. The hornet is still bigger than a queen wasp. In fact, most wasp species’ queens are not bigger than the worker wasps. You cannot tell them apart by their size only.

The yellow jackets queen wasp is a bit longer than the workers, but in most other species it is not.

Do hornets kill wasps?

Yes, they do. They don’t actively seek them out in order to kill them. But if they meet, the hornet will likely attack the wasp, kill it, and eat it. A single wasp is unlikely to kill a hornet, but a wasp swarm can kill a single hornet and eat it.


Hopefully, we helped you better distinguish the back and yellow-striped flying insects in your garden and around your home. As you read above, no matter which species it is, you should stay away from them and from their nests. Especially if you’re allergic.

If there’s a bees, wasps, or hornets’ nest near your home that you wish to get rid of, you must call professional exterminators. But also, don’t forget that if the insects are bees, you should call a local beekeeper, not a pest control company.

But if you’re having an issue with wasps or hornets, you can feel free to contact your local Fantastic Pest Control experts to take care of them.

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Image source: Sten Roosvald/shutterstock.com

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