Hornets Vs. Wasps Vs. Bees: Major Differences, Identification And More (2023)

Knowing your winged and stinging insects is pretty important for homeowners, both so they can better understand the biodiversity on their property and so that they know which insects pose danger to them. Although bees, wasps and hornets are frequently misidentified as one another, there are some pretty significant differences.

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Hornet vs. Wasp vs. Bees: Key Differences

Although bees and wasps are both members of the same Order, Hymenoptera, they’re hardly the same insects. Hornets, on the other hand, are actually just a type of wasp, so in essence, they are the same as wasps, but with some specific behaviors that are different from the general wasp population.

Both groups have a huge range of behavior and appearances, making it a little more difficult to identify the less common bees and wasps that may be out and about in the spring, summer and fall. But there are traits that each group shares.

Bees Sting Only Once, If At All

Bees, unlike wasps and hornets, have barbed stingers and laid-back personalities. They almost seem to realize that they have just one opportunity to sting, and doing so will mean the end of their lives. So unlike social wasps and hornets, which can sting as many times as they please due to a smooth stinger, bees tend to be extremely docile unless mishandled, and if they sting, can only physically do so one time.

Wasps and hornets, on the other hand, can be pretty aggressive about protecting their nests, which can lead to serious multiple-stinging events, called mass envenomation, if many wasps are working together. The most common trigger is a homeowner trying to remove a wasp nest without the proper equipment or training.

Wasps Look Very Different From Bees

Wasps and hornets are easy to distinguish from bees if you very calmly look at them while they’re resting. Bees usually have a lot of fuzzy hair on their bodies, though aren’t always covered from top to bottom, and rather wide waists. Some bees, like bumblebees and carpenter bees, are almost cartoonishly proportioned.

Wasps and hornets, on the other hand, have very narrow waists. They also tend to be more long and skinny than bees, and have little or no hair on their bodies. You may not notice the hair on bees or wasps, but you’ll certainly notice the pollen that clings to it as they go about their business.

Bees Are Vegetarians, While Wasps Are Not

Picnics are popular times for bees and wasps to come out to visit. Wasps often become massive nuisances at barbeques because they often prefer meat or meat scraps to pollen (although many are important pollinators). Bees, on the other hand, rarely visit these events except to pass through, since there’s little there to interest them.

Wasps are not shy and will happily land on a can of soda or crawl inside a cup looking for food. If you see a stinging insect while picnicking or having a barbeque, it’s best to assume it’s a wasp until you know for sure. Cleaning up trash right away can help keep wasps from making themselves a plate.

Wasps Nests Are Built With Chewed Wood Pulp

One of the more common places to encounter wasps is near their nests. Since many are very shy, you may have only ever seen them when you’ve noticed a nest hanging from the eaves of your home, in a nearby tree or in attic spaces. Although not all wasps build hanging nests, some instead burrowing in the ground, the ones that do have a very distinct look.
Wasps and hornets both use chewed up wood pulp to fashion nests from a gray-brown “paper” that they sculpt into various shapes. For example, paper wasps generally build little umbrella shaped nests made up of cells exposed to the outside world; hornets may construct huge egg-shaped nests that are completely enclosed and that can hold thousands of hive members.

Social bees construct nests in hollows, using wax. Their nests are very distinctive and generally a light yellow to golden color, depending on the resources available to them.

How to Identify Wasps vs. Hornets vs. Bees

There are many kinds of wasps, hornets and bees out there, and they vary widely in appearance, but you can generally tell a wasp or hornet from a bee by their body build. Wasps are narrow-waisted and waifish, where bees are sturdy, with wide waists. Knowing more about types of each can help to identify bees, wasps and hornets.

Types of Wasps

Hornets Vs. Wasps Vs. Bees: Major Differences, Identification And More (2)

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There are tons of different kinds of wasps out there, from very small wasps that only parasitize harmful garden pests like caterpillars, to the big guys that can be scary to see buzzing around your back door. Yellowjackets are very common in the U.S., including the largest among them, the bald-faced hornet (which isn’t a hornet at all). Here are a few common wasps you might see:

  • Yellowjackets
  • Bald-faced hornets
  • Paper wasps
  • Mud daubers
  • Cicada killers
  • Solitary wasps

Types of Hornets

Hornets Vs. Wasps Vs. Bees: Major Differences, Identification And More (3)

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Hornets are very large wasps, but besides that, are otherwise identical. Hornets are wasps, but not every wasp is a hornet. They do have a few distinctive behaviors, like building large, cone- or egg-shaped nests. You really should not mess with them and if you find a nest, call a professional for help. There are only two types of true hornets in the U.S.:

  • European hornet
  • Asian giant hornet

Types of Bees

Hornets Vs. Wasps Vs. Bees: Major Differences, Identification And More (4)

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There are over 4,000 types of native bees in the U.S., making it impossible to even begin to list them all. For most people, the bees they’re most likely to see are social bees, like honey bees and bumblebees. A few lucky people may also run into native bees in diverse colors, from greens to yellow, blue and black, and a range of sizes, some smaller than a pencil eraser and others as big as a half-dollar. Here are a few common bees:

  • European honey bee
  • Bumblebee
  • Carpenter bee
  • Orchard bee
  • Mason bee
  • Other solitary bees

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Pros and Cons of Hornets, Wasps and Bees

Stinging insects can be intimidating to have hanging around, but once you understand their behavior and the reasons they do the things they do, it’s much easier to let them help out around the house and garden. Although being stung by anything is a massive con for homeowners, hornets, wasps and bees offer a laundry list of pros.

All of these insects, for example, do some amount of pollinating, even though bees generally get all the credit. Wasps are also prolific pollinators, and in some cases, are the sole pollinators of specific plants.

Wasps and hornets are also aggressive hunters, many varieties having very specific prey. For example, some parasitic wasps lay eggs on tomato hornworms, inadvertently protecting your tomato crop. Others directly kill and eat insects like grasshoppers and cicadas.


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How to Remove Hornets, Wasps and Bees

Removing large stinging insect nests is never something that a homeowner should attempt on their own. They’re often inaccessible, like underground yellowjacket nests, or filled with hundreds or thousands of angry stinging insects that will take you down with them. Hiring a pro is the smart move for most.

In the case of small paper wasp nests protected by just a few individuals, drenching the nest with wasp spray from a dozen feet away is generally a safe move. Make sure to leave the nest hanging until you’re certain that all the wasps are dead.

Bees, on the other hand, should be removed by a beekeeper. You can call a local beekeeping club or your university extension to be connected to an expert keeper in your area. They’ll happily relocate the bees, and generally for free.

If you’re facing hornets or bigger wasp nests, there’s no substitution for professional help. Hundreds of angry wasps stinging you at the same time is a recipe for hospitalization or death, and calling a pro is far cheaper than an emergency room bill.

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How do you identify hornets? ›

Identifying a Hornet By Sight

A hornet, like a wasp, has a thin waist between the thorax and the abdomen. This physical trait is known as being "wasp-waisted." It distinguishes them from the bee family, which have thick waists between the thorax and abdomen. Look for black and white coloring.

How do you identify a wasp and a hornet? ›

“The main difference between hornets and wasps such as paper wasps and yellow jackets is size, with hornets being more robust and larger in size by comparison. Additionally, hornets are social insects whereas wasps can be social or solitary, depending on the species.”

What are the differences between hornets and bees? ›

Hornets are usually longer and slenderer than bees. Color – Bumble bees and honey bees have orange-yellow, black, or tan stripes. Carpenter bees have special coloration, often appearing black or metallic green or blue. Hornets, on the other hand, have mostly brown bodies with yellow stripes or hints of red.

What is the difference between bees wasps hornets and yellow jackets? ›

Technically, hornets and yellow jackets are just types of wasps. Whereas bees are herbivores, wasps are omnivorous and will eat meat, spiders, and other insects in addition to plants. Although wasps do help control populations of agricultural pests, in general wasps are far less environmentally beneficial than bees.

What does a common hornet look like? ›

Hornets appear very similar to common wasps, but are larger and coloured chestnut-brown (rather than black) and yellow. The largest of the British social wasps, they build papery nests in hollow trees, although hornet nests have been discovered in wall cavities and chimneys.

Is A Yellow Jacket A hornet or a wasp? ›

Yellow jackets are a type of wasp with yellow and black markings. Most yellow jackets build their nests underground but a few species build them in trees or buildings. They are scavengers and hunters that target protein for food and are beneficial for eating insects, both dead and alive.

What kind of bee has black and yellow stripes? ›

Agapostemon Sweat Bee.

These bees have distinct markings. Males have a green head with a black and yellow striped body. Females are less colorful, being mostly just green. These bees nest in the ground, but are attracted to sweat (hence the name) and will land on sweaty exposed body parts (arms and legs).

Do hornets bite or sting you? ›

Stings by bees, wasps, and hornets are common throughout the United States. Some ants also sting. Stings by bees, wasps, hornets, and ants usually cause pain, redness, swelling, and itching.

What kills wasps instantly? ›

“Soap will kill wasps.” I thought: Of all of the preposterous, redneck, stupid home remedies I'd ever heard of, using dish soap to kill wasps instantly topped the list. Gary explained how he puts liquid soap into a spray bottle with a little water, then sprays a stream of it to kill unwanted wasps around his house.

Is A Yellow Jacket considered a wasp? ›

Yellowjackets are bee-sized social wasps that build paper nests, usually underground. They usually have beelike black and yellow bands on their abdomens, but unlike honeybees, they are not densely hairy, nor do they collect pollen. Yellowjackets have yellow or white faces.

How can you tell a wasp from a bee? ›

Bees are rounder with fuller bodies, thicker legs and most notably fuzzy hairs. These hairs help them collect pollen. Wasps are slimmer, have narrow waists and thin legs. Their bodies are smooth and shiny without hairs on them.

Are hornets just big wasps? ›

Hornets are specific types of wasp and are usually a little rounder and fatter than the common wasp. Although they nest in the same way, hornets are known to be less aggressive than wasps if unprovoked.

Which is more aggressive a wasp or bee? ›

Wasps are generally more aggressive and likely to attack anything they think is a threat. If you find the wasp's nest hanging from a tree branch or under the eaves of the house, stay away from it. Wasps will attack if humans go too close to the nest. They also tend to defend their nests over longer distances than bees.

Are hornets good for anything? ›

Like most living things on our Earth, hornets have a purpose. They help rid the world of unwanted garden pests – aphids – that damage and ruin gardens and crops by feeding on their young greenery.

Do yellow jackets make nests like hornets? ›

Paper Wasps – Paper wasps (as well as hornets and yellowjackets) construct nests of a paper-like material containing finely-chewed wood fragments and salivary secretions. They typically build their umbrella-shaped nests in protected locations, such as under eaves, gutters and ledges, or in attics, barns or sheds.

Does a hornet hurt worse than a wasp? ›

Aggressiveness. Hornet vs wasp: hornets are very aggressive and can sting multiple times, additionally stings can sometimes be fatal to humans. Wasps are even more aggressive compared to bees and wasps can also sting more than once.

What to do if a hornet stings you? ›

To treat a sting from a bee, wasp, or hornet, dermatologists recommend the following tips:
  1. Stay calm. ...
  2. Remove the stinger. ...
  3. Wash the sting with soap and water.
  4. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. ...
  5. Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication.

Do hornets recognize you? ›

Bring on the insects

Recently we developed methods for testing wasps in the same way. Our existing research shows that honeybees and wasps can learn to recognise human faces.

Should I destroy a yellow jacket nest? ›

Yellow jackets become more aggressive as early fall approaches making them more likely to sting, which is why if you have a nest on your property now is the time to treat or remove it.

How far will yellow jackets chase you? ›

Yellow jackets will chase you. The instinct to protect the nests is strong for this insect. For this reason, they have been known to give chase for several yards. They will even go around obstacles or hover near water and wait.

What kills yellow jackets instantly? ›

Dry ice. To kill wasps on contact, purchase some dry ice and dump it into a ground nest. Quickly cover the entry and exit holes with dirt.

What are the big fat bees called? ›

Carpenter bees are large, often an inch long and fairly fat. They are generally all black, though some may have yellow markings around their head, which is why they're often mistaken for bumblebees.

What are the big fat bees that hover? ›

Having carpenter bees about can be scary because, well, they are whopping big bees. And when you move into territory where they're trying to do business, the males especially will confront you. It's intimidating — and it's supposed to be — when a male buzzes you, sometimes hovering right in your face.

What are the fat bees that hover? ›

You've probably noticed large, shiny, black bees hovering around your home in the spring. These are called carpenter bees, a species in the genus Xylocopa of the subfamily Xylocopinae.

What sting hurts the most? ›

Pain Level 4

Schmidt's original index rated only one such example, the sting of the bullet ant, as a 4. Schmidt described the sting as "pure, intense, brilliant pain...like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel."

How far will hornets chase you? ›

If you are standing near the proximity of their nest, try to walk straight. Wasps won't chase you after 50 to 100 feet away. Do not approach a wasp's nest: Stay away from a wasp or a bee's nest.

Is vinegar good for wasp stings? ›

Vinegar and lemon juice are great options if you're looking for a bee and wasp sting home treatment. Both contain a type of acid that will help to neutralise the sting and provide a soothing sensation. Any vinegar will do, but apple cider vinegar is ideal.

What does Dawn soap do to wasps? ›

Soap & Water

Some wasp removal experts say that you can handle small hanging nests with a bit of soapy water. Mix 2 tablespoons of dish soap in a spray bottle and fill with water. The soap will clog their spiracles, the pores that they breathe through, and will kill them almost immediately.

Will wasp nest go away if you knock them down? ›

Knock it Down

Knocking down a wasp nest will put you in danger of being stung. It will simply aggravate the wasps, not get rid of them or prevent them.

What does bleach do to wasps? ›

Yes bleach will kill wasps. Bleach is highly toxic to anything living - animals or plants.

What are wasps with dangly legs? ›

Paper wasps

You can identify these wasps by their dangling legs, which are visible even in flight. The key to these insects is to leave them alone – they only attack if they feel they, or their nest, is threatened.

What is the average lifespan of a wasp? ›

So, how long do wasps live? The lifecycle of a wasp depends on the species, but in general a worker wasps life can last from 12-22 days, while a queen can live up to a year. There are many different types of wasps in North America, paper wasps and yellowjackets being the two most common.

What is the natural predator of yellow jackets? ›

This insect developed such a defensive behavior due to the actions of predators like raccoons and skunks. These small carnivores dig out yellow jacket nests in hollow logs or underground to eat the tasty larval and pupal wasps inside.

Which sting hurts more wasp or hornet? ›

The strength of the venom varies among species, but hornet stings are generally more painful to humans than other wasp species, due to a large amount of acetylcholine. Stings are rarely fatal to humans (excepting allergic reactions), but swarms of hornets can be deadly.

Which is worse bee sting or wasp sting? ›

Wasp stings can be much more painful than bee stings. This is due in part to the fact that wasps are capable of stinging repeatedly—often in the same spot. Wasps are more aggressive and will sting at will, especially when they are provoked or when their nest is threatened.

Do wasps remember what you look like? ›

Experiment suggests social wasps evolved an efficient facial recognition system. Golden paper wasps have demanding social lives. To keep track of who's who in a complex pecking order, they have to recognize and remember many individual faces.

What is a very large wasp called? ›

A. The large wasps you're seeing are called cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus). They are easily identified by their large size — nearly two inches in length.

What eats wasps? ›

Insects, mammals, birds, and reptiles eat wasps. Insects like beetles, centipedes, dragonflies, hoverflies, spiders, moths, robber flies, and praying mantis eat wasps. Wasps are omnivores because they eat various plant-based foods and other insects.

What can sting you in the grass? ›

Bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants and scorpions that inject venom from the tip of their abdomen are sometimes considered beneficial because of their importance in pollination or because they prey on other pest insects. However, anyone who has ever been stung by one of these creatures will usually think otherwise!

What is the meanest stinging insect? ›

According to Schmidt, the warrior wasp, tarantula hawk, bullet ant, red harvester ant, and paper wasp are the most pain-inflicting insects in the world. The Schmidt Pain Index ranks insect stings on a scale from 0 to 4.

What is the most hostile wasp? ›

The baldfaced hornet is a member of the yellowjacket family. They are aggressive and will attack anything (or anyone) that invades their space. They can sting repeatedly and their sting is very painful.

What is the most harmless wasp? ›

Despite their large size and bright yellow and brown coloring, cicada killers are harmless to humans—they're “gentle giants of the wasp world,” Schmidt says. Male cicada killers don't sting, and, unlike Asian giant hornets, female cicada killers avoid people and rarely deploy their stingers.

Should I destroy a hornets nest? ›

Your first reaction may be to try to knock the nest down on your own, but we suggest that you refrain from doing so. Hornets build paper thin gray nests that hang near the ground or way up high. Each year they will build an entirely new nest. They are social insects that work together for the good of the colony.

What attracts hornets to your yard? ›

The availability of food is usually the reason that they are attracted to your property. Things that attract hornets and wasps include: Plants and trees – Sweet-smelling plants and fruit-bearing trees provide a sugary fix for stinging insects.

Do hornets eat mosquitoes? ›

As scary as they are, most kinds of yellow jackets and other wasps, such as bald-faced hornets, are beneficial because they eat astounding numbers of aphids, mosquitoes, caterpillars, houseflies and a host of other insect pests.

Where do hornets go in winter? ›

Interestingly, all the worker hornets die during winter while the fertilized females live. They hibernate in shelters until the temperature rises above 50 degrees. Mated queen hornets seek shelter anywhere it's warm. This includes under tree bark, roofing tiles, and mulch.

What animal will destroy a yellow jacket nest? ›

This also applies to shy skunks, possibly opossums, and even armored armadillos. These creatures also love to dig up yellowjacket nests and eat that precious, precious protein.

Will yellow jackets return to a sprayed nest? ›

Nests treated with aerosols will almost always bounce back. The preferred material for bee and wasp control in a wall void is an insecticidal dust. These can be difficult to find at your local hardware store.

What attracts hornets to houses? ›

The insects are often attracted to scraps near outdoor eating areas. Homes with protected nooks on outdoor siding and hard-to-reach soffits provide ideal spots for hornets to make nests. These areas are within range of food sources like flowers, garbage cans, and road trash.

What are the different types of hornets? ›


What does a hornet best look like? ›

A hornets' nest is a paper-like structure made from wood chewed by hornets. The size of a hornets' nest can depend on the size of the colony but can be as large as a basketball and appear to be made out of a paper mache-like material. Most nests are shaped in the form of a teardrop and contain one single entrance.

What's the difference between a yellow jacket and a hornet? ›

In general, the term “hornet” is used for species which nest above ground and the term “yellowjacket” for those which make underground nests. Similar to bees, hornets and yellowjackets are social and live in colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals.

What smell do hornets hate? ›

Peppermint oil: Wasps and hornets hate the smell of peppermint oil! So, take a cotton ball soaked in peppermint oil and place it near areas where you've seen wasps and hornets. You can also add a few drops of peppermint oil to a spray bottle filled with water and use it to spray areas.

Do hornets sting for no reason? ›

Hornets Are Not As Aggressive As You Think

Like most nest building insects, hornets will usually only attack to defend their colony or when they feel it is being threatened. This is mainly only when someone or something comes within close proximity of the nest (the radius of this is usually 6-10 feet) .

What time of day are hornets most active? ›

Since the workers are active at night, nighttime is the best time to watch them to learn where their nest is located. Hornet nests are often difficult to reach and to treat.

What are the deadliest hornets? ›

So they've earned the nickname “the murder hornet,” but really they're known as the Asian giant hornet, and they usually live in Asia. That's where they have developed the nickname because they are a voracious consumer of honeybees.

Do hornets sting worse than bees? ›

A sting of a hornet hurts more than a sting of a bee or a wasp. This statement is probably true to anyone who has ever been stung by these insects. All the more surprising is the fact that the sting of a hornet is up to 50 times less toxic than that of a bee. Nevertheless, the sting of the hornet hurts more anyway.

What are the killer hornets called? ›

Why murder hornets are getting a new name. Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia), which have become an invasive species in the Pacific Northwest, have a new common name: northern giant hornets.

Will a hornet chase you? ›

Even if you walk within a few feet of the nest by accident, these insects may swarm you in a concentrated attack, and if you run, they will chase you. Because their stingers are smooth, each bald-faced hornet will be able to sting you multiple times without causing harm to itself.

What is the most painful wasp sting? ›

Tarantula Hawk Wasp – Pain Scale: 4

As you would imagine, the tarantula hawk wasp is a very large wasp that feeds primarily on tarantulas. These wasps take the prize as the world's most painful wasp sting.

Is a yellow jacket sting worse than a hornet? ›

Yellow Jacket vs Hornet: Which is more venomous? Both types of insects can inject 2 to 15 micrograms of venom per sting. A hornet is known to give multiple stings in a matter of seconds. So, if someone receives multiple stings from a hornet, then it would be more venomous than a yellow jacket that stings once or twice.

Does a hornet sting hurt more than a yellow jacket? ›

A sting of a hornet hurts more than a sting of a bee or a wasp. This statement is probably true to anyone who has ever been stung by these insects. All the more surprising is the fact that the sting of a hornet is up to 50 times less toxic than that of a bee. Nevertheless, the sting of the hornet hurts more anyway.


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