Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (2023)

We updated this article in June 2022 to add more information about each featured product, based on extensive research done by our team.

Well, it’s about that time: prime season for winged insects to peruse flowers and backyard barbecues, throwing quite the wrench into our favorite outdoor activities. Unfortunately, some of these flying insects sting too, making the odds of encountering a bee, wasp, or hornet pretty high during the warmer seasons.

But despite the fact that they are all capable of stinging you, bees, wasps, and hornets are actually pretty different. In a perfect world, you’d go through life never having to interact with one. You can spray all the insect repellant you can stand, but in reality, you’re probably going to have to cross paths with one or even all of these pests. So, it might be useful to know what you’re up against when you do encounter one of these flying critters by learning exactly who’s who.

Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (1)

Here’s how to tell bees, wasps, and hornets apart—from their looks to their habitat to their stinging power—so you know what you’re dealing with if and when you happen to spot one.


Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (2)

You probably know a bee when you see one. But when it’s stacked up against a hornet or wasp, it can be a little tougher to know what you’re dealing with.

What are the most common bee species in the U.S.?

The most common types of bees you’re likely to stumble across are honey bees, carpenter bees, and bumble bees, says board-certified entomologist Glen Ramsey, senior technical services manager at Orkin. “Another type of bee that may be seen in open areas of yards during the spring are solitary, ground-nesting bees,” Ramsey says.

(Video) Bee or Wasp? How to Identify Bees and Wasps

What do bees look like?

“Bumble bees and carpenter bees are robust insects that are rounder in shape and commonly black and yellow in color,” Nancy Troyano, Ph.D., board-certified entomologist and director of operations education and training for Western Exterminator Company. “Honey bees are banded orange-yellow and brown to black in color, but also hairy in appearance.”

Honey bees are likely the most common type of bee you’ll come into contact with, entomologist Roberto M. Pereira, Ph.D., an insect research scientist with the University of Florida. “They look fuzzy,” he says. “They have a lot of hairs covering their body to help them collect pollen.”

Bees usually range in size from a quarter of an inch to up to an inch long, Ramsey says.

Where can you find bees?

It depends on what kind of bee you’re talking about. Honey bees like to build hives in hollow trees, while bumble bees will nest in cavities like abandoned rodent burrows,” Troyano says. “Both can be seen on flowers as they forage for nectar,” she says.

Carpenter bees tend to nest in a “wide variety of wood,” including partially decayed trees or in structural timber that is exposed, Troyano says. They also like wood that has an unpainted surface.

Can bees hurt you?

Most of them can. “Bee stings typically result in immediate pain and localized reaction of mild swelling, redness, and itching at the site of the sting,” Troyano says. “However, for a person with allergies to bee stings, even one sting can be life threatening.”

When a bee stings you, its stinger detaches and continues to pump venom into you until you remove it, which doesn’t feel good, Pereira says. The pain doesn’t last forever, but a sting will usually cause swelling and itching before it all fades.

Worth noting: Honey bees typically die after they sting a person, and ground-nesting bees “are not aggressive,” so the odds of being stung by one are slim, Ramsey says.


Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (3)

For the record, wasps and hornets are not the same thing. “A hornet is actually a type of wasp,” Troyano says. “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 most common wasp species in the U.S.?

Paper wasps and yellow jackets are the most common, Troyano says.

What do wasps look like?

“Most wasps have a narrow or pinched waist and are black or have various markings of white, orange, or yellow,” Ramsey says. (Yellow jackets usually have yellow and black markings, though.) Unlike bees, they don’t have much hair.

(Video) What is the Difference Between a Hornet and a Wasp ? | Let's Teach Interesting Facts

Wasps also tend to range in size from a half inch to an inch long, although Troyano points out that yellow jackets tend to be shorter than paper wasps.

Where can you find wasps?

Wasps like to build their nests in spots like eaves, gutters, voids, bushes, branches, and along fences, Ramsey says. Paper wasp nests “look like upside down umbrellas,” while yellow jackets tend to build their nests in the ground, Troyano adds.

Wasps are predators, so they like meat, says Howard Russell, M.S., an entomologist at Michigan State University. “Yellow jackets certainly will forage on meats that are lying around, like hot dogs” he says.

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“A lot of times, people get stung because yellow jackets are right around their food when they’re eating outside.”

That means they also gravitate toward crumbs and spills from drinks, Ramsey says. But wasps also like plants and flowers.

Can wasps hurt you?

Yes—and wasps don’t lose their stinger when they attack, so they usually have no problem stinging more than once. “When threatened, paper wasps will sting readily, and can sting you multiple times,” Troyano says.

People tend to get stung when they either get too close to a nest or just happen to stumble into a wasp. “If a wasp is near or on you, and you panic and try to swat it away, it’s going to interpret that as an aggressive act,” Russell says. However, if you gently brush a wasp away from you and walk away, it should leave you alone.

Like bees, if you’re allergic to wasp venom, getting stung by a wasp can trigger a serious allergic reaction.

(Video) What Everyone Should Know About Bee & Wasp Stings 🐝🐝🐝


Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (5)

Hornets—which include the freaky Asian giant hornet—tend to be the largest of these stinging insects. Here’s what you need to know about them.

What are the most common hornet species in the U.S.?

 The European hornet, a.k.a. the brown hornet or giant hornet, is the main type of hornet in the U.S., Ramsey says. However, he says the bald-faced hornet is also pretty common. (Hornet fun fact: The bald-faced hornet isn’t a ~real~ hornet. Instead, it’s called a hornet “due to its larger size compared to other wasps,” Troyano says.)

What do hornets look like?

European hornets are large and reddish-brown with yellow stripes on their abdomen, Troyano says. Bald-faced hornets, on the other hand, are mostly black with a white pattern on their face, giving them a “bald” look, she says.

Where can you find hornets?

It depends on the type of hornet. European hornets like to make their nests in cavities like hollow trees and barns, Troyano says. But bald-faced hornets tend to nest in more exposed areas, like hanging from tree branches, shrubs, utility poles and eaves, she says.

Can hornets hurt you?

Yes—a lot. “Hornets will readily sting when feeling threatened,” Troyano says. “They can also sting repeatedly.”

That can cause some serious pain and injury, and even life-threatening issues if you’re allergic. “When someone is stung multiple times or is highly allergic to the insect’s venom, there can be systemic reactions that may affect the entire body,” Ramsey says. Most people will experience “intense pain,” redness, and swelling around the site of the sting.

Bottom line: If you spot a stinging winged insect, whether it’s a bee, wasp, or hornet, you probably want to go the other direction. You can try to figure out what it was later.

Hornet nest vs wasp nest

Telling the difference between a hornet nest and a wasp nest can be just as useful as telling the actual critters apart, as their nests are where they hang in and around. It can be especially important if you stumble upon one of these nests located around your home.

Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (6)

(Video) How Your Body Reacts to a Giant Hornet Sting

Hornet nest

European hornets tend to build their nests in wall or tree cavities and can often be found in attics or sheds as they hide the nests in “dark, hollow places,” according to Orkin. Bald-faced hornets typically build egg-shaped hives that can be up to two feet in length, typically found in trees, large bushes, or the roofs and overhangs of buildings.

Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (7)

Wasp nests

These nests vary in appearance and location. Some wasps build their nests above ground, while some are built below ground, Orkin explains. Above ground nests can likely be found in bushes, the voids of trees and walls, attics and other hidden locations. They can be identified by observing wasps flying in and out of these crevices and are usually made of a paper-like material or mud. Underground nests will be found beneath rocks, fallen logs, patios, driveways, or sidewalks.

Is That Stinging Insect a Bee, Wasp, or Hornet? Here’s Exactly How to Tell (8)

Korin Miller

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.

(Video) Beware of stinging insects: 5 things to know


How do you tell if it's a wasp or hornet? ›

Wasps Are Brighter, Hornets Are Larger

It can grow to twice the size of a yellow jacket or paper wasp, about 1 inch in length. Hornets tend to have a dull color, mostly brown with yellow stripes or black with a white head (the bald-faced hornet). Yellow jacket wasps are, well, bright yellow and black striped.

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 sting is worse wasp or yellow jacket? ›

Wasps from the Vespula and Dolichovespula genera are called yellow jackets in the US. Yellow jacket species are smaller than other wasps but more aggressive. They're more likely to sting than other wasps, but their stings hurt less.

Do wasps and hornets 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. Allergic reactions are uncommon but may be serious.

How do you know if a wasp or bee sting you? ›

“There isn't much distinction between bee and wasp stings,” said Dr. Kuhn, “although there is one telltale sign. Bees will leave a barbed stinger behind. Wasps, on the other hand, have a smooth stinger they can use more than once.” Dr.

How do you know if you get stung by a hornet? ›

Common, nonemergency symptoms

a raised, reddish area where the sting occurred. warmth near the sting. pain near the sting. itching.

How long will a wasp sting hurt? ›

Most bee and wasp stings cause symptoms such as swelling and discoloration that peak about 48 hours after the sting. The initial burning sensation and pain usually only lasts 1–2 hours. Discoloration can persist for 3 days and swelling for up to a week.

What insect has the worst sting? ›

For humans and other vertebrates, the tarantula hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index, with the help of variably willing or unwitting test subjects.

How do you stop a wasp sting from hurting? ›

Wash the area well with soap and water. Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth to help reduce swelling and pain (10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for a total of 30 to 60 minutes). If the sting happens on an arm or leg, keep the arm or leg raised to help reduce swelling.

Can a dead wasp sting you? ›

Can wasps sting you if they are dead? Yes — the venom sac at the end of a wasp sting keeps pulsing for a short period after a wasp dies, so if you come in contact with the sting you may still be injected with venom.

What to do after you get stung by a hornet? ›

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.

Can a wasp just bite you? ›

Most wasps are predators and feed on other insects. Wasps usually sting humans but will also bite people if they feel threatened. The aerial nesters and the yellow jacket will guard their territory by stinging and biting. In fact, aerial nesters are extremely aggressive and will actively protect their nests.

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 is the fastest way to heal a wasp sting? ›

Below you will find methods to treat a wasp sting at home to provide quick relief:
  1. Wash The Area. First, wash the affected area with warm soap and water. ...
  2. Apply Cold Pack. Wrap a thin cloth around an ice or cold pack. ...
  3. Take Anti-inflammatory Medication. ...
  4. Apply Antihistamine.
Dec 20, 2022

What does a wasp bite look like? ›

You're likely to develop a raised welt around the sting site. A tiny white mark may be visible in the middle of the welt where the stinger punctured your skin. Usually, the pain and swelling recedes within several hours of being stung.

What does a wasp sting feel like? ›

Witness these accounts of being stung by various insects: Bald-faced hornet: "Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door." Red paper wasp: "Caustic and burning.

What does a bee stinger in skin look like? ›

The stinger looks like a tiny black dot in the sting. Use a fingernail or credit card edge to scrape it off. If the stinger is below the skin surface, leave it alone. It will come out with normal skin shedding.

What does a hornet bite looks like? ›

Bee, wasp, and hornet stings cause immediate pain and a red, swollen, sometimes itchy area about ½ inch (about 1 centimeter) across. In some people, the area swells to a diameter of 2 inches (5 centimeters) or more over the next 2 or 3 days.

How many times can a hornet sting a person? ›

While bees lose their stinger (and in some cases die) after attacking you, hornets don't. “They can sting more than once,” Pereira says.

How long does a hornet sting reaction last? ›

A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site. A large local reaction will result in redness and swelling that extends beyond the sting site. The swelling may extend about 4 inches from the sting site over a period of a couple of days. It should get better within five to 10 days.

Where is the least painful place to get bitten? ›

The three least painful locations were the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm, all scoring a 2.3. Why were certain locations more or less painful?

Which insect bites take the longest to heal? ›

Horsefly bites may take a long time to heal because the insect cuts into the skin when it bites. This can increase the risk of infection.

What is best cream for insect bites? ›

For itching – ask your pharmacist about suitable treatments, including crotamiton cream or lotion, hydrocortisone cream or ointment and antihistamine tablets. For swelling – try regularly applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area, or ask your pharmacist about treatments such as antihistamine tablets.

What happens if a wasp sting stays in you? ›

It may remain swollen or painful for several days on people who are sensitive to insect stings. For others, the wasp's sting may disappear in as little as three days. If there is intense pain or swelling for days, it is possible you could be experiencing an allergic reaction or perhaps some kind of infection.

How long does it take for bee venom to get out of your system? ›

The faster they get medical help, the better the chance for recovery. The chances of future total body reactions increase when local reactions become more and more severe. People who are not allergic to bees, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets usually get better within 1 week.

Can you take Benadryl for wasp sting? ›

If itching or swelling is bothersome, take an oral antihistamine that contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine. Avoid scratching the sting area. This will worsen itching and swelling and increase your risk of infection.

What is the most aggressive insect? ›

The Red Imported Fire Ant

Although an individual fire ant cannot kill an individual, “they are known to be one of the most aggressive insects that exists,” Rivers says. “They will actually chase you. They're among the top 10 threats to agriculture because they will destroy anything in their path.”

Can wasps remember your face? ›

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 the hardest insect to catch? ›

The diabolical ironclad beetle is one tough critter, as its name might suggest.
  • The diabolical ironclad beetle is one tough critter, as its name might suggest.
  • Equipped with super-tough body armour, the insect can survive being stamped on or even run over by a car.
Oct 21, 2020

What will vinegar do to a wasp sting? ›

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.

Should you squeeze a wasp sting? ›

To treat the wasp sting:

Or, you can pull out the stinger with tweezers or your fingers. If you do this, do not pinch the venom sac at the end of the stinger. If this sac is broken, more venom will be released. Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water.

What Colours do wasps hate? ›

Although there's not one single colour that will repel wasps, wearing pale or light shades is your best bet to not attract them.

Why do wasps follow you? ›

Why do wasps and yellow jackets chase you? The answer is simple: they feel threatened and are protecting their nests. Wasps aren't particularly cruel creatures who want to chase or sting you. However, if they feel that they are in danger, they will do anything to protect themselves.

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.

Does a hornet stinger stay in your skin? ›

Do hornets leave stingers? Hornets are similar to wasps, and they also can tend to be more aggressive than bees. Additionally, with no barbs, hornets don't leave their stinger in the skin. They can also sting multiple times.

How painful is a hornet sting? ›

The sensation is like being “stabbed by a red-hot needle,” says Shunichi Makino, who studies wasps and bees at Japan's Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. Not only that, but the anguish lingers. “Usually, the stung part severely swells and continues aching for a few days,” Makino explains, via email.

Does vinegar help hornet stings? ›

Vinegar. Much like apple cider vinegar, the best way to treat wasp stings using vinegar is to apply it to a piece of cotton wool and place it on the sting. You can also use a cotton swab soaked in vinegar and rub it on the insect sting.

Should you touch a wasp? ›

Prevent insect bites and stings

remain calm and move away slowly if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees – don't wave your arms around or swat at them. cover exposed skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers.

What is the most painful hornet? ›

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.

When should I worry about a hornet sting? ›

Localized pain, itching, swelling and redness are common symptoms of an insect sting that can be treated at home. “But if the affected area spreads rapidly or if there are breathing problems or dizziness, it is something that needs immediate medical attention,” Dr. Afaneh says.

What is the least painful wasp? ›

Paper wasp. The least painful on this list, but still not exactly pleasant, is the paper wasp sting.

Should you put Neosporin on a wasp sting? ›

Avoid the temptation to scratch the sting area; it may increase swelling, itching, and risk of infection. Consider using an antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) on the sting site.

Will soaking in Epsom salt help a wasp sting? ›

Epsom Salts

These are excellent for reducing swelling and pain. They can also help your skin contract and expel any pieces of the stinger that are too deeply lodged to extract. Soak the affected area in a salt bath as needed.

What neutralizes a wasp sting? ›

Wrap a few ice cubes or an ice pack in a towel and place it on the affected area. Leave it for about 15 to 20 minutes and apply an antihistamine cream after. Cucumber - Fresh cucumber slices can also cool the area and provide you with temporary relief.

How do I identify a hornet? ›

Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings. Hornets vs wasps in appearance, wasps are generally slender, while hornets are rounder and “fatter.” Hornets are usually yellow and black striped like a stereotypical bee, while wasps may be striped or solid red, black, or even blue.

Are yellow jackets wasps or hornets? ›

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.

Is it a wasp hornet or yellow jacket? ›

You'll have to look closely to see hair on a wasp. Bald-faced hornets are usually a white and black coloring; yellow jackets are yellow and black; and paper wasps can be brown in color or yellow and black, like yellow jackets. All of these wasps are social insects. That means they can attack as a group.

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.

What kind of hornet comes out at night? ›

European hornets are much larger than yellowjackets and, unlike most stinging insects, can be active at night.

What happens if a wasp sees you? ›

So, if you see a wasp, simply stand as still as possible. Wasps are known for going on their way without bothering humans if they don't bother them. If you are chased by a wasp or even a swarm of wasps, the best thing to do is to run in a straight line about 50 to 100 feet.

What does a hornet looks like? ›

Hornets tend to have reddish-brown heads and thoraxes, with abdomens that are golden in color with dark brown stripes. The majority of wasp species are not social. Hornets are social insects.

How many times can a wasp sting? ›

How many times can a wasp sting? Unlike bees who are easily harmed when stinging, wasps can sting you multiple times without any negative consequences for them apart from the increased risk of being swatted. They do however run out of venom in the process, so there's only so much they can inject into their victims.

What is the most aggressive 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 kills yellow jackets? ›

Treat the nest with pyrethrum aerosols such as Stryker 54 Contact Aerosol or PT 565. Pyrethrum forms a gas that will fill the cavity, killing the yellow jackets on contact. Wait until the aerosol is dry, and then dust in the opening with insecticide dust such as Tempo Dust. The dust will prevent future hatch outs.

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.

What is the most painful sting in the world? ›

For humans and other vertebrates, the tarantula hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index, with the help of variably willing or unwitting test subjects.

Why are wasps so aggressive? ›

Wasps during spring and summer are only aggressive when someone threatens or disturbs their nest – so what seems hostile is actually defensive behavior. Unfortunately, they do often make their homes in areas that can be too close to or disturbed by humans.

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!


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