Bees vs. Wasps: Here’s the difference and why it matters
Summer. More time outside means an increased risk of getting stung by a wasp or a bee.
But why do bees sting? And why are some stinging insects, specifically wasps, more aggressive than others?
The answers lie in how these two groups live and what roles they play in the environment. Bees and wasps actually are related, which is partly why they look so similar, but their behaviors and lifestyles are very different.
First, bees and wasps eat different foods. Bees eat pollen and spend the majority of their day foraging. They are docile and will only sting to defend themselves. It is a common myth that bees die after they have stung and therefore can only sting once. This is really only true for honeybees, but all bees prefer to fly away rather than fight.
Wasps, on the other hand, are predators in the insect world. They spend most of their day hunting (keeping garden pests at bay) and will aggressively defend their nests. As the weather heats up and food sources become limited, wasps will seek out any source of protein (such as your fried chicken or picnic lunch) while bees shift to the next group of flowers in bloom and couldn’t care less about your food.
Next, bees and wasps also often live in different homes. Most bees live underground by themselves or in burrows in dead wood, such as a stump or twig. Only honeybees build hives of honeycomb wax and live in large colonies.
Wasps are famous for building huge paper nests often hung in trees or under the edge of a roof. They can also build their nests underground, burying the whole paper nest in one spot.
A bee will come and go from her nest but is often not noticed because she is by herself. Wasps live in large colonies, and many wasps come and go from the nest entrance constantly. So if you see a constant stream of “bees,” run, those may be wasps!
Lastly, if you’re brave enough to look closely, bees and wasps often look different. Bees are fuzzy with stout legs and thick bodies while wasps tend to be long and skinny with narrow waists and long, spiny legs. Both come in a variety of colors (many orchard bees are a gorgeous blue/green!), but knowing these subtle differences can help you decide who is OK to ignore as they fly by or hang out on a flower and who to avoid.
Bees are like the cows of the stinging insect world, and wasps are like lions. We need both to keep our families fed and our environment balanced and healthy. Knowing what to look for, you can stay safe by avoiding dangerous signs of wasp activity and also support pollinators by letting bees do their pollinating thing.
For more information, please visit oregonbeeproject.org
Nile McGhie lives in Talent.