Thursday, September 1, 2011


I was reading a blog recently where the author posted a picture of a wasp and called it a bee which is the reason for this post.

I'm not blogging to make fun of anyone who confuses a bee with a wasp. Actually, I didn't even know there was a difference until I took a class with my daughter at our local nature center back in 1998. Up until then, anything that was black and yellow with a stinger was a bee to me. We took the class because I had a major phobia of bees but the nature center taught us that not all stinging insects are created equal nor are they all bees.

This is purely an educational post. Hopefully it will help people identify these insects when they come in contact with them and help them be less fearful of bees.

I will cover the ones most commonly seen in Minnesota. Other states may have different types of wasps or bees, I'm not sure.


Benefits: Wasps eat all kinds of insects and are great to have in the garden because they often eat the insects that are harmful to your fruits and vegetables.

Temperament: Paper Wasps tend not to be too aggressive unless their nests are disturbed. Yellowjackets get defensive if their hives are disturbed, when they are around food, or during certain parts of the season when food is scarce. Hornets are aggressive when nests are disturbed.

Body: Have a slender body, narrow waste, appear shiny with smooth skin. Slender, cylindrical legs. Wasps are the stinging insects most commonly encountered by people.

Food: Wasps are predators. They eat other insects. They will eat fruit juices as well. Hornets will forage for nectar.

Nests: Yellowjackets, baldfaced hornets, and paper wasps make nests from a papery pulp comprised of chewed-up wood fibers mixed with saliva. Yellowjackets commonly build nests underground and paper wasps will build there nests from overhangs such as a tree limb.

Hornets Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Peregrine Audubon

Yellowjacket Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Local Pest Control

Paper Wasp Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Ace Bees

What do they look like?

The Yellow Jacket

courtesty of The Bee Hunter

The Paper Wasp

courtesy of Snails Tales

The Hornet

courtesy of FCPS



Temperament: Honeybees are docile unless hive is disturbed. When out foraging they rarely sting. Mason bees will not sting unless strongly provoked. Bumble bees are defensive of their hive but more docile when out foraging unless stepped on or squeezed.

Body: Bees have robust bodies and are very hairy. Hind legs are flattened for collecting and transporting pollen.

Food: Bees feed on pollen & nectar from flowers.

Nests: Honey bees make a series of vertical honey combs made of wax. Their colonies are mostly in manufactured hives but they do occasionally nest in cavities in large trees, voids in building walls, or other protected areas.

Courtesy of bees on the net

Bumble bees use old mice burrows, cavities in buildings, and other locations to make their nests. Like honey bees, bumble bees make cells of wax.

Courtesy of Extermatrim

Mason bees (The female) uses existing holes in wood for a nest, the whole will be slightly larger than her body (1/8 of inch) and she puts a mud plug in one of the hole.

Courtesy of Help Save the Bees

What they look like?

Honey Bee

courtesy of NC Pedia

Mason Bee

courtesy of Gig Harbor

Bumble Bee

courtesy of Organic Garden Info.

Much of the information listed above came from the University of Minnesota.


Teresa Robeson said...

I can't tell you how much I LOVE this post and love that you did this post! =) Seriously, one of my beefs for decades is people calling anything that buzz/stung a bee. It was such a losing battle to tell ppl that bees are generally good (except maybe Africanized honey bees) and we shouldn't try to kill them.

Even wasps and yellowjackets serve certain useful purposes. Great post! Love that you have nice photos to go with them.

Writingfor5 said...

This was sooooo helpful! I have been looking into beekeeping and came across your blog 2 weeks ago. I appreciate all the knowledge you learn and share with us!

Michelle said...

Thank you for visiting my blog writingfor5! I'm glad that this post was helpful :)

Michelle said...

T, one thing they taught us about Africanized Bees in class is to look at them as the smart ones. They are prolific honey makers which is why they are so aggressive. They also defend themselves against ailments like mites better than the european bees. So, they defend themselves better from humans and other invasive things. The intelligent ones :) Once I started looking at them that way I had a whole new appreciation for them. Though I'd never want to meet one. LOL!

SoapSudsations said...

Thanks for a very informative post. Usually people are too busy swatting away at whatever's buzzing around them to know whether it's a bee or a wasp. Great pictures too which will really help with identifying them in the future.

madpiano said...

OK, anything in the bee-section is cute and lovely. Anything in the wasp-section is vicious and scary! OK, hornets aren't actually, as they are surprisingly docile unless near the nest. We have giant ones here, look very scary but don't even bother coming over to investigate people. Wasps on the other hand scare the living daylight out of me, especially when they are persistent and try to sniff me like an over-friendly dog. Or when they follow me while I am running away. Hate the things!

Teresa Robeson said...

That is a very interesting way of looking at Africanized Honey Bees! Like you said though, I'd stay away from them if I could...LOL!

Sam Smith said...

This is great, One thing I would add is there is a wide range of bumble bees, plus many other kinds of bee (leaf cutter is one), but this is very nice. Yea true Africanized bees are very robust one reason is they have more drones then commercial hives since foundation tends to inhibit drone production, this means since the aggressive gene is carried by the drone that they can cause one of our hives to become "hot" all of a sudden. It also means that Africanized queens are more robust (more drones competing over her) and better mated (lay more fertile eggs for longer). They are also nasty as hell, we think a couple bees chasing us 30' away is bad try 400+ 100' away :/

Michelle said...

Thank you Sam for the additional info on other bees. Africanized bees are interesting. I saw a picture in class of a beekeepers glove after working with Africanized bees, his glove was full of nothing but 100's of stingers. Crazy!

Ginamonster said...

Thank you for this! I didn't know there was a difference between Yellow Jackets and Paper Wasps. I think I have paper wasps in my mail box, but they aren't bothering me so I am leaving them alone.
We had yellow jackets in So Cal and they were often agressive. We had Africanized bees too but I thankfully never ran into any.
I like bees.

Carrie Garvin said...

Thanks for the educational post :) I never knew the difference- you are an amazing teacher!

Now can you help me with my fear of BEES- any kind.

Anne-Marie said...

I'm totally guilty of calling anything with a stinger a bee. Now I know the difference! =)

Michelle said...

AM, I still find myself calling "bee" when it is a wasp. All out of habit. I also learned that not all wasp look alikes are wasps. Unfortunately I killed what looked EXACTLY like a wasp when we were on a canoe trip just because it kept circling my daughters head. Turned out it isn't even a stinging insect. I learned this when I was looking up bees and wasps for this post. :( I feel terrible. It is a beneficial insect that just happens to look a like a paper wasp.