Wasps, Bees and Hornets: What Is the Difference? 

Get to know the similarities and the difference between bees, wasps and hornets.

Bees, wasps and hornets may belong to the order Hymenoptera and may look similar, but they are different insects.

How can you tell the difference between a wasp, a bee and a hornet? Let’s find out!

Close-up image of a bee flying in white background

What are Bees?

Australia is home to over 1,500 native bee species. They are important to our food supply because one one-third of our food relies on honey bee pollination. The hair on their bodies is useful as it is where pollen cling to when they are out foraging.

Bees are not aggressive by nature. In fact, most of the foraging is done by males, which don’t have stingers. Most bees, except honey bees and bumblebees, are solitary and live in underground nests.

Close-up image of a yellow bee

What are Wasps?

Wasps are close cousins of bees, but a closure look will reveal the differences in their appearance and temperament.

Wasps are very territorial and will aggressively defend their nest.

There are solitary wasps and social wasps. Most wasps live in a colony with a queen, female workers and drones, like honeybees. Solitary wasps live in underground nests or natural cavities, while social wasps build papery nests made from chewed fibres on tree limbs or the eaves of houses.

There are only three types of wasps that professional pest control specialists usually encounter: hornets, paper wasps and yellowjackets.

Like bees, wasps play an important role in the environment. Wasps act as natural pest controllers by eating other bugs such as spiders, caterpillars, beetle grubs, etc.

The negative reputation of wasps is mainly due to introduced species – two of them specifically.

The European Wasps is a major pest because it is highly aggressive. They like to hang around the BBQ and can build massive nests. The Common Wasp looks and behaves similarly to the European Wasp, except for their face markings.

A third, and most recent arrival, is the Asian Paper Wasp. Though less aggressive than the European Wasp, it could disrupt the natural balance between our native wasps and local ecology.

A hornet on top of it's nest

What are Hornets?

The first thing to know about hornets is that all of them are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets.

With more 20 species of hornets around the world, only a few are considered as pests. They are often misidentified as wasps, especially yellow jackets. What sets them apart is that hornets are bigger than wasps and they have a more unique and large nests.

The types of hornets that are usually encountered by pest control specialists are the Bald-Faced Hornets and the European Hornets.

They are not aggressive by nature. In fact, scientists have discovered that hornets are peaceful and shy insects. However, they will attack if something or someone comes within close proximity of their nest. Their nests can be found in attics, treetops, under roofs, hollow tree trunks, sheds, etc. as well as enclosed areas that offer support and security.

Like wasps, hornets are mother nature’s pest controllers because of their appetite for other insects, such as aphids. Wasps prey on bees, which provide protein and sugar.

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How Does Bees, Wasps and Hornets Differ in Appearance?

A bee’s body has three parts: a head with two antennae, a thorax with six legs, and an abdomen. Their bodies are fuzzy, with yellow and black stripes, and they have two pairs of wings. Stingers are attached only on female bees.

Bees comes in a variety of colours, black and yellow, green, red, blue, depending on the species. Some have stripes and others possess a metallic sheen.

Wasps and hornets are similar in appearance. The main difference is their size and colour. Wasps measure about one-third inch to one-inch long. Hornets are bigger. Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings on their bodies.

Bees and wasps and hornet also differ in their role in our environment. Whereas bees help pollinate plants, wasps and hornets help control the population insects, which might become destructive if their numbers are left unchecked.

All three insects sting, which makes them dangerous, especially those who might develop an allergic reaction to their venom. However, bees, unlike wasps and hornets, die after they sting.

Basic Difference Between Wasps and Hornets

Bees and wasps went their separate ways along the evolutionary path more than 100,000,000 years ago. Bees are vegetarians, while wasps and hornets are omnivorous, targeting other insects as a food source.

Wasps and hornets are in the same class, which makes them appear similar to untrained eyes.

Here is how to tell the difference between wasps and hornets:

Body Type:

The bodies of wasps and hornets are separated in three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. Wasps have thin waists, while hornets have thicker and rounder abdomen and midsection.


Most species of wasp measure between one-fourth inch and one inch in length. Hornets are bigger, with one species, the Asian giant hornet, capable of growing 2 inched in length.


Hornet stings are more painful than wasp stings. This is because hornets carry a neurotoxin, which can have a deadly consequences.

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The Life Cycle of Bees, Wasps and Hornets

Wasps, bees and hornets have the same basic life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

These three insects live in a colony, which is ruled by a queen. The queen can deliver between 1,000 to 30,000 eggs, depending on the conditions where the nest is located. A location that is damp, cool and with plenty of food will result in a higher number of eggs.

The life of a queen can last up to five years. The drones, or the males, can live for 40-50 days. Worker bees, the females, can live from one to four months.

How to Prevent Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings?

Here are the best ways to protect yourself and your family from a bee, wasp or hornet sting while enjoying the outdoors or simply going about your daily routine.

Make your home unattractive to bees, wasps and hornets. You can do this by disposing your garbage properly, cleaning your outdoor BBQ area, and tidying up around your property after you’re done with outdoor activities.

If you see a nest in your property, which may be a suspicious hole in your wall or ceiling, don’t even think about touching it. Warn your family members to stay away from it. Don’t disturb it, not even to just spray chemicals on it.

The best way to deal with it is to call your local residential and commercial pest control expert. They have the experience and technology to remove and treat bee, wasp and hornet nests safely and effectively.

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