What’s the Difference Between Wasps and Bees?

Difference Between Wasps and Bees
Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Wasp and bees are wonderful insects that play a crucial role in our ecosystem. Because they look similar, people often confuse one for the other and use them interchangeably.

Nevertheless, there is a marked difference between wasps and bees; we will explore that in this article. 

These creatures belong to the same order of insects as the ants- the Hymenoptera order. They also tend to share certain characteristics.

But surprisingly, these same characteristics between wasps and bees are often the basis for distinction. 

An example of such characteristics is the fact that both of them sting. But, then, their pattern of stinging and the recurring outcome differs.

Their similar appearance in coloration and striped markings is also a basis for differentiation. We’ll be examining that closely as we progress in this article. 

That notwithstanding, there are several differences between these ecosystem lovers, and knowing their difference will help us identify them and appreciate their unique characteristics and contributions to the ecosystem. 

Stay with me as we examine the difference between wasps and bees. 

Difference between Wasp and Bees

1. Physical Difference

One of the key distinctions between wasps and bees is their physical look. In this article, we will examine this physical difference from two angles. The first is in their appearance, and the second is in their size.

a. Appearance

In terms of appearance, bees have a round abdomen and thorax. I.e., they tend to be rounder in shape with stout legs and thick middles than the wasp.

On the other hand, wasps possess long thin legs, almost cylindrical bodies, and distinctive slim waists that connect the thorax to the abdomen, where their body joins. 

Here, the abdomen is separated from the thorax, which gives it “an hourglass figure.” Their bodies are also streamlined and sleeker for hunting.

Wasps are strongly attracted to light and can be found at night hunting prey where the light is.

Bees tend to have fuzzy hairs and flattened hind legs, an adaptive mechanism that helps them collect and disseminate pollen, while wasps are mostly hairless with smooth and shiny bodies.

While in flight, bees typically retract their legs so that they are not visible in flight, whereas wasps do not.

In terms of color, these creatures also look alike. Both are brightly colored with striped markings.

While the wasp’s color is bright yellow with marked black bands around the abdomen, bees tend to be more orange/brown, and their stripes stand out less than a wasp’s. 

b. Size

A key physical difference between wasps and bees lies in their size. Bees measure between 1.1 and 1.3 cm, which makes them about a half-inch long or less, while wasp measures 1.1 and 1.8 cm, i.e., about 3/4 inches in length.

All these mean that the wasp is slightly bigger than the bee.

2. Difference in Nesting/Habitats

The natural dwelling place of these creatures also tells us about the difference between them.

The way wasp and bees construct their nest is an obvious giveaway on the sort of creature you are dealing with.

Bee nests in cavities such as tree hollows, under the roof of a house, or in attics and even underground. They can also build their hives in rock crevices.

Here, they make their nest from bee wax; the worker bees synthesize the wax from honey that their bodies digest and process. 

The wax, which exits via pores on their abdomen, is chewed to soften it and molded to the hexagonal cells that make up the hive (also called the honeycomb).

On the other hand, the wasp suspends their nests from tree branches, roof eaves, and overhangs.

The nests here look like paper mache with distinctive grooves on them. Wasp constructs their nest out of the mud and weathered wood. 

The wood is chewed and mixed with their saliva to form a papery substance to build large nests.

The nest usually starts small, like a golf ball, and can quickly grow larger than a football if left uninterrupted. 

Another unique characteristic about wasps that makes them stand out from bees is that one can easily locate wasps’ habitat by following where they are coming from.

This is because; wasps tend to move in fairly direct flight patterns once they’ve found a food source.

Another distinct difference between wasps and bees regarding nesting is that a bee’s nest can remain active for many years as long as the colony is healthy because they use their hive repeatedly over several seasons.

In contrast, wasp uses their nest for only one year because they have an annual life cycle.

3. Dietary Difference

Their feeding habits and the diet fed to their young is also a basis for differentiating between wasp and bees.

Bees are herbivores and feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. They also feed their hatchling with pollen and nectar, which they’ve gathered. 

Although recent research has shown that some species of bees may also consume other forms of meat if available, the bees here are usually scavengers. They don’t go out of their way to kill their prey as wasps do.

On the other hand, wasps are considered carnivores since they feed on other insects, arthropods, and even other wasps.

Unsurprisingly, they also provide a carnivorous diet to their young offspring. They leave a paralyzed insect, such as a grasshopper, beside their hatchlings. 

More so, wasps are attracted to rubbish or human food, so if you feel your picnic is under attack, it’s most likely a wasp you’re facing!

4. Behavioral Characteristics

From the predatory nature of the wasp, we can easily deduce that there are aggressive. Even though bees and wasps are often said to be aggressive, the wasp is naturally more aggressive and more easily provoked than bees. 

Bees are often considered passive and only bothering if they feel threatened, lack a queen, or are irritated due to the weather. 

The wasp’s perchance of aggression is also tied to its territorial behavior, which brings out aggressive tendencies.

A good example is the yellow jacket wasp, which can go after a victim and sting repeatedly, even when the victim only gets close to a nest. 

5. Stinging Behavior

Another significant difference between wasps and bees lies in the manner they sting. Even though both creatures have stingers that they use to defend themselves or their nests, the bee’s sting is acidic, while a wasp’s sting is alkaline. 

Further, the bee has a barbed stinger, stings mostly once, and often hurts itself when it stings.

The bee leaves behind its stinger attached to its venom sac and continues to pump venom into the victim.

Hence, the bee dies after stinging because the stinger is torn from the bee’s abdomen.

Nevertheless, there is always an exception where the bee can sting multiple times. Without the barb getting hooked, the bee can return to the sting. 

On the other hand, the wasp has a straight-pointed stinger and can sting more than once without dying since it can pull out its stinger.

6. Lifespan

The lifespan of the wasp varies depending on its species, but most wasps don’t live longer than a couple of weeks, anywhere between 12-22 days, while the wasp queen can live up to a year but will lay eggs to produce new queens after she is gone. 

Bees, on the other hand, can live longer than wasps. Bees can live anywhere from eight weeks to five years, depending on the species.

The Queen bees can live for several years-usually up to five years. Here, they hibernate and return over several years to repopulate their hives.

7. Social Structure and Colony Size

Another difference between wasps and bees to be examined in this article is their social structure and colony size.

The colony size of bees is larger than that of the wasp since it contains queen bees, worker bees, and drones. 

Regarding social structure, bees are considered social insects with a hierarchical structure where each bee has a clearly defined role in the colony, and they work together to maintain the hive and produce honey. 

The bees have a more structured colony compared to wasps. Some species of wasps live in small groups, while others are solitary and live alone.

8. Economic Benefits

As mentioned earlier at the beginning of this article, bees and wasps benefit our ecosystem, and their contribution to the ecosystem is another distinct difference between them.

Bees are excellent pollinators and contribute largely to the production of crops and the success of our gardens. Their fuzzy, pollen-attracting hairs make bees efficient at collecting pollens. 

On the other hand, wasp are great workhorses for managing pest that feeds on our crops and gardens. Here, they play a vital part in the food chain and prey on many insect pests that destroy crops. 

More so, some of the products from bees are honey, wax, bee venom, and royal jelly. Each of these products is beneficial.

For example, honey is a common food, wax is often used for candles, bee venom has anti-inflammatory properties, and royal jelly is a health supplement. 

Products from wasps, like the wasp venom, have antibiotic and antimicrobial properties. The wasp nests also have antibiotic properties.

For instance, mud-dauber wasps’ nests are rich in zinc, iron, minerals, magnesium, and calcium. 


As we’ve successfully examined in this article, bees and wasps play a huge role in our ecosystem. Although these insects look similar, we’ve examined several differences in this article. 

We examined the differences between wasps and bees based on their physical appearance, size, behavioral characteristics, the differences in their feeding and nesting patterns, economic benefits in the ecosystem, their lifespan, colony size, and social structure.

The next time you come across these creatures, you will be able to identify them.

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