What's the difference between bees and wasps?
Bees and wasps are both prevalent in Illinois. Which one should you try to avoid?
Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 14:13
FUZZY STRIPES: A bumblebee rests on a flower. (Photo: aquariumia/Flickr)
When I see something with yellow and black stripes flying toward me, my first instinct is usually to run away. However, you don't have to run away from every insect by that description. Wasps are the insects you should look out for, but not necessarily bees.
Bees tend to be a lot more docile than wasps, and if you've been stung by something black-and-yellow-striped, it was probably a wasp. If you are unsure which is which, here are some ways to tell the difference between the two:
When it comes to physiology, bees tend to be rather pudgy, and they also have many hairs, making them look fuzzy. An extreme example of this is the bumblebee, and it's unlikely anyone would mistake a bumblebee for a wasp. Honeybees look a bit more like wasps, but they can still be distinguished by their fuzzy bodies. Wasps, on the other hand, do not have hairs on their bodies, and their bodies are also a slimmer shape. There's a reason for this difference in body shape and size. Bees pollinate flowers when they seek out nectar, and pollen sticks better to a fuzzy body. Wasps are predators that eat tiny bugs, and their body shape is more suited to predatory behavior. They don't pollinate plants.
You can also tell the difference between bees and wasps by looking at the nest, if you can find it. Bee and wasp nests tend to be made out of different materials, so if you get a close look, you might be able to tell. Bee nests are made of wax cells (this is where we get "beeswax"), while wasps make their nests out of a papery substance. Bees tend to build their nest in tree cavities and other large spaces, while wasps tend to build their nest in smaller, more secretive spaces (like the corner of a window or under the eaves). Be wary if you're approaching a nest, especially a wasp nest! Even if it looks empty, it still may be hiding insects inside.
For the most part, wasps are the ones to avoid. If you don't aggravate a bee, it's likely to leave you alone. If you're outside having a picnic, let it do its business among the flowers, and you'll both be happy. However, if it's a wasp, be more careful, because it may sting you. With knowledge of what wasps look and act like, it's easier to stay well away from them.