Posted by: buzzybeegirl | October 9, 2008

What’s the difference?

As I blog about bees (and at times other interesting and beautiful insects), I try to cover interesting facts that the public may like to know about these amazing creatures. One of my cherished blog readers brought up a question. A question that I know many people out there would like to know the answer to. When I read his question it brought a smile to my face. You see, since I study bees, read about bees, and watch bees, I at times forget that others out there may not know some bee basics. And I am not saying that not knowing these bee basics is bad. Heck, I didn’t even know these bee basics until I started studying them. At that time I was only able to name 2 types of bees: honeybees and carpenter bees. That is why reading that question brought me back.

The question asked by Forkboy was: “perhaps you could briefly explain the diff between bees and those stinging/flying bugs we call wasps and yellow jackets.”

I can answer this…

First, bees, wasps, and ants are all classified under the same order. Hymenoptera. Bees evolved from wasps, so they are similar in some ways, and different in others. So here are a some differing characteristics between bees and wasps:



The picture above is of a wasp. Unlike bees, wasps have little…and I mean LITTLE to no hair on their body. Look at the smoothness of her body above. It’s as if she has gone through laser hair removal. Completely hairless. Wasps are carnivores. They eat meat or other insects. The only time they visit flowers is for nectar, which provides a sugar boost. Other than that, hair is nor needed to help gather pollen, so they don’t have any.

Second, there is that very pinched waste look. Bees have a robust full body, whereas wasps have this very defined pinch after their midsection (thorax) and then the abdomen. Wasps have the classic “hourglass” figure.

Bees on the other hand…

Bee (Augochlora sp.)

Bee (Augochlora sp.)

All bees have hair on some part of their body. Some bees are extremely super fuzzy, like bumblebees. And others like the bee above look like they have no hair on their body…but they do. Look at her legs and under her abdomen. There are tiny hairs. Bees eat pollen from flowers. They use it to feed their young, so they need hairs to help keep the pollen on their bodies while they fly around. No hairs on the body? It’s gonna be a wasp then.

Characteristic number 2 is how bees and wasps fly. Bees tend to keep all their legs tucked in (as much as possible), like an airplane. You can see in this picture how all her legs are tucked tightly together.

Wasps are have a different pose when flying. They have the front 4 legs tucked in like bees, but the pair of back legs just hang. They hang and just flop around in the wind.

John Stroud, Raleigh

Photo by: John Stroud, Raleigh

So, to summarize: Bees-have hair to collect pollen, eat pollen as a food source, and keep their legs tucked during flight.

Wasps- little to no hair (usually none), eat other insects/meat, and leave their legs hanging during flight.

Now that I have gone over the basics, I have a favor to ask you all…my blog readers. If there are any questions you have please let me know. No matter how lame you may think they are…wouldn’t it be great to know the answer? Besides, no question regarding bees is EVER lame!


  1. that top wasp photograph is incredible!!!

  2. Thanks goodbear…she knows how to work it!

  3. I can safely say that my nightmares are set for the night! This pertains to wasps.
    I USED to be afraid of bees but got over that when I was studying horticulture.
    Wasps are a different story altogether!

  4. Interesting info! Is their carnivorous nature why wasps and yellowjackets seem more aggressive than most bees? Or is that just my imagination?

  5. Well I feel better informed! Thanks for taking the time to answer buzzybeegirl. I try to have a very live-and-let-live attitude with bees, wasps and yellow jackets, but for some reason unknown to me, they all tend to bother me when I’m outside.

    When we lived in Florida I was regularly stung each year while doing yard work, while my immediate neighbors were never bothered. Weird. And odd, because I like bees pretty well, but remain suspicious of wasps. (but that is a great picture of the wasp – really great).

    I’m wondering about the hanging legs in flight issue with the wasps. Is it possible that bees and wasps use their abdomens to help make turns while in flight? Not unlike the way birds use their tail feathers to steer. With bees having typically much larger abdomens they have lots of surface area (and therefore drag) by which to move the air so that they can turn. Wasps, having small abdomens, don’t have as much surface area by which to effect air flow.

    Could the legs hanging back be utilized by the wasp to actually aid in changing direction by ‘throwing’ them around appropriately?

    And since you have asked for questions……do you think bumble bees go a long way towards explaining how string theory is flawed?


  6. Hi Anna,
    do wasps play a pollination role in plant biology if they gather nectar sometimes?

    It was fun to tell campfire stories tonight with you. Thanks!

  7. Wow forkboy…I think you deserve a virtual raise! I am not sure about the leg thing. i will do some research and see if I can find anything on that. As for the string theory, I think they have.

  8. Thanks for visiting Leif, and thanks for stopping by the party =-)
    Wasps are considered pollinators. They are not the best at transferring pollen because their bodies are smooth, but they do transfer some pollen. There is also a wasp ‘syndrome’ for plants like figwarts and some orchids.

  9. Hey, your blog is getting picked up!

    AP next? Your photos are really cool!

    I hope you don’t get too tired of all of the questions I might post here.

  10. I don’t mind any questions at all. I really like that people are interested. Ask away!

  11. I look forward to learning more information after your bit of research.

    Little did you know we would put you to work!

  12. Umm Hi! I just picked up this blog while doing some research on the diff between different bees and wasps… and this really helped. Im much more relaxed now, because I have a nest of some kind in my air conditioning unit. Its summer and I live in a very VERY hot and dry climate in the mediteranean… MY mother noticed the nest the other day when she noticed a bunch of bees flying around my window. I’m not the biggest fan of bees and wasps though i wish i could be more… though i would never hurt them, i just wouldnt like to have hundreds flying around me while I’m sleeping… Any ways I’m wondering if you know how we can get the bees (I’m relieved cause now I’m pretty sure they are bees and not wasps… and wasps scare me a lot more. These ones aren’t as pinched between thoax and abdomen and seem to have quite a bit of hair on the abdomen…but they are more pinched and sleek than a bumble bee, though not like a wasp in ur pics… they are still black nd white though…) Anyways my dad tried driving them out with the hose, because there is no way for us to open the AC unit… We want to try putting an incense stick to see if we could calm them down enough to be able to drive them out…

    I’m wondering if we ended up being to drive them out if there was a way we could ensure they or no other insect returned to re ocupy the nest… I know the problem is the queen, and so long as she is alive they will not not return… but that if they leave she might die.

    Can you help shed any light on how we can deal with this problem???

  13. please help me I have a lot of some type of small paper wasp but they all join together in the tree on my dam, which separates a pond from run off and is made of mud/dirt by their legs I have never seen this behavior, about twenty full grown bees and clinging like a big nest but they were all holding each others feet, an hour later I was viciously stung when I accidentally found the actual nest inside a large wood and glass bird feeder. This nest was about 6 feet from where they were all clinging together. The tree was a Mexican sunflower tree and they were tucked into the leaves and hanging from the underside about three feet up from the ground. It was three in the afternoon and I live in kissimmee Fla, the temp was about 85 and no breeze but humid.My email is

    • i have been tirelessly researching the tiny bees to find a good example and they are either black jackets or a form of tiny paper wasp, they will not bother you and can fly all around you if you leave the nest alone, I moved the nest not knowing it was tucked up inside the glass and wood bird feeder. The sting was very painful but looked more like a bite it left a bloody circular hole, no stinger but boy it hurt into next day.Hurt worse then any other sting I have had.It is definitely tiny wasp of some sort, but the behavior is what I really want to know about. I am a huge gardener and never exterminate any bees unless I really have to;last year a form of killer bee or very angry yellow jacket took up residence in the entire wall of my home , had to get an exterminator to get rid of them and they had to drill holes in the wall! I know I write a lot but am fascinated by bug behavior and being from Ct every bug here in Florida is new to me.Why if they had a nest would they hang from the underside leaf and about twenty or so all clinging stacked and hanging down feet to feet? They swarmed me when I disturbed them, that is when I looked closer and saw them.

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