Bee, Wasp and Hornet Facts, Identification and Control
Scientific Order: Hymenoptera
Family and Common Species by classification:
Over 20,000 species divided into seven families, categorized in the clade Anthophila within the larger superfamily Apoidea. The most common honeybee, the Western or European honeybee, is Apis mellifera.
Bumblebees, which also feed on nectar, belong to the Bombus genus within the family Apidae (itself a part of the superfamily Apoidea). There are 46 species of bumblebee in North America. The most common in New York is the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens).
“Wasp” is a broad term for any insect in the order Hymenoptera and the suborder Apocrita that is not a bee or an ant. All eusocial wasps and most commonly known wasps belong to the Vesipidae family of wasps. This family includes the common wasp or European wasp, Vespula vulgaris. You may also encounter the Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons), which is a type of wasp found in eastern North America.
The only “true” hornet found in North America is the European hornet, Vespa crabro. Yellowjackets are commonly mistaken for hornets because they are similar in appearance. Yellowjackets commonly referred to as hornets in North America belong to the genus Dolichovespula. The most common “hornet” encountered in New York is the Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata), which is a type of yellowjacket.
Size: Bumblebees range in size from 1/4 to 1". Honeybees measure 1/2 to 5/8". Wasps usually measure around 3/8 to 5/8". Hornets are around 3/4" long.
Color: Bees and wasps are black with burnt yellow or golden brown stripes. Honeybees and bumblebees have gold, black, or brown-ish fuzz on their upper abdomens. Hornets are black and may have white banding.
Signs of Infestation
Honey and bumblebees nests or hives have an unmistakeable honeycomb look. They usually dangle in trees or the sides of buildings vertically. These nests are golden, pale brown, or cream colored. Wasp and hornet hives are made out of regurgitated wood and look paper-like. They're usually built into structures.
Bees, wasps, and hornets spend most of their time around their nests and their respective food sources. Bees continuously seek nectar from nearby flowers. Wasps and hornets are opportunistic foragers and predators. They're particularly attracted to sweet, sticky liquids and garbage.
Treatment and Prevention
The best way to deal with a bee, wasp, or hornet infestation is to move or destroy the nest. This can be dangerous for non-professionals, however, so if you identify a nest on your property, give us a call right away.
Bees, wasps, and hornets might all enter structures through gaps in the foundation, doors, windows, or walls. Weather-sealing and caulking these gaps will help keep them out. You should also keep bee and wasp-attracting substances like loose garbage away from your structure.
Behavior and Diet
Bees subsist on the nectar of flowers and the honey they produce using that nectar. When worker bees ingest nectar, they're actually storing it in a specialized stomach that breaks down the nectar's complex sugars into simpler ones, transforming it into honey. Bees use honey as a stored food source for winter.
Wasps and hornets have a much more diverse diet than bees. Some solitary wasps may feed on nectar, but they'll also eat garbage, fruit, carrion, honeydew, rotting food, insects, spiders, arthropods, and other pests. They can adapt their diets based on nearby food availability.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
All bees undergo metamorphosis through the development stages of egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. The hive's Queen bee lays eggs in honeycombs repeatedly for her whole life. Eggs take around 3 days to hatch. Larvae remain in their honeycomb cells, where they're fed by workers until they pupate. Pupation takes anywhere between 15 days to a month. After pupating, adult bees emerge ready to perform their role within the hive.
Eusocial wasps undergo a life cycle similar to bees. A wasp queen can lay up to 25,000 eggs in her lifetime. After they hatch, wasp workers feed larvae for 1 to 3 weeks, at which point wasps pupate. Other wasps are solitary, which means they mate and forage alone. These wasps may lay eggs on prey, so their offspring can consume the prey as a food source when they hatch.
- Bees are eusocial, which means many live together as one "superorganism" wherein different castes perform different roles. There are three castes within a bee colony: the Queen, drones, and workers. Queens produce eggs, drones mate with other Queen bees, and workers maintain the colony.
- Bees and wasps can both sting people. Bees only sting defensively. Honeybees die after using their stinger, while bumblebees can sting repeatedly. Wasps can also sting and will do so to defend themselves and hunt. Like bumblebees, they can sting repeatedly.
- Honeybees and bumblebees have a distinctive "fuzz" or hair on their abdomens and thoraxes. Wasps, on the other hand, are shinier than bees and possess no fuzz. Wasps are also thinner and more aerodynamic, whereas bees tend to be rounder.
Great Pollinator Project.org’s Pictorial Guide to Common Bees in the NY Metro Area
Cornell University New York State Integrated Pest Management page article: “How to Deal with Stinging Insects”
Bumble Bee Conservation Trust article: “About Bee’s Lifecycle”