While bees and wasps are both responsible for pollination and are often mistaken as they zoom by due to their similar black and yellow colouring, they have some significant differences to help tell them apart.

Characteristics & Habits

Bees and wasps have very specific physical characteristics which make them distinguishable. For example, since bees feed their young pollen, they are quite hairy and fuzzy looking, which allows pollen to collect on their bodies to transport back to their nests for feeding. Wasps, on the other hand, feed their larvae with dead insects, which is why they have sleeker bodies with few hairs ideal for hunting and collecting prey. If you have the chance to see a bee or wasp a bit closer up, you’ll notice bees have a more rounded body with only two standard wings, whereas the wasp flies with the help of four wings and has a longer torso.

The Colonies

Bees and wasps also differ when it comes to their living arrangements. Honey bees reside in colonies of about 75,000, and the entire colony works together to build and maintain the hive. Wasps, on the other hand, live in colonies of less than 10,000, and the queen wasp is responsible for building the nest. Wasps also hibernate in the winter and move into new nests, while bees manage to live off the food and heat accumulated by their hive year-round.

When The Bee Stings

People often associate honey bees with the Cheerios mascot and wasps with more aggressive representations such as sports teams. In a way this makes sense, seeing as honey bees will only attack and sting if they sense they’re in danger. Often if you hear a bee buzzing around you, it’s because they picked up a sweet scent on your body and have mistaken it for some flowers. When this happens, bees usually linger for a moment and move on. Therefore as long as you don’t try to swat the bee away, you should be safe from any sting. Furthermore, honey bees are tentative to use their stingers because they actually die as a result when their stinger and various body parts are fully removed in order to sting the person or predator in question. Wasps, however, can each sting multiple times and display their predatory nature much more often. Yellow jackets, which are a species of wasp, have been known to sting without any kind of provocation. Whether you’re stung by a bee or wasp, immediate treatment is important as the venom from the stinger continues to pump through the wound. Immediate action is especially required if you have an allergy to bee venom, which is the case for many individuals.

Overall, bees and wasps are very different creatures despite the confusion people have about them. Whether or not you’re certain of the species next time you hear a buzzing around your head, remember not to swat and keep an eye out for special characteristics to determine how you should go about avoiding a painful sting.

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