Stinging insects come in all shapes and sizes and can inflict differing pain levels. In early spring, many people tend to report sightings of wasps, when in reality, it’s honeybees or solitary bees, such as mortar or mining bees. Bees and wasps are often mistaken for one another. If you’ve ever been stung but couldn’t tell which one it was, the chances are it was most likely a wasp. They’re far more aggressive than bees and don’t take kindly to being swiped at. Besides, wasps are more attracted to sugary food and drinks, whereas bees prefer flowers. Below, the experts from Fantastic Pest Control reveal the differences between the two types of stinging insects.
While bees and wasps constitute around 20,000 species each, they both belong to the order Hymenoptera and the suborder Apocrita. A typical characteristic of the insects of this suborder is a narrow waist joining the thorax and the abdomen. Bees and wasps also have larvae that look like maggots and inject their venom using a modified ovipositor.
Bees are often confused with wasps because of their similar body shape. Both wasps and honeybees are bullet-shaped striped insects with wings. However, besides their similarities, closer examination reveals a few key differences.
Both bees and wasps penetrate their victim’s skin with backwards-pointing barbs on a stinger. However, wasps have small barbs, and the stinger can be easily removed when they sting. If you’re out on a picnic and a stinging insect lands on your food, not hesitating to defend its newfound feast, it’s likely that the suspect isn’t a bee but a wasp. Unlike their cousins, wasps can sting multiple times and buzz away.
In contrast, honeybee workers’ stingers are pulled from their abdomen, and they die once they have stung. The process is ultimately fatal to them. Similar to wasps, there are also types of bees that can live after they’ve stung. Although honeybees can sting, they aren’t generally aggressive and won’t sting unless they’ve been provoked. Preferably, they should be left alone. However, if they’re in a location that’s potentially dangerous to the public and they seem unlikely to move in the near future, they can be dealt with by a pest control service in a humane way. A beekeeper can also be employed to remove them if they’re located outdoors or in an accessible place.
The body of a wasp is smooth and slender, while a bee is rounder and hairy. Wasps have distinctive yellow and black bands around the abdomen, whereas bees have a more subtle light brown or yellow colour. Being a predator, the wasp has a beautifully streamlined body and is sleek for hunting other insects and scavenging to feed its larval siblings.
While wasps are aerodynamic and nipped at the waist, making them perfectly suited to take down other insects, bees do not need exacting movements. They only fly from flower to flower, reflected by their rounder form.
A bee’s legs are hairy. Their back legs are flat, making them perfect for gathering pollen. The additional hair also means they’re good at carrying it around from one flower to another. In contrast, wasps have only a few hairs on their legs.
Human food is unappetising to bees. A bee’s favourite food is pollen and nectar. In contrast, adult wasps scavenge other insects, such as flies, arthropods and caterpillars, to feed their younger siblings. Usually, they feed on sugar sources and love sweet, sticky food.
Finding their nests can help you tell the difference between bees and wasps the best. Honeybees are social insects which live in nests, usually containing several thousand workers. They’re built out of wax cells stacked on top of one another. Honeybees manufacture their nests themselves. However, other bees use what’s already available in the environment around them, such as tree cavities, buildings and holes in the ground. Unlike wasps, honeybees’ nests usually last for many years.
In contrast, wasps use a papery pulp to construct their nests. The pulp is made of their own saliva and chewed-up fibres. They prefer to construct their homes in inconspicuous places such as under deckings or in the back of garden sheds.
If you aren’t sure whether you have a wasp’s or a bee’s nest, look carefully at the brickwork to see if they’re going in and out of a single hole or several ones over a wider area. Besides that, check if the activity continues on cold, overcast days or just on warm sunny days. Mortar bees are only active on sunny days. Wasps use a single hole, while mortar bees use several.
What to do if you’ve been stung?
A wasp or bee sting only results in temporary pain for most people. However, there are others for whom a sting causes an allergic reaction, which is often life-threatening. A sting injects venom into the skin, causing pain. The pain receptors are stimulated by a chemical called melittin, leading to an uncomfortable sensation. The initial pain usually lasts only a few minutes, followed by a dull ache. The tissue can still be sensitive to the touch several days later.
Our bodies have a fantastic automatic response to the injection of venom. When this happens, fluid is released from the blood to flush the venom out of our system. This causes the sting area to become red and swollen. When you’re stung by a particular species for the first time, the swelling will be significant around the sting or a whole body part. It’s also likely to be very itchy.
Over-the-counter oral antihistamines are very effective in helping our bodies dispose of venom. It’s important not to scratch the sting area because microbes living on the skin’s surface can be introduced into the wound and result in a nasty infection.
The next time you’re out on a picnic and a stinging insect lands on your blanket or table, consider the above information before setting off a bee alarm. Above all else, pause before you kill these insects. Keep in mind that they’re a beneficial part of our ecosystem and critical for pest control in our gardens, public lands, and croplands.