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Hornets vs. Bees: What's the Difference?

July 19, 2021
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Have you heard of insect species like the giant hornet, murder hornet, Asian hornet, Asian giant hornet or Vespa mandarinia, solitary wasps, and a bunch of other stinging insects? Unless you’re a beekeeper, probably not. 

Because the most common types we always encounter at home are the wasp, bumble bee, honeybee, bee, and hornet. And finding their nest can be tricky, especially if you can’t determine which is which. 

These stingers belong to the same order of insects called Hymenoptera, but they’re not the same as an ordinary insect in terms of what they eat, where they live, and how likely they are to sting you.

So for now, let's try to determine the difference between hornets vs bees. What’s the difference? The best way to distinguish them from each other is their appearance. Bees are generally golden in color and have hairs all over their bodies which make them appear fuzzy. Hornets, on the other hand, have hairless bodies. To know more about these insects, read on.

How to Spot the Stingers


Stout with rounded bodies; light brown with yellow and brown bands around their body; furryGentle in nature and rarely sting; usually hides legs when flyingCollect pollen to feed their young and consume nectar for the sugar-rich liquid it produces

Long and slender; color ranges from brown with yellow stripes or hints of red, to metallic green or blue; smooth and hairlessAggressive and ready to sting especially when their nests are threatened; legs hang down when flying General scavengers who feed on other insects, decaying fruit, and food left on the ground

Where Do They Live?

The location of their nest can be beneficial when it comes to identifying bee and hornet infestations. Knowing where to look may also keep you from accidentally disturbing a colony, which often provokes the pests to attack. 

Bee nests

The location of nests varies between bee species. Most of the common species like the bumblebee prefer dry and dark cavities. Their nests can turn up in places you wouldn't expect.

Of the ones that nest above ground, some produce nests in areas with thick grass, while others create their nests in lofts, bird boxes, and trees. One of the predominant species which nests in these areas are the Tree bumblebee, European honey bee, and Japanese honey bee. 

Meanwhile, another common bee species, the honey bee, can live in natural or domesticated environments, though they prefer to dwell in gardens, woodlands, orchards, meadows, and other areas where flowering plants are abundant.

There are different types of bees in a honeybee hive: Queen, drone, and worker bee. Each has its own important roles and performs specific duties in a honey bee colony.

Unlike the bumble bee and honey bees that live in colonies, the carpenter bee species, on the other hand, belong to the solitary bee species and build individual nests into trees outside or the eaves, frames, or sides of buildings.

Their name is from their habit of boring into wood. 

Hornet nests

Nesting habits depend on the hornet species, but most of these pests gravitate toward similar areas.

Most of the time, you can see their nests in wall voids and attics. These stinging insects also make nests in roof eaves and tree hollows. Once they find their new home, they build their nest from wood pulp that hangs from tree limbs.

Similar to a wasp nest, a hornet’s nest is paper-like. When winter comes, hornets abandon their nests, with only the young queens and their eggs surviving by staying below rooftops and tree barks.

When the spring season comes around, the queen will build a new nest where her young will become workers, and she’ll work on breeding a new generation of queens and males.

Is There Really a Difference Between the Dangers of Hornets vs. Bees?

The primary problem with both of these pests is their ability to sting. The only real hornet in the United States, the European hornet, which is often mistaken as a cicada killer, is quite large and will defend its nest against intruders. Common attacks are at night, as European worker hornets are active during this time. 

Nonetheless, some species of bees and hornets aren’t distinctively aggressive. Only the Africanized honey bees, Asian honey bees and their subspecies the Japanese honeybees, and bald faced hornet have a reputation for greater hostility. The yellow jacket and paper wasp species, both considered a social wasp, also share the same aggressive trait.

If the location of a hornet or bee nest doesn’t threaten or bring nuisance, these pests can generally be left alone. While bees pollinate crops and plants, hornets prey on many pests. However, colonies near or inside homes can pose serious health risks to residents.

Hornet and bee stings can trigger life-threatening allergic reactions in some people. Bees can generally only sting you once, while hornets can sting multiple times. This is because hornets don’t die after stinging as their stingers aren’t pulled out of their bodies. 

Hornet stings and bee stings can cause symptoms that are quite similar, but the treatment measures of these two are slightly different. Unless you’re allergic to them, the majority of bee stings can be treated at home. You can remove the bee sting by swiping at the affected area of the skin with your fingernail within 30 seconds of getting stung.

You can lessen the pain and swelling with cold compresses, as well as an OTC medication such as ibuprofen.

Keeping Bees and Hornets Away 

Eliminating outside food sources will keep any flying insect away. During late summer, both pests become more attracted to sugary foods to prepare for winter. To prevent them from dwelling in your home, make sure garbage cans have covers and that food isn’t left unmoved or unattended for an extended amount of time.

Uneaten pet food should be disposed of properly, and even birdseed and hummingbird nectar should be kept away. Flowers and fruit trees attract hornets and bees, so these should be kept at a distance from homes.

Furthermore, check your property and look for any areas that may need repairing. Broken panels or siding, gaps in soffits, and other crevices are ideal locations for a bee or hornet nest.

Make sure all windows, doors, and screens are working so that unwanted creatures don’t fly in. It’s also integral to do a regular yard check and inspect any rodent holes or potential burrows for bees and hornets to reside in. If they’re unoccupied, fill the gap with dirt or debris. 

Another long-term preventative measure is growing plants such as citronella, eucalyptus, mint, and wormwood, which have scents that naturally repel these pests. A fake nest sounds silly, but because both are considered a solitary wasp and are territorial, they can effectively keep these flying stingers away. You can also construct a decoy nest using a crumpled paper bag on a string. Avoiding a nasty sting from a bee or hornet is worth the effort, trust us. 

Learn More: How to Keep Hornets Away

The Dangers of DIY Bee and Hornet Nest Removal

When it comes to DIY bee and hornet control, there are no foolproof solutions to make sure that the colony will completely pack up and leave your area. While you may find many DIY solutions accessible through the internet, most of them will do little more than place you, your family, or your pets in harm's way.

If you have a bee hive or hornet nest nearby your home, it’s wise to know what hive removal methods you should do to avoid painful stings, damage to your property and keep these insects from coming back.

Your first instinct may naturally be to grab a nearby hose and start spraying, but flooding a hive isn’t a foolproof solution. When bees are sprayed with water, they become agitated and can start attacking. Once an aggravated bee homes in on a target, aka you, it releases chemical pheromones that call in the colony cavalry. This strategy will also incite a hornet or yellowjacket attack.

Just like water, using fire to eliminate a bee or hornet nest is ineffective, not to mention it's highly dangerous. Because most of their nests are made from pulps of chewed-up wood, and they’re highly flammable. However, if you manage to get near enough to set fire to a hive, you could run the risk of spreading the flame, which could cause irreversible damage to both you and your property.

Additionally, hive fires don’t adequately stave off the entire colony, as many insects will fly away just fine once a flame starts to burn the thin, papery outer layer of the nest, as they emit their pheromones while doing so.

Moreover, attempting to destroy a bee or hornet nest with a baseball bat, large stick, or any other pole-like object will place you right behind the dangerous lines. When you stand too close to the colony, especially that of the baldfaced hornet, which will attack anyone or anything that invades its space, the possibility of you being stung multiple times increases.

This DIY method of nest removal is hazardous for those who are allergic to insect stings, as anaphylactic shock could happen in just minutes. Hitting their nest with any tool will result in a bee or hornet attack and you being hurt before any progress is made, so it's advisable to avoid this method altogether. 

Controlling Infestations With the Help of Experts

Pest control worker

No matter which stinging insect is present, you shouldn’t try to deal with the pests alone. Approaching a hornet nest or honey bee hive could incite these pests to defend their colony. It's always a better idea to seek the help of experienced professionals who can identify and safely remove these stinging pests before they infest your home.

If you’re worried about bees or hornets lurking around you, your home, and your family, get in touch with Positive Pest Management today and see what our expert pest control specialists can do to keep your sacred space and business free from all these stinging invaders.

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