The Difference Between Wasps, Hornets and Bees

Wasps, hornets and bees all sting, and that is enough information for most people. However, if you are dealing with an infestation of bees, wasps, or hornets, the type of pest makes a tremendous difference in the types of repellents and treatments that you use. It is especially important for homeowners with extensive residential or commercial property to understand the differences between the three types of stinging pests.

Bees are the easiest to tell apart – they are the only furry pest of the bunch. Both wasps and hornets have a much more streamlined look. However, the physical appearance of the species is far from their only distinction. Unlike wasps or hornets, bees die immediately upon stinging a victim. Bees also nest much differently and protect their territory in different ways. A clear out technique that works for a bee infestation may lead to serious injury if you apply it to a wasp infestation. Be careful and identify the pest that you are trying to get rid of before applying any DIY resistance techniques. If in doubt at all, it is never wrong to call a professional exterminator.

Important Note on Stings and Allergic Reactions

The majority of people who are stung by wasps, hornets or bees will develop a redness or a slight soreness at the point of the attack. This does not mean that you have an allergy to stings. In the case of a true allergic reaction, the symptoms will usually be much more pronounced. It is important to understand the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions are defined as reactions that invoke the immune system to overreact. The five insect types that cause the most reactions include the following pests:

  • Yellow jackets – Striped with black and yellow marks, yellow jacket nests can be found in the crevices of buildings, in piles of wood, or even underground.
  • Honeybees – This is the common bee that is found in honeycombs and sometimes in old tires. They have rounded bodies with a fur that is brown and yellow.
  • Paper wasps – Their nests can be in woodpiles, in shrubs or under certain eaves. They are streamlined with red, brown, black and yellow marks.
  • Hornets – They usually nest in trees and are brown or black striped wtih yellow, orange or white.
  • Fire ants – These ants are reddish brown and live in large ground mounds. They attack very quickly, and their attacks cause immediate pain and burning under the skin.

The reactions that an allergic reaction can cause vary from slightly annoying to life threatening. Here are a few of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction:

  • Rashes – If you experience breakouts on the skin away from the point of contact, you may be having an allergic reaction.
  • Difficulty breathing – One of the more serious allergic reactions is a swelling of certain glands in the body that block airflow through the body. Get professional help immediately if you experience this symptom.
  • Headaches/lightheadedness – Stings from wasps and hornets may cause an inability to think, concentrate, and may even cause seizures or lightheadedness.
  • Anaphylaxis – This is a term referring to life threatening reactions caused by allergens.

Identifying Different Species of Wasp and Hornet

Below are some of the most common types of wasp and hornet that you may see around your home and property.

Baldfaced Hornet
The baldfaced hornet is so named because of its black and white markings. They build large aerial nests that are mostly made from paper carton that can grow to up to 14″ x 24″ in size. These insects eat other pests; their nests are so large, however, that they can become quite dangerous if they are located near people.

European Hornet
The European hornet is one of the largest species of common hornet, sometimes growing to more than one inch in length. They build nests that are similar to the baldfaced hornet, but a European hornet nest is sometimes reinforced with a brown paper envelope. They nest in hollow trees and hollow walls.

Mud Dauber
The mud dauber is a slender type of wasp that is colored black or metallic. Unlike other types of wasps, the mud dauber is completely solitary. They nest in tubes they build out of mud on the ground.

Paper Wasp
The paper wasp is a brown and reddish pest that loves to build nests near human structures. Although they are not considered aggressive, they are more likely to sting humans because of their proximity to them.

Yellowjackets are so named because of their yellow and black striped color pattern. Their nests are more complex than other pests listed here, and they can build them in many different types of structures.

Find Wasp and Hornet Nesting and Activity

Finding a wasp or a hornet nest on your property is relatively simple if you know what you are looking for. Most wasp and hornet species will try to establish nests in mid summer. If you can see a constant stream of wasps or hornets flying in one direction, you may assume that the nest is near somewhere. In many cases, it will not be immediately visible, especially if it is located in a crevice or corner. It is definitely not recommended to go searching too far for a nest without protection or the aid of a professional.

Wasps and hornets love to build nests by food sources. If you are being constantly bombarded with either of these pests in your garden, odds are that they have found a food source and are trying to establish a nest nearby, if they have not done so already. When feeding, wasps will swarm, so if you see a large number of them in a certain area, you can be sure there is a nest nearby.

Wasps and hornets love sweet foods and rotting flesh. They may also congregate around linden trees because of the sweet sap that the tree produces.

The first place you may want to look is within crevices in your walls or roof. The fascia and soffit areas of your roof may be prime places for nesting, especially if the roof is older. You may also want to check your garages and garden sheds. If the nest is here, you should be able to visually identify it without too much trouble.

Wasps may also build nests indoors. If you find swarms of wasps or hornets inside your house, you may have a nest inside a crack in a cupboard or in a loft hatch or attic door that has loosened over time. If you have recessed lights in any of your ceilings, you may be attracting wasps and hornets as well. The “can” housing the light offers a convenient nesting area for wasps and hornets.

As you search your home, you may find old, dead nests from previous years. If you do, don’t worry: old nests are never reused.

Treatment for Stings

DIY/Natural Methods
The first treatment for any sting is to control the swelling. An application of cold water or ice should be able to reduce it to a point that it can be further treated. If the sting occurs on an extremity of the body, elevate that part of the body. Take off any tight fitting jewelry.

The next step to relieving the pain of a sting is to treat the itching. Apply a mixture of water and baking soda, meat tenderizer, topical steroids or calamine lotion to the affected area to reduce itching and pain.

Keep in mind that a sting victim with any past history of anaphylaxis should be referred to a medical professional as soon as possible, even if symptoms do not appear on that person immediately.

Chemical Methods
Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen should do the trick for any pain that the victim experiences. If the sting becomes itchy, an over-the-counter antihistamine should relieve this.

Keeping Wasps and Hornets Away from Your Home and Stopping Nesting Behaviors

As with any pest, the best way to avoid nesting behavior is to take preventive action, especially during the spring and summer months.

First, seal off any entry points to your home. Changing weather patterns may open crevices around your doors and windows that wasps and hornets can easily take advantage of. If you notice your insulation suffering, take this as a cue that your home may be vulnerable to nesting activity as well. Shore up these entrance points, paying special attention to your roofing, basement and attic.

Make sure that you take away the food sources that wasps and hornets may be attracted to. Both of these pests are attracted to sweet foods and foods that contain protein. This includes pet food and old leftovers. The latter of these may be accessed through open garbage bags that you may leave in your backyard. Keep in mind that once a food source has been identified by a wasp or a hornet, they will imprint that source. Even if it is removed, you may have to deal with pests coming back to that area to conduct future searches.

Wasps and hornets switch to sweetened foods in the summer and fall. This is the time of year in which high-energy foods become less prevalent. Wasps and hornets will begin to die off if they cannot find sources of these foods, because intense activities such as flying require a great deal of sugar for them. During this time of year, make sure that you do not leave open soda cans or other sugary foods lying around your house or backyard. If you have fruit trees, be sure that you harvest the fruits so that they do not fall and leave sources for wasps and hornets. Cover your outside garbage cans as well.

Wasps and hornets will become much more aggressive during the late summer and fall, because they are facing imminent death if they do not find food sources. This is especially important to note if you run across a hovering pest.

Killing off individual wasps and hornets is counterproductive. When a single wasp and hornet dies, it releases a chemical that actually attracts other wasps or hornets of the same species to the area. Those pests will also become more aggressive.

Other actions that you can take to discourage nesting activity include staying away from bright colors on your clothing or floral patterns. Wasps and hornets may actually mistake these colors for flowers that produce nectar. Similarly, the strong scents that come from perfumes and colognes may also attract wasps and hornets, especially in the latter part of the summer. They may mistake the perfume or the cologne for a sweet smelling food.

You must take special precautions if you have smaller structures such as birdhouses on your property. Lining the area under the roof with aluminum foil is a great way to avoid nests in that area. You can also avoid nesting activity by rubbing the area under the roof with common bar soap. This should last you through a whole season of nesting.

You may also invest in one of many simple traps or deterrents such as the fake nest. For instance, the fake nest works on the principle that wasps and hornets tend to avoid the nests of other wasps and hornets. When nesting, they mistake the fake nest for a real one, and nest elsewhere.

When to Call a Professional

If you have taken all of the above precautions and you still see large swarms of wasps or hornets around your property, it is time to call in a professional. Once a nest has been established, there are very few DIY methods that an individual can use to reduce the pest activity. Destroying the nest at that point will usually take a chemical application that can be dangerous if applied inaccurately. Professionals will also have protective material that will reduce their risk of being stung while applying treatment.