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Bee Nest vs Wasp Nest-Which One is It?

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How a Bee Nest is Different from a Wasp Nest

Bees and wasps are both members of the insect world. They have similarities but also major differences in the way they live, reproduce and survive to the next season.  One interesting aspect of their lives is nesting. Bee nest vs Wasp nest.  In some ways they seem similar but there are many differences as well.

When we discuss bees, our minds often think of the popular honey bee or bumble bee.  However, there are many types of bees and most of them are solitary not social. Wasps too have solitary and social members.

Insect nest close up is it a bee nest or a wasp nest image.

Social vs Solitary Bees and Wasps

Among the many types of bees and wasps some are social insects.  They live together in groups and share the burden of raising young from eggs laid by one reproductive female.  This includes our honey bee and bumble bee of course because they live in colonies.

Wasps are defined by the same characteristics.  Some types of wasps (and bees) are solitary with the reproductive female selecting a site for a home and laying eggs.  After provisioning the nest with food, she never meets her young.

Others live in small social groups or colonies. It is the social insects that most often notice when we are discussing the differences of a bee nest vs wasp nest. These colonies are most noticeable to us.

Honey bee nest and paper wasp nest image.

How to Tell the Difference between Bee Nests and Wasp Nests

Seeing a group of insects close together in one location seems to indicate a nest.  This is where young are being reared. 

Regardless of the type of insect, it is a wise idea to stay respectfully away from any such nest.  They will feel protective of their home and young and may chase you away.

Is it a Bee Nest or a Wasp Nest?

The most common nests we find as wasps nest. A small grey oval structure hanging from the eaves of a roof or old building with a few protective wasps on the surface.

An entrance to a cavity with a steady stream of bees coming and going is likely a honey bee hive. But, there are many kinds of living arrangements for both.

Honey Bees Live In Large Families

Most honey bees live in large colonies in cavities. These social insects live in hives provided by a beekeeper or empty cavities in trees.  Sometimes, they choose other enclosed spaces such as the walls of a home.

However, some solitary bees burrow in the ground.  Even Bumble Bees use abandoned rodent burrows to build a home for their small colony. 

However, honey bees are not ground dwellers.  They can make beeswax with special glands on the underside of their abdomen.  Using wax to construct sheets of honeycomb, they store food and rear young inside the hive.

Sheets of honeycomb made by honey bees in a bee colony or nest image.

Solitary Bees Live Alone

Most of the bees in the world are solitary bees that nest alone. While you may find many nests in one central location, each queen maintains her own home. Here she lays eggs and provisions it with food.

Mason bees are a good example of a beneficial solitary bee. They are great pollinators and often live in cracks in masonry, hollow stems or tubes provided by homeowners.

Mason bees nesting in hollow tubes in a house provided by homeowner image.

Different Kinds of Wasps Nests

One of the major differences between bees and wasps is their nesting characteristics.  Wasps build aerial nests, ground nests or nests inside cavities.

Wasps do not have wax glands and cannot make honeycomb.  Their grey nests of paper-like material are made with chewed wood.  The exception is the solitary Mud Dauber wasp who builds a home with mud.

The queen wasp begins the nest on her own and cares for her young.  Once new adults emerge, they take part in care of the young and the nest expands.  It can grow quite large. 

However, they are not reused.  When the season winds down and all the young are mature, the site is abandoned.

The most common types of wasp nests that we notice are those of the paper wasps.  Several different types of wasps build these grey paper homes.

Adult wasps on a grey paper wasp nest image.

Yellow Jacket Wasp Nest

Another member of the wasp family that is commonly called a bee is the Yellow Jacket Wasp.  These insects routinely live in the ground.  They colony can grow quite large and is often unnoticed until mid-Summer when colony population is at its peak.

Though they serve a useful purpose in pest control, they are not one of the most loved insects by most people. Using yellow jacket traps early in the season may reduce the number of colonies later on – you can even make your own trap.

Yellow jacket wasp guarding entrance to underground nest image.

Hornet Nests are Not Bee Hives

Cartoons featuring honey bees flying from what looks like a hornet nest always make me laugh.  I don’t know who started this but I assure you – you will not find a honey bee colony in a hornet nest.

Hornets nests grow very large and really catch the eye.  But you may not see them until Winter after the leaves are off the trees.

Large grey hornet nest hanging in a tree image.

Hornets are closely related to wasps and they build large paper nests.  Usually located high in the tree tops, these too will be abandoned when Winter arrives. 

Hornets are very aggressive around their home-stay away. If they are not located near a human space, leave them. Hornets do a good job of catching flies and other insect pests. Even the parasitic fly that causes – Zombie Bees may fall prey to hornets.

European Hornets Kill Honey Bees

We have several types of hornet around our area that do little harm. However, there is one type of hornet colony that I will destroy when found. Like Yellow Jackets, they are a predator of honey bee colonies.

This is the large yellow European Hornet – similar to the Asian Hornet but already established in the US. They often nest in tree cavities though I have seen them living in walls.

Relentless in attacking honey bee colonies in mid-Summer, they are not welcomed at my home.

Forager European hornet in field image.

Should You Destroy Wasps?

Wasps are predators that kill insects including honey bees.  They are also responsible for many stings received by humans each year.  And trust me, a wasp sting hurts much worse than a honey bee sting – at least for me.

The public’s fear of this stinging insect often results in a call to destroy the bees or wasps.  Is this the best thing to do?  Maybe not. Learn what honey bees look like and try to protect them.

While there are situations when colony destruction is called for, wasps do us a great service. If you have a garden, these insect predators kill many bugs and insects that can harm your plants.  Even a bee friendly garden can benefit from having a few predator wasps around.

Here on my little homestead, we do destroy nests that are large and near areas where we walk a lot.  However, those that are high in the eves of the barn are left to provide some insect control.

Wasps Nest Last Only a Few Months

Because they are not reused each year, a wasp nest only lasts a 3-4 months.  Starting out small in the Spring, they are often not noticed until late Summer when the population is at its peak.

By the time cold weather arrives, the site will be abandoned and a new one chosen by the queen wasp the next season.

Honey Bee Swarm is Not a Nest

Honey bee colonies reproduce by swarming.  In this natural process, half the members of the colony leave to find a new home. 

On their journey, they temporarily sit down in a nearby tree or bush.  Seeing this mass of bees hanging from a limb may seem to indicate the presence of a nest.

This is not usually true.  In a few hours, the swarm will leave to journey to their new home.  But occasionally, the swarm is unable to decide on a new site.  In this case, they begin to build comb attempting to nest in the open.

If you see this happening, call a local beekeeper to see if they can help.  Most exposed honey bee nests do not survive Winter.

Final Thoughts on Bee and Wasp Nest Sites

Each type of insect has evolved a way to reproduce and continue their species into the next year. Whether you see a bee nest or a wasp nest, you are seeing the next generation of these beneficial insects in the works.

Sometimes they must be destroyed for public safety.  But whenever possible, try to leave them alone and let nature take its course.  They benefit our lives in many ways.

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