What is the difference between a wasp and a bee?

Wasp and Honey Bee

Both wasps and bees are both members of the Hymenoptera order of insects that also includes ants. Although they belong to the same order they are quite different in their purpose. Although both have the ability to sting wasps are the more aggressive species being able to sting multiple times, where as bees die if they sting a person. 

Wasps are most active in the summer months in the UK. This is partly due to weather and only the Queens survives to hibernate during the winter months. They have a distinctive yellow and black body and are often confused with hornets despite hornets are not being as common in this country. Not only are they confused with hornets but bees as well especially honeybees which have a similar coloring and body shape. The best way to tell them apart is by the look of the body surface, wasps usually have a smooth body whilst bees are often plumper and hairy with their back legs being flat.

Wasps and The Food Chain

Wasps although annoying do play a vital part in the food chain. They prey on a much larger number of insect pests that feed on our crops and gardens. Further to this they will prey on flies and maggots. So although most of the time they are irritating they do serve an important roles to humans.

Although wasps are generally not aggressive if they feel threatened or feel their nest is under threat. They have the ability to sting multiple times. This can be an extremely painful and unpleasant experience. In the worst cases can lead to death if someone is allergic to their venom. Often wasps build their nest close to human homes. They can pose a threat to children who may not be aware of the dangers of wasps. If you have a nest in or around your home, it is important that you do not try to remove it yourself and instead seek professional help.

Honey bees have a barbed stinger in contrast to wasps who have a straight pointed stinger. If the barbed bee stinger penetrates the human skin. The bee is locked to the human and will die. It is a misconception that a bees can’t sting multiple times. Without the barb getting hooked, the bee can go onto sting again.

Colony Size

There are actually 20,000 different species of bees in the world. Bees live in much larger colonies than wasps that contain the queen bee, worker bees and drones. The main types of bees are the bumble bee, mason bee and honeybee. The honeybee is the only social insect whose colony can survive many years.

Bees can be dangerous if they feel threatened, however they tend not sting as often as wasps as they can only sting once before they die. Like a wasp sting they can be very painful and again in the worst cases cause death to a small percentage of people who are allergic to their venom. 

Another difference between bees and wasps is that queen wasps build their nest for their colonies whereas worker bees build and maintain their colonies nest. Unlike wasps who hibernate during the winter honeybees do not, instead they live on food reserves and heat accumulated by the colony. Wasps do not create any forms of honey but all species of honeybees do and are able to produce and store large amounts of honey in their hives.

Warning drunken wasps invade homes in late Summer

Wasps Feeding On Fallen Apple

There have been many reports of an invasion of drunken wasps in the UK in late Summer. Unsurprisingly feeding on windfall apples consequently making the wasps drunk. Alarmingly the affect on the wasps is to make them more liable to attack. There are two types of wasp in the UK. The slightly larger German Wasp or European Wasp (Vespula germanica) and the smaller Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris). Both species causing dangerous issues for humans and pets alike in late summer. The reason for the late Summer invasion is because of their natural food source of flies and caterpillars are dwindling. Therefor it causes them to find alternatives and in this case cider from windfall apples.

New research is showing a fall of 40 percent of all insect species. Prompting fears that many species could die out. Primarily habitat changes caused by humans such as deforestation and converting habitats for agriculture. One big decline in habitats is the reduction in small family farms that had open pastures and hedgerows. Hedgerows in particular are a mecca for insects and other wildlife.

Drunken Wasps Attack

Drunk wasps reportedly stung a two year old boy multiple times. He was in a local playground when he was stung 12 times. Eventually his mum was able to rush him to A&E to receive treatment. The nest was located underneath a slide in the playground. The mother said “There was a swarm – maybe 20 of them and they were everywhere, and three of them got into his hair. It was a moment of pure panic and helplessness”. The stings caused bad swelling and consequently the boy was very upset for several hours.

To keep wasps away try the following. Peppermint oil diluted in a sprayer which helps deter the wasps coming into the home. It is recommended to spray the diluted liquid on your body in the same way you would apply perfume. In addition on entrance points like doorways, curtains and blinds. There is also the option of a fly screen to deter unwanted insects such wasp and flies from entering your home. Having these in doorways and windows on the outside of your home can be a good way to stop them entering your house.  However, if there is a swarm or a nest you should call professionals or the council to tackle the problem.

Firefighters are advising against over the counter smoke bombs and pest control products and instead calling professionals as these drunken wasps can be dangerous. There was a man in Reading who used a blowtorch to try and deter the wasps but ended up setting his roof on fire. A resident using a smoke bomb in Wiltshire, sparked panic by triggering the fire alarms.

The British Pest Control Association has a good article about sugar seeking wasps.

Asian Hornets Invade Britain

Asian Hornet

The UK is under threat from an invasion of Asian hornets. Alarmingly they have the ability to kill someone with one sting. Accidentally imported into Europe through France from China in 2004. As a result they have been spreading across Europe ever since. They have now been sightings across Europe including Italy, Spain, Belgium and most recently in the UK. Experts have estimated that they have been spreading across France at a rate of 40 to 50 miles per year. They were first spotted in Spain in 2010, Portugal and Belgium in 2011, Italy in 2012 and Germany in 2014.

Economic Affects

Not only is the invasion a threat to life. The Hornets are also causing economic woes. Counting the cost of Hornet nest extermination and the devastating attacks on Honey Bee hives. Experts have predicted that it is going to cost the UK £7.6 million to get rid of them. The US in comparison is expected to pay out £23.8 million. Japan is not far behind on £17.2 million.

Asian Hornets Attack Bees

These large insects also prey on smaller creatures like bees. Which is a big concern for the countries that have these invaders, in addition to already declining bee populations. Humans heavily rely on bees in our everyday life. To emphasise this point one of every 3 bites of food eaten rely on bee pollination. Beekeepers in the US and Europe have been reporting hive losses of 30 percent or higher over the past year. Without the additional added threat of the Asian hornet. Ultimately it is important to keep these unwanted insects away. To conclude countries around the world are going to have to set aside funds to deal with this new menace.

At the moment the best way of dealing with this invasion is by destroying their nests. Scientists have said that this will not be enough to completely eradicate the species. In France between thirty and forty percent of detected nests are being destroyed each year. The nests chosen for destruction are the ones that are most dangerous to human life or beekeeping activities. The invasion has prompted experts to call for more to be done. In addition more information needs to gained about the lifecycle and habits of the Hornets.

There are currently apps setup to help the public report Asian Hornet sightings. Furthermore there are measures in place to help citizens exterminate a nest on their property. However the authorities are advising against trying to remove the nest yourself . To conclude it is recommended to employ a trained professional as DIY treatments can be very dangerous.

How to spot an Asian hornet

  • It has a dark brown or black velvety body
  • You should see a yellow or orange band on fourth section of abdomen
  • It will have yellow tipped legs
  • Are smaller than the native European hornet
  • Are not active at night

Do you need further information about Asian Hornets? Would you like to know how to report a sighting? British Beekeepers Association can help.

How Dangerous Are Wasp Stings?

Wasp Sting Allergic Reaction

Wasp stings are very common across the UK. They usually aren’t dangerous and most people recover quickly, without any lasting impacts. However there are some instances where it can be a lot more serious. Wasps are similar to bees. Both insects have a stinger used for self-defense. It is a misconception that wasps sting for the sake of it. In reality this is not true. Wasps will often sting when they have been disturbed or threatened.

Wasps have a sac full of venom on the end of their smooth stingers. Bees on the other hand have a barbed stinger. Concealed in the abdomen is the stinger deployed at a moments notice. The male wasps don’t actually have stingers but often pretend to, to warn off prey.

Types of Reactions to Wasp Stings 

There are three different reactions that people have to wasp stings. The first is a normal local reaction which is the most common. The symptoms are usually a raised welt around the sting entrance. There may also be a white spot in the middle of the welt where the stinger has punctured the skin. Under those circumstances it is common for the swelling and pain to recede within a couple of hours.

The second most dangerous reaction is a large local reaction. Used to describe symptoms of a sting on someone. That is allergic to the venom but don’t have life threatening symptoms. More over symptoms include extreme redness and swelling around the puncture. As a result continuing for 2 to 3 days after the sting. Vomiting and nausea can also occur. These symptoms usually resolve themselves over the course of a week or so. If that is not the case it is recommended to seek medical advice. If you have a large local reaction.

Anaphylaxis is the most sever type of reaction to wasp venom . Generally speaking this occurs when the body goes into a state of shock in response to a sting. Most people who have this reaction go into shock straight away. It is very important to seek emergency care straight away.

Dead Wasp With Stinger

Severe Symptoms

Stung by a wasp? Firstly you should take yourself away from the wasp or wasps’ nest. Once you are away from the threat of receiving more stings. You are then able to deal with the sting at hand. You should thoroughly wash the afflicted area. Further more you should apply ice in 10-minute intervals. This should help with the swelling. If the pain continues it may be necessary to apply creams or take some medication for the pain. 

If you are at all concerned by a wasp sting then you it would be advisable to seek medical attention as soon as possible.