Honey bee and wasp nests: how you can know the distinction


Inside: How will you inform a honey bee nest from a wasp nest? Beneath are some clues that will help you determine.

Let’s face it. With some exceptions, we don’t usually discover the nests of solitary bees and wasps. As a result of solitary bugs reside alone and maintain to themselves, we seldom notice their presence, not to mention their nests.

However social creatures like honey bees, bumble bees, yellowjackets, and hornets reside massive. In actual fact, we are able to’t assist however discover their immense colonies and intimidating houses. Yikes! So many stingers in a single tiny place.

Generally we uncover a nest and must know whether or not it belongs to honey bees or wasps. With coaching, most individuals can shortly study to inform them aside. So let’s take a look at their similarities and variations.

Massive social colonies want massive nests

As a result of social bees and wasps increase massive households, they construct nests with many tiny compartments, each appropriate for a child. Think about a maternity ward with rows and rows of bassinets, and also you get the thought. Most individuals acknowledge the nests of honey bees as a result of every beeswax cell (bassinet) has a attribute six-sided form.

Nonetheless, some wasps construct combs that look suspiciously just like the combs of honey bees. These might cling from tree branches or the eaves of your house. Some wasp species might even cement them on to the wall of a constructing.

Folks regularly confuse these nests as a result of they give the impression of being remarkably comparable, with their lots of interconnected cells. Most frequently, when individuals see a wasp nest, they instantly consider it accommodates bees as a substitute of the opposite method round. That’s not a shock. As a result of we equate the phrase “bee” with “stinging insect,” bees get blamed for a lot of issues wasps do.

So how can we inform the distinction between comparable nests?

This wasp nest hangs from a stalk, something honey bee nests do not do.
This nest of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) hangs from a stalk, one thing honey bee nests by no means do.

Is it a bee nest or a wasp nest?

To differentiate a wasp nest from a bee nest, we are able to take a look at the nest overlaying, location, measurement, composition, and time of 12 months—to not point out the occupants. Let’s take a look at every.

Nest coverings of bees and wasps are completely different

In chilly and temperate climates, honey bees seldom construct combs out within the open. So-called open-air colonies occur, however they’re uncommon. Mostly, a honey bee colony builds its dwelling in an enclosure equivalent to a picket hive, a tree hole, a meter field, or an attic. A lined house affords safety in opposition to the climate and predators.

Some wasps cowl their nests, too, however the overlaying is selfmade. That’s, they construct it themselves slightly than discover it. For instance, some wasps construct massive grey balloons that cling from timber and seem like pinatas. To make them, the employee wasps acquire and chew wooden fibers whereas including saliva-like secretions. Then they mildew the paste into the form they need, letting it dry and harden in place.

The cartoon “bee hives” that cling from branches attended by smiling, pleasant “honey bees” have been most probably modeled after wasp nests. No honey bee builds something like that.

Contained in the balloon, the employees construct a sequence of combs for brood rearing, one beneath the opposite. Oddly, these combs don’t cling vertically like honey bee combs. As an alternative, they’re stacked like pancakes with “wasp house” between each.

A wasp nest appears very similar to a honey bee nest.
A wasp nest seems similar to a honey bee nest.

Some nests haven’t any coverings

Honey bees that construct open-air combs don’t erect a overlaying over them, which is the first cause these colonies seldom survive the winter. Equally, many solitary wasps construct uncovered nests, some glued to a floor and a few hanging from “stalks” like an inverted mushroom.

However not like honey bee nests, these solitary wasp nests don’t must survive the winter. Come fall, the nests get deserted eternally. Anytime you see a single uncovered comb that hangs from a central stalk, you will be assured it belongs to a solitary wasp. A solitary mother has all she will deal with with out constructing nursery covers. She compensates by selecting spots which might be already protected against the climate, just like the eaves of your porch.

Composition: combs of wax vs combs of fiber

As talked about above, honey bees lay eggs in cells product of beeswax. This wax exudes from eight glands underneath the bee’s stomach and will get molded into the correct form by the employee bees.

Nonetheless, wasps don’t produce wax. As an alternative, they construct the cells for brood with the identical materials because the nest overlaying—wooden and plant fibers chewed right into a paste. So if the comb you discover feels papery as a substitute of waxy, you’ve came across the work of a wasp.

Within the cowl picture on the high of the web page, you may see particular person wooden fibers within the cells. Look fastidiously on the cell just under the wasp’s proper foreleg.

The striped pattern results from different types of wood fibers the wasps used for construction.
The striped sample of this nest overlaying outcomes from various kinds of wooden fibers the wasps used for development. Rusty Burlew

Think about the nest’s location

Location is much less telling than among the different nest traits. Often, honey bees will select an inside house equivalent to a purpose-built beehive, an attic, a meter field, and even the inside of a assist column. I’ve additionally discovered them in beer coolers, playhouses, and underneath decks. Honey bees are choosy and can spend appreciable effort to seek out the “proper” house.

Wasp colonies usually select a lofty tree limb, however in addition they like eaves, overhangs, barns, garages, and sheds. One 12 months, I discovered a big aerial yellowjacket nest inside a flowerpot-shaped swarm entice—proof that bees and wasps have comparable style in housing.

Though their nests are very completely different in construction, many individuals report discovering bumble bee nests in smaller cosy areas like mailboxes, discarded mattresses, mole holes, and compost bins. For those who discover a nest in certainly one of these smaller locations, bumble bees are a particular risk.

Wasp nests that were built inside honey bee swarm traps.  Rusty Burlew
Wasp nests constructed inside honey bee swarm traps. Each nests belong to aerial yellowjackets, Dolichovespula arenaria. Rusty Burlew

Nest measurement will depend on the season

The inhabitants in a colony will depend on the time of 12 months. As we progress from spring to fall, wasp nests turn out to be extra prevalent. Additionally they turn out to be greater. In actual fact, in North America, wasp populations are tiny in spring and explode within the fall.

However bee populations do the other: Bee populations develop massive in spring and diminish all through the summer season and fall.

Bee populations increase in spring, particularly when a colony has overwintered. That is essential to honey bees as a result of they want copious staff to gather sufficient meals to hold your complete colony by the following winter.

However wasp colonies don’t overwinter. The queens alone hibernate and begin a colony from scratch within the spring. Beginning over means it takes a wasp colony time to get going. By the point a wasp colony is tremendous populous, honey bee colonies are scaling again. And that makes wasps hazardous to bees: Wasps see bee colonies—particularly these weak colonies low on guards however wealthy with honey—as juicy and plentiful meals sources.

Three tiny covered wasp nests. These nests will not overwinter.
Three tiny lined wasp nests. These nests is not going to overwinter.

Don’t overlook to look at the tenants

Lastly, don’t overlook to see who’s residing within the nest. After I discover solitary wasps hanging from the eaves, I often go away them alone until they’re proper above a doorway. However I attempt to discourage massive colonies of yellowjackets and hornets as a result of they are going to trigger hassle later.

For those who can’t inform a wasp from a bee, search for hair. Most bees are bushy or furry, a attribute that helps them acquire pollen. Wasps lack hair, so they’re shiny.

Pollen, both collected in balls or caught on the insect’s physique, often signifies a bee. Nonetheless, each bees and wasps drink nectar from flowers, so foraging in flowers isn’t sufficient to inform them aside. 

The extra , the higher you’ll do

Like so many different points associated to beekeeping, studying to determine the nests in your space may show you how to turn out to be a extra profitable beekeeper. When you study to acknowledge a colony of social wasps within the making, you may take proactive measures to guard your hives earlier than fall.

Video of a wasp constructing a nest

EXTRA! Yesterday, Julian in Wales despatched me a hyperlink to a video of a solitary wasp developing a nest. It exhibits the wasp starting a brand new base, including the stalk (petiole), constructing the primary cells, and laying a number of eggs. Having performed that, she builds the overlaying for her solitary dwelling earlier than increasing the brood space. Excellent!

Honey Bee Suite

Combs inside a wasp nest. The top of the nest is on the right.
Combs inside a nest of aerial yellowjackets, Dolichovespula arenaria. The highest of the nest is on the suitable. Rusty Burlew

About Me

My love of bee science is backed by a bachelor’s diploma in Agronomic Crops and a grasp’s in Environmental Research. I’ve written extensively about bees, together with a present column in American Bee Journal and previous columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. In recent times, I’ve taken a number of programs in melittology and made in depth identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist. My grasp beekeeping certificates issued from U Montana. Extra right here.


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