Can you tell the difference between a bee and a wasp? Bees and wasps are related, but bees are very different from wasps, which include hornets, yellow jackets, and paper wasps. Bees are hairy looking, and they are the vegetarian cousins to the predatory wasps. They can be difficult to identify as there are over 400 native species in Minnesota alone. There is an excellent couple of books by author and researcher Heather Holm that have amazing visuals and descriptions for identification, behaviors, and nesting habitats of many of our native bees and pollinators. Check out her website link below for more great information and purchasing options for her books. Understanding some key behaviors of these insects helps in identifying what type you are dealing with. Bees will sting only if threatened (stepped on, nest/hive attack ect). They can only sting once, and they die typically after stinging. They do not want to sting you. Wasps on the other hand, can sting multiple times, and are often aggressive around the nest site, especially come fall.
Wasps and hornets are notorious for buzzing your picnic, when they are looking for protein sources (they are insectivores). If you watch closely, you will see hornets stealing pieces of meat if left unattended. They are truly awesome hunters and are some of the best predatory insects around us. Though wasps are not as effective at pollination, often referred to as “accidental pollinators”, because they accidentally pick up pollen grains as they feed on nectar, they serve multiple purposes.
They are predatory to other pesky bugs, which makes for a natural pesticide, and they still are effective in helping to keep our native plants pollinated. If you can avoid removing a wasp or hornet nest, it is better to tolerate it. If it is in a high traffic area, it is usually necessary to remove the nest, as there are certainly those who are very allergic to their stings. If a nest is removed, the hornets remaining if any, will not rebuild in the same site. These insects form only annual colonies, meaning only the queen overwinters. The colony will die after a winter freeze, and that nest will not be reused come spring. If you choose to use a pesticide, be sure to spray the nest after dusk when all individuals have returned to the nest for effectiveness. Also be sure to do the application on a calm non-windy evening as to not have pesticides drift onto neighboring plants and water sources.
Check out these great links with additional visuals and information on the many types of pollinators in our own back yards.
Heather Holm’s website;
Other noteworthy resources;