How do you distinguish a bee from a wasp?

Written by gino

“Get out of the way, leave my plate alone… don’t touch my glass…”

We all have in mind memories of summer lunch, playing the fan with our hands to hunt the insects that invite themselves on the rim of our plate, our glass. We tend to confuse bees with so-called European social wasps which, at first glance, have physical and behavioural similarities. We will see more clearly on the subject. At the end of this article, you can easily distinguish a bee from a wasp! (for those who would be lazy to read the entire article, I put you a video (in English) at the end of the article of the Youtube channel “Today I Found out” that answers the question in 7 min shows in hand.

Conceptual illustration of a man fleeing a bee swarm / credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is important to note that there are more than 20,000 species of bees in the world, including 2,000 in Europe and 1,000 in France. As for wasps, 15,000 species have been recorded to date. We will focus here on the European bees and the Germanic or European wasps that remain the most encountered today in most countries of the Northern Hemisphere.

Why do we often confuse?

On the left, the German wasp, on the right, the European bee

The bee and wasp are part of the hymenopterafamily,an order of insects that also includes the hornet and ant. Both play a central role in maintaining natural balances (with a stronger influence for the wild bee, the world’s largest pollinator). Both have a prominent abdomen and, little more for females, an abdominal stinger (commonly called stinger)that allows them to defend themselves if they feel unsafe. The sound level of their flight is not audible. Their food taste remains different (we’ll come back to it below) but they invite themselves to our meals to revel in meats, fish or drink sugary drinks. We don’t take the time to discover their final destination, we hunt them before they land on our table.

What are their differences?

The physical

  • The bee has a stocky body, its upper part is fluffy. Its abdomen has black stripes on its abdomen on a yellow to dark brown background depending on the species. It measures between 11 and 13 cm.
The European bee – credit
  • The wasp has a hairy body, painted bright yellow striped with black stripes. It has two mandibles wider than those of the bee, an advantage of choice for grinding its prey more easily. It has a slender abdomen than the bee with a tighter waist that marks the separation with the thorax. The phrase“with a wasp size”via from there! On average, the wasp is larger than its cousin with a size ranging from 11 to 18 mm (18 mm for the queen).
The German wasp – credit


  • The bee is floricole,its pantry is mainly found in flowers, shrubs and trees. On the menu, nectar, sweet syrup produced at the bottom of the flowers, honeydew, a sweet syrup also secreted by plants or aphids, deposited on the flower and pollen constitute his diet throughout his short life. The bee also needs water for itself and to produce honey. More shy than the wasp, she will be less inclined to come and annoy you during your barbecue. Attracted by sugary materials, it is not impossible that it bites a head in your glass of soda or your fruit juice.
A bee foraging a flower – credit
  • The wasp in adulthood feeds mainly on sweet products: nectar, ripe fruit, watermelon from your summer meal… What is less known is that it is also omnivorous because their larvae need protein to grow. An omnivore with a carnivorous tendency because it feeds mostly on dead parasites and insects (but sometimes on your meat and fish left on your plate). Without it, we would have to negotiate with thousands of undesirables every year who pollute and destroy, flowers, plants and crops. A precious ally for us men.
A wasp pre-seen a piece of flesh from a cicada larvae to give to its larvae – credit


The only way to defend yourself against an imminent threat to the bee and wasp is to sting. They react by self-defense to an unseemly smell or an aggressive gesture.

  • Unlike the wasp, the bee can only sting once. Because his stinger is securely attached to his abdomen, a sting causes part of his belly to be detached and the bee dead. If you feel a sting and a dead insect at your feet, you will know that one was a bee. Bee venom is often more allergenic than that of the wasp, so be careful before removing the stinger after sting.
Dart attached to bee’s abdomen after sting – credit Kathy Keatley Garvey
  • The wasp can therefore sting several times. The stings also occur much more in late summer or early fall. The working-class wasps then occupied much of the summer hunting insects to feed the youngest and defend their communities are left abandoned once the home emptied of its congeners. They have nothing better to do than defend themselves and feed on what they want, including leftover sodas or orange juice.
The gun ready to sting – AdobeStock credit


About the author


Je m’appelle Gino, jeune trentenaire et vieux blogueur ! Touche à tout du web, consultant SEO mais surtout passionné de Culture avec un grand "C" : tout ce qui m'entoure ne doit pas être ignoré, je suis un vrai boulimique culturel. S'il fallait me décrire en 2 mots et demi, je dirais "passeur de savoir"...en toute modestie ! Merci de me suivre sur le chemin de la connaissance, vous verrez, c'est un puits sans fond :)

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