We have been plagued by flying, striped, yellow things all summer. They have bullied the hummingbirds away from the feeder. They sting. They build nests in the compost. We mostly try to coexist. But the stings were kind of the last straw. So we buy a trap. Not chemicals. Please, not chemicals. But when buying said trap, do we get a wasp trap? A yellow-jacket trap? That of course leads to the question, what exactly are those flying, striped, yellow things?
So I did a little research to determine the difference between bees, hornet, wasps, and yellow jackets. And the bottom line seems to be that unless they all line up side-by-side for a group photo, it’s not so easy. Let’s start with what I do know. Bees are a family unto themselves and easier to identify, with the biggest giveaway being that they are fuzzy (be it a honeybee, bumblebee, or carpenter bee). They’re also a bit stockier than the others. Now, I don’t normally get close enough to any of our flying, striped, yellow things, but I’m pretty confident with my bee identification. We have not been plagued by bees.
This is when things get a little more difficult. Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are actually all wasps, from the family Vespidae (bees, on the other hand are from the family Apidae). So if you say, “There’s a wasp!” and you know it’s not a bee, you have correctly identified the flying, striped, yellow thing. Yellow jackets tend to be brighter yellow than other wasps, but again, unless they all line up, who’s to say what “brighter” is? And yellow jackets are smaller than wasps. But again, how can you tell unless they are together? Paper wasps are the ones who make the paper-like honeycomb nests in all the places around your home you’d rather them not build. Yellow jackets tend to nest underground. There are, of course, exceptions to this.
The takeaway from all this? Unless there is an imminent insect family photo, I’m going to just stick with, “It’s a bee!” or “It’s a wasp.” That much differentiating I can do! Anyone interesting in being able to distinguish among wasps, click here.