You're lying on a picnic rug in the midst of summer, your eyes are closed and you can feel the warmth on your face. Suddenly something buzzes by your ear… you turn around…was it a bee… or was it a wasp?
We often think of bees to be heroes and wasps to be devils, when in reality, bees and wasps are equally valuable to us and the environment, just in very different ways.
Why are bees and wasps so often confused? Maybe because they both buzz around or because they both sting as a form of defence?
Bees are pollinators, whereas wasps are predators. Both roles are equally important. Pollination is an essential ecological function. This means that our survival depends on bees. Similarly, a world without wasps would be hard to survive in too. Without wasps hunting the pests that destroy our crops and gardens, we wouldn't be able to grow any food.
Considering that bees and wasps both have individual importance, here are some effective ways to help you differentiate between the two.
Bees and wasps defend themselves and their colony using their sting. Interestingly, a wasp sting tends to be more painful than a bee sting. The main difference between a bee sting and a wasp sting is that wasps are able to retract their stinger, whereas, bees stingers are barbed. A barbed stinger means that after the bee stings, their stinger remains on the human's skin and is torn from the their abdomen, eventually leading to death.
Another helpful way to determine the difference between bees and wasps is by their appearance. Wasps have slender bodies that become narrower towards their waist. They appear to be shiny and have a smooth body surface which ensures that they are streamlined for hunting.
In comparison, bees are "plumper", their back legs are flatter and they are hairier which gives them a ‘fluffy’ appearance. Their fluffy appearance helps them collect and disseminate pollen.
Wasps and bees have different habitats. Wasps construct nests from a pulp-like secretion that they make by chewing wood fibres and mixing it with saliva. Whereas bees (referring to honeybees here) make strings of vertical combs out of wax and nest in colonies, called hives. This makes it easy to spot which is which!
Lastly, wasps and bees can be differentiated by their diet. Bees rely on a vegetarian diet which consists of nectar and pollen. Whereas, wasps feed on insects, and hunt in order to survive. This is why wasps are naturally more aggressive and more easily provoked.
The message here is to appreciate that bees and wasps play equally important roles in our ecosystems, and they should be valued and distinguished in their own right.