Identifying Bees, Wasps,
Hornets and their Nests

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Who are you calling a bee, Mister?!

People are always sharing their bee sting stories with me.  The problem is that most of the time they are not bee sting stories at all. It's usually a wasp or hornet sting story. It seems that no matter what insect people get stung by, it’s usually the poor honeybee that gets blamed. 

Honeybees are usually very docile, where wasps and hornets tend to be more aggressive. However, none of these creatures leave their hives on a mission to sting. They only sting to defend themselves. Remember, honeybees pollinate 1/3 of all our crops. Wasps and hornets eat many of the bad bugs that destroy our gardens. An occasional sting is a small price to pay for all the good they do.

 Below are some pictures of various bees, wasps, hornets and their nests.

The Honeybee

Honeybee Wild Honeybee Hive

Honeybees colors can range from tan with black bands on their abdomen, to almost totally black. Their bodies are covered with fine hair. They build their hives out of wax, which is secreted from glands on their abdomens. They pick off the secreted wax flakes and form it into hexagon shaped cells; this is known as honeycomb. In the wild, the honeybee will usually try to find a protected area such as a hollow tree in which to build their honeycomb. On occasion they will build their hive hanging from a tree branch. This is not the best location for the honeybee, as when the winter comes, these bees will die because they are exposed to the elements. A hive on a tree branch should not be confused with a swarm. A swarm of bees is a group of 10,000 to 25,000 bees huddled together in a huge cluster, usually on a branch, mailbox, building or any outside structure. A swarm is nothing more than a group of bees looking for a new home.

The Mason Bee

Mason Bee  

Mason bees look similar to a honeybee but are much smaller and darker. They use tiny holes in wood and trees as their nests. They deposit their eggs into these holes along with pollen and nectar and then cap it over with mud. The young bees develop over the winter and emerge in the spring.

The Bumble Bee

Bumble bee  

Bumble bees are big furry bees black and yellow in color. They make their hives by mixing mud and wax to create many small “honey pots”. These honey pots are used to raise the young bees as well as to store honey. Bumble bees hives can usually be found underground.  They like to build their hives in abandoned mouse nests or in materials such as cottons or fiber fill that can be found in things like old car seats and pillows.

The Carpenter Bee

 Carpenter bees are large fuzzy bees black and yellow in color. They look very much like the bumble bee but lack the furry abdomen. Carpenter bees chew holes into wood an inch or so and then downwards several inches. The female carpenter bee then deposits her eggs in this tunnel along with some food for the larvae for when it hatches.

The Paper Wasp


Paper wasps are slender reddish-brown to black in color with yellow stripes. They make small round nests by chewing up wood and mixing it with their saliva. They then form this paper mache type substance into a honeycomb pattern. The cells of the nest are exposed from the bottom in which they lay their eggs. These nests can are usually located in areas such as underneath rain gutters or eaves of houses. These structures serve as a protection for the nest.

Bald or White Faced Hornet

Bald Faced Hornets or White Faced Hornets are about one inch in length bluish-black in color with white markings on their face, thorax and abdomen. They usually build their nests on tree branches. They build their nests using the “paper mache” technique. This nest has a football shaped appearance and has an entrance hole towards the bottom. They are usually grey in color but the color of the nest may vary depending on the type of wood they use to make the nest. Within these nests are several layers of honeycomb shaped structures where the wasps raise their young.


Yellow Jackets

 Yellow Jacket Hornets have black and yellow stripes. They often build their nests in the ground usually in mulched areas and near shrubbery. They also use the paper mache technique to build several layers of honeycomb shaped nests. Yellow jackets can often be found in the walls and ceilings of homes. One telltale sign of this is a yellow moist stain which can be seen on the ceiling.

Mud Dauber Wasp

Mud Dauber wasp and its nest

Mud Dauber Wasps are long and slender with a narrow thread like waist. Their colors range from solid steel blue to black and some have additional yellow markings. Mud daubers collect mud to make their nests. Making a tube like structure, they lay their eggs inside where the young develop over the winter and hatch in the spring.

Tomato, Tomahto; Potato, Potahto; Wasp, Hornet…

Q: What is the difference between a wasp and a hornet?   They  are both in the vespa family. However is a wasp a hornet and/or a hornet a wasp?  I tried to look up these two creatures but cannot find out what the exact difference is between the two. Along the same lines...can a "yellow jacket"-type wasp be called a hornet?

A: Wasp and hornet are somewhat generic terms - that is why we have scientific names! What most people call a "hornet" is the bald-faced hornet, which builds large - up to basketball size - paper nests in trees. Yellow-jackets are closely related and may be called either wasps or hornets. In the eastern U.S. there are 2 common yellow jackets, nearly identical in appearance, a native one lives in the ground and a European import more likely in buildings. Bald faced hornets and yellow jackets are all in the subfamily Vespinae. Many other related insects are called wasps, often they are more narrow-wasted than the Vespas and either solitary or have only relatively small social colonies. They include potters and paper wasps that attach small nests to buildings and many other kinds.