Differences between Wasps and Honey Bees

It was reported to me yesterday, that one of the schools saw what they thought were bees coming and going underneath the ramp to the raised bed. What they saw were, in fact, wasps. I thought it might be useful for a little comparison information for everybody on site who might be unsure what they are seeing on our around their plot.


Wasps are very brightly striped black and yellow

Wasps are social insects living in colonies inside nests that they build from wood pulp. The most common locations for these nests are in buildings are roof spaces, airbricks and wall cavities. Outside nests are often built in garden sheds, holes in trees, hedges and soil banks. The building of each nest starts in Spring when the fertilised queen wasps emerge from hibernation and search for suitable sites to rear new colonies. This is usually around Easter time but can vary enormously depending on the weather and temperature. The queen continues to lay eggs throughout Summer until early Autumn. By this time most people will be aware of the presence of a nest by the continual wasp activity around the entrance point. As the wasp season nears its end, in late Summer, the worker wasps become more aggressive. This is due to the queen ceasing to lay eggs. With no larvae to feed the worker wasps seek sweet substances on which to feed themselves. A favoured source of food is fallen, over ripe fruit. It is the ingesting of the often-fermenting juices that contribute greatly to the worker wasp’s increasingly aggressive behaviour. It is also at this time of year that they more frequently come into contact with humans. With the onset of cold weather, the workers and the resident queen all die. The timing of this can vary enormously and be anywhere from October to December, normally the first ground frost is regarded as the point from which the nest will rapidly die off. The nest is then empty and will never be used again. It can be left alone as it will not affect the chances of problems in future years or if it is certain that all activity has ceased then it can be removed.

Control of wasps:

Firstly we should consider whether or not it is absolutely necessary to destroy a nest, how much of a problem is it causing? Could it safely be left alone? Remember, wasps are beneficial to our allotments, helping with pollination and keeping other pests under control. The nest will die off naturally, even if left untouched.

Honey Bees

Whilst a honey bee looks somewhat similar to a wasp at first glance, it is much less brightly striped and has a more golden/brown colour combination.

Honey bees are also much less aggressive than wasps and will only sting if they fear for the life of the colony. As the weather is still quite warm, our bees are out and about flying to collect pollen and nectar, but the only place they will be returning to is the Court Lane Allotments’ apiary, where their hives are securely located and are cared for by our qualified beekeepers, myself and Ming.

If you see what you think is a bee, going into compost heaps or holes in the ground, I can reassure you that they are definitely not our honey bees – they will be either wasps or ground nesting species of solitary bees or bumble bees.

For comparison – in this image you can see 4 Bumble Bees on the left and a wasp below. Honey bees (on the right) are much less brightly marked. (Apologies for the quality – it’s a really tiny pic and I can’t see how to make it any bigger than this without losing the definition – but I thought it was a good pic for comparing them alongside one another).

I hope that helps everyone with identification. If you have any questions (about wasps or bees), please do not hesitate to ask me (Lin – plot 45).