Don’t mistake a bee for a wasp

Generally, we like bees, but we hate wasps. Why is this? They are similar – both are Hymenoptera (order) and Aprocrita (suborder), and they both have stings. It isn’t pleasant to be stung by either and yet we like bees but hate wasps.

Bees pollinate, wasps don’t

One of the reasons we like bees is because we see they are useful. Flowering plants need pollination and we see bees doing it. Also, we have lovely honey to show for their hard work.

On the other hand, wasps don’t make honey and therefore we don’t associate them with pollination. This is wrong because, in fact, they are great pollinators. They are primarily hunters but during their travels, and because they aren’t fussy like bees, they will visit and pollinate a wide variety of plants. One study found that wasps visited and pollinated 600 different species of fauna.

What is a wasp?

That is the problem. When we say wasp, we are often only referring to ‘yellowjacket’ – in the UK, the Common and the German wasp. These are social wasps but, because they hassle us during our picnics, we think they are anti-social.

Globally, roughly 200,000 types of wasp have been identified, with an estimated 100,000 more still waiting to be discovered. In the UK, it is estimated there are 7,000 different species of wasp. Most of these wasp species are not social. In fact, only 1% of wasps are social.

Most wasps are tiny black insects that we would think of as flies. The smallest insect in the world is a wasp – the ‘fairyfly’. This is a particularly useful type of wasp because it is parasitic. The adult will lay its eggs in the bodies of crop pests, thereby acting as a natural pest controller.

Parasitic wasps are now being used for a variety of helpful purposes. At Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the National Trust is using Trichogramma evanescens, a tiny wasp that is 0.5 mm long, to help them deal with a clothes moth problem. The wasp lays its eggs inside the eggs of the clothes moth and so, instead of a moth larva hatching from the egg, a tiny wasp will hatch. They are entirely benign.

The idea that wasps are useless, unlike bees, is therefore incorrect.

How can you tell the difference?

The rules for identifying a wasp from a bee must be general because, as we’ve seen, wasps and bees come in all shapes and sizes. However, thinking about our most annoying foe, the ‘yellowjacket’, in relation to most common UK bees:

  1. Wasps are thinner and smoother than bees, which generally have rounder and hairier bodies
  2. Wasp legs are basically hairless, bees have hairy legs
  3. Wasps are predators, bees are pollinators (look for wasps around rotting food)
  4. Wasps are generally more aggressive than bees
  5. Wasps have a distinctly yellow colour (hence the name ‘yellowjackets’), but bees have darker, more orange abdomens (honeybees) or bodies with a variety of colours (bumblebees)

Can I get rid of a nest?

Neither wasps nor bees are protected; although it is commonly thought bees are. However, since we are trying to conserve bee numbers, it is vital that colonies are not destroyed. Our advice would be to leave any nest alone unless it is causing a real safety concern.

If a nest is causing a problem, then we would advise calling in an expert to help, try the British Beekeeper’s Association. Social bee colonies can contain up to 50,000 individuals, so this isn’t a job for an amateur.

The same rule regarding leaving nests to the professionals also applies to wasps. If you think you have a wasp problem, call London Network for Pest Solutions today on 020 8430 4133.

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Image by Gabriele M. Reinhardt from Pixabay