Bee Careful: A Guide to Helpful Honeymakers and Sassy Stingers

Guide to Helpful Honeymakers and Sassy Stingers

Can you tell the difference between bees and hornets? How about wasps? Stinging insects are prevalent summertime pests that can pose a danger if you run into them. Unfortunately, getting a sting from these insects can be more than enduring the painful nuisance. According to the CDC, thousands of Americans get stung by insects every year, with 90-100 people dying due to severe allergic reactions. However, you can still be a victim even if you’re not allergic.

How do you ensure that your loved ones are safe from stinging insects? This article highlights the different ways you can recognize these insects. You’ll learn how to differentiate honeybees from hornets, wasps, or yellow jackets. Moreover, we tell you how to differentiate killer bees from regular bees.

Types of Stinging Insects to Watch Out For

Bumble Bees

Unlike honeybees, bumblebees prefer building their nests on the ground, usually around a dense grass clump. Sometimes you can also find them in abandoned mouse nests. Since bumblebees build their nests from pollen clamps, a colony will hardly populate in your yard without attracting your attention. They are about ¼ to 1 inch in size, with black and yellow markings all over the body. Moreover, they look fuzzy. Even though bumble bees are not aggressive, they can sting when attacked.


Honeybees are less aggressive compared to other bee species. Honeybees originally came to the US with the Europeans. They are social insects and live in colonies of up to 20,000-80,000 insects. Thus, they can be deadly if they attack. However, honeybees rarely sting unless you threaten their territory by stepping on the nest or poking the hive. They also die after stinging as the stinger detaches from the abdomen. So, how can you spot honeybees and differentiate them from killer bees? Honeybees are black or organic brownish and are about ½ to 5/8 inches in size.

Killer Bees

Killer bees are popular as Africanized bees. They are a hybrid species produced by crossbreeding European honeybee sub-species with the East African lowland honeybee. These bees pose a more dangerous threat to human activities because they attack intruders in large numbers than regular honeybees. Thus, victims end up with more stings that often kill or lead to ICU. Killer bees are about ¾-inches long, just like European bees. So, how do you differentiate them from honeybees? Killer bees have a brown and fuzzy body, typically covered in black stripes.

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees may not pose a significant threat to your safety but can cause serious property damage over time. The male species are territorial and tend to be aggressive but don’t sting. They’ll hover in front of your face just to show off. On the other hand, female carpenter bees are less aggressive but have a potent sting, which they rarely use. Carpenter bees measure about ½ to 1.0 inches. Even though they resemble bumblebees, they have a bare and shiny abdomen.

Paper Wasp

Paper wasps mainly reside in paper material nests, hence their name. These nests are easy to spot because they form a sizeable umbrella-like shape. You can find paper wasp nests attached to deck floor joints, porch ceilings, railings, and doorframes. Sometimes, these nets hang on twigs and branches of the twigs in your backyard. Paper wasps are brownish, with reddish or yellow markings all over the body. However, they are slow to sting unless you touch their nests.

Yellow Jacket

As the name suggests, yellow jackets are 3/8 to 5/8-inch insects with a yellow and black pattern body. Yellowjackets rarely sting but attack if you threaten their nests. These insects construct their nests from paper cotton. A colony can reside in a nest as big as a basketball. However, it can be pretty challenging to spot their nests because they can either be aerial or near the ground. If they build a nest on the ground, it will likely be on plant roots or logs. You can find their aerial nests attached to shades, garages, bushes, or even shrubs.

Bald-Faced Hornets

Many farm owners consider bald-faced hornets as beneficial insects because they can help control other pest insects. However, if a colony settles next to your structure, a control solution is necessary as they can pose a significant threat. So how do you spot bald-faced hornets in your backyard? These insects are mainly black with a whitish patch on the face. They build large, aerial nests from paper cartons. The nests can be as big as 24 inches lengthwise and 14 inches in diameter. You can find these nests on trees, utility poles, or even overhangs.

European Hornets

European hornets can help control many pest species. However, they can be pretty dangerous if they form a colony around residences. These stinging insects are large and can hardly populate in your compound without attracting attention. They are brown, measuring about ¾ to 1 inch, with yellow stripes on the abdomen. They also have pale faces. European hornets build envelope-like nests from paper cartons. You can find their nests in hollow trees, house walls, and attic. European hornets can sting when provoked.

Mud Daubers

Lastly, you might need to check your property for mud daubers, solitary wasp species. These insects don’t live in colonies; thus, they don’t pose a significant threat. Male mud daubers are hard to come by, but the females will construct mud nests under porch ceilings, eaves, barns, attics, and protected building walls. The mud nests are typically about 1-inch long, built side by side. Mud daubers found in the US are black and slender, with a metallic luster or pale markings around the abdomen. Even though mud daubers are beneficial in controlling spiders, it is wise to control them around human activity.

What Can You Do About Stinging Insects?

The best way to manage stinging insects like bees and wasps involves terminating their nest or hives before building a massive colony. You can take routine walks around your backyard garden to watch out for any overhangs, eaves, or even decks. Most importantly, pay attention to trees and thickets. However, never attempt to remove a nest or hive by yourself. Whether you are just curious or looking to harvest some Australian Manuka honey, it is better to call an expert than to do it yourself without experience. We don’t want to kill good bees while mistaking them for sassy stingers. Instead, call a licensed professional who can eliminate insects without posing a threat to your loved ones. Moreover, professionals can identify various types of stinging insects without provoking them to attack in defense.