There are differences between bees and wasps. Bees tend to have hairy looking bodies, while wasps appear smooth. Bees primarily feed on pollen and nectar whereas members of the wasp family are attracted to protein. Wasps tend to be the bigger pests of humans because of their scavenging behavior, which is why they are seen around trash cans or at your barbecues, sipping on your soft drinks and eating your food.
Paper wasps are social insects that are fairly common and can range in color from orange to a dark red having black colored wings which will be folded lengthwise when at rest. Typically found on horizontal surfaces like under decks, stairs, or eaves, they will sting if provoked. The nests are made from a mixture of wood fibers and salivary secretions of the female wasps and are fairly simple, consisting of one layer with cells opening downward and will rarely have more than 100-200 individuals.
Hornets are another social insect like wasps and yellow-jackets. They build nests that resemble balloons which are really layers of combs wrapped in a continuous paper envelope. The only true hornet in the United States is, strangely enough, the European Hornet and acts in a similar way to the paper wasp in that it is also a bit of a scavenger, also feeding on our discarded food and drink, as well as eating ripe fruit from gardens or farms. Colonies are generally noticed in the late summer and early fall when numbers are at their greatest.
Yellow jackets are small, about ½” and usually build their nests underground in a nest similar to hornets, in that they are constructed from layers of combs and wrapped in a paper-like cover. Workers come and go through an earthen tunnel. Underground nests are often started from abandoned mammal burrows and the nest fills the void, later to be expanded. Several thousand yellow jackets can be produced in a colony in a single season. Away from the nest, yellow jackets tend to ignore humans as they scavenge and search for food but can be extremely aggressive when a person nears a nest or especially if the nest is disturbed. Many experts consider yellow jackets to be the most dangerous of the social Hymenoptera in the U.S., because of its aggressive nesting behavior and the potential for its venom to induce severe, life-threatening allergic responses in certain victims.
Honey bees are of the family Apidae and are different than wasps and hornets which are of the Family Vespidae. Honey bees are one of humanity’s oldest insect friends, and so we are indebted to them for honey, beeswax, and most importantly pollinating flowers and crop bearing plants. The honey bee is a social insect living in large colonies of 20,000-80,000 individuals. They are the only social bee that has a true colony which can survive for many years. Honey bees operate under a caste system where there is a queen (a fertile female), workers (sterile females), and drones (sterile males). Each hive has one egg-laying queen. Despite the beneficial aspects of honey bees, they become a nuisance when they find entry into voids in a structure and begin colonizing or when they sting. The venom of a honey bee is very complex and different people react in different ways to it. When a honey bee stings, the stinger, venom sac, muscle, and other parts of the anatomy are torn from the body and soon the bee dies.