Bees vs Yellow Jackets
Welcome to the ultimate guide to honey bees vs. yellow jackets! Bees and yellow jackets share the same habitats and have some things in common, but they are really quite different when you get down to it. Get ready to explore the incredible differences between bees and yellow jackets so when someone yells, “Run! It’s a bee”, you might learn to react a little differently. Prepare to be amazed by the stinging rivalry between these buzzing insects. Let the battle begin!
Not All Buzzers are the Same
The Queen gets a little aggravated when someone says things like “the bees are everywhere” (when they’re not), or “eek! it’s a bee!! help!” (when it isn’t). She gets REALLY upset when someone says “I got attacked by bees” (or they say a relative or a friend got attacked), when what they really mean to say is that they got “attacked” by yellow jackets or their smaller cousins, the hornets. Not all buzzers are the same – and if you take the time to look at them, you’ll immediately see how different they are.
The Queen keeps honey bees in her backyard, and she loves to watch their little golden bodies zip in and out of the hive. They aren’t really golden in color; they have black and yellow/brown, or amber, stripes on their body. Look at this pretty little honey bee sitting calmly on the petals of the yellow flower!
The Queen was only got stung in the backyard one time…when she was pushing the lawnmower directly towards the front of the hive (never do that!).
Honey bees are small – they are less than an inch long, about the size of US quarter. They have hairs on their body and while not as fuzzy as a bumblebee, people still ask the Queen if she pets the bees (she doesn’t even though she loves them a lot).
Yellow jackets are clearly…yellow! They have black stripes on their body too, just like a honey bee. But yellow jackets do not have hair on their body…they are slick, shiny, and smooth (there is no temptation to pet them!).
Yellow jackets also have a distinctive tiny “waist” that seems to divide their body in half. Most photos make it seem like the yellow jacket is larger than the honey bee, but the truth is that they are just about the same size.
Yellow jackets are in the wasp family and are very aggressive in comparison to honey bees. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s Antman movie, you might remember that the main villain was Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket!
In the battle of the bees vs yellowjackets, I think the honey bees win in the “looks” category, don’t you?
The Sting Saga
Honey bees and yellow jackets both can sting you, but they still are not the same. A sting by a yellow jacket is said to be more painful and takes longer to heal than a bee sting. In this category of bees vs yellow jackets, I’d prefer to get stung by a honey bee, but read on and decide yourself.
Wasp/yellow jacket venom and bee venom are each unique and contain separate allergens. So if you are allergic to yellow jackets, it does not mean that you are allergic to honey bees as well.
Yellow Jackets: Stingy Troublemakers
Yellow jackets sting. Multiple times. They are painful. These are facts contributing to the yellow jackets bad reputation. (They are not bees, but are ruining the honey bees reputation!).
Yellow jackets like to crash your backyard barb-ques and pool parties and cause chaos, especially when it’s a little one’s birthday celebration.
Honey bees might sneak in for a quick drink at your pool (they do like chlorine) but they will bee gone before you even know they were there.
Photo to right shows the villain, Darren Cross, aka “Yellowjacket,” as seen in Marvel Comic’s Antman (2015)
Honey Bees: Sting and Save
Sweet little honey bees do have stingers and they will use them when necessary. Only when necessary. Bee-cause when a honey bee stings you, it will die. Their stinger is barbed, so it gets stuck in your skin during the stinging process. When they fly away, the stinger stays behind and basically eviscerates the bee at the same time!
Bee-lieve me, they do not want to sting you! After stinging you, the bee will curl up and die.
Honey bees sting for one reason only – for the survival of their hive. In general, honey bees are gentle and will not bother you when they are out and about in the gardens. The probability of a getting stung by a honey bee is not high; you’re actually more likely to get stung by a fire ant than a honey bee!
Surplus vs Survival
Honey is Nature’s Pantry
There are over 20,000 types of bees in the world but only the honeybee makes honey. Honey is used for the day to day energy needs of over 20,000 bees that live in a single hive. Excess honey is stored in the upper levels of the bee hives, in their “pantry” to compare it to your own kitchen.
Honey storages provide food and nutrition to the bees when flowers (fresh sources of nectar) are not available. Beekeepers need to make sure they leave enough honey for bees to survive through the winter months. The length and severity of winters varies in different geographic areas, but here in NY we leave about 60-70 pounds of honey in place for each hive.
Yellow Jackets Are Relentless Scavengers
Yellow jackets don’t have a pantry full of excess food; they live from day to day off the food that they scavenge. They like the sweet juicy fruits of a summertime orchard as much as free soda in the garbage can at a public park. But they also will eat other insects, and you can see them scavenging for food at the base of the Backyard Bees beehives!
At this time of the year, yellow jackets are especially aggressive. The yellowjacket population peaks at the end of August, so there is a lot of competition for food. When September comes along there is less food and the competition is fierce!
You can sometimes see a war going on outside a beehive. Bees vs yellow jackets! Yellowjackets get so desperate, they will actually try to attack and rob the honey from a beehive…and sometimes they are successful if the hive is not strong enough to fight them off. Win or lose, yellow jackets will be seen feeding off the carcasses of the fallen warriors.
In general, yellow jackets don’t survive the New York winter. Fertilized queens burrow deep in the ground and hibernate until the springtime, emerging to form a new colony when the temperature is right.
In the nutrition category of bees vs yellow jackets, I’d much rather bee a bee and bee thankful for an pantry full of food for the winter. What about you?
Honey Bees: Graceful and Productive
The aerodynamics behind the flight patterns of the honey bee are beyond the Queen Bee. One fascinating, but technical article described how the angles of the bees wings can change to produce lift, speed, and power similar to a “tiny tornado turned on it’s side.”
Despite the talk of aerodynamic angles and rotations, bee actually fly in a straight line, or a beeline. If you go to a party and make a beeline for the desert table, it means you are taking the shortest, most direct route to the cannolis. If you make a beeline across a crowded dance floor, you have (most likely) found your true love.
Bees make beelines from their hive to the fields or gardens or trees that have a good source of nectar; pick up the nectar, and then make a beeline back home. As previously said, they do not stop to bother you at your backyard party.
Yellow Jackets: The Daredevil Aces
Yellow jackets do not fly in a straight line so much – they zig, they zag, they do figure eights. Scientifically speaking, they are known for their “side to side flight pattern.” In addition, yellow jackets are FAST! Yellow jackets can fly up to 30 miles per hour, where my sweet little honey bees max out at 20 miles per hour. Think about that when someone you know says they were attacked by “bees” – truly, it is more likely that they were victims of an angry swarm of yellowjackets.
Fear Factor: Bees vs Yellow Jackets
If you’ve ever been stung by a yellowjacket OR a bee, it’s understandable that you don’t want to be stung again! A sting from either insect is painful! But if you include bees and yellowjackets in the same group you are ruining the honey bees sweet reputation.
People often scream, run, or swat at “bees” in fear. Screaming definitely doesn’t scare either bees or yellow jackets away from you. Running doesn’t help either – both the yellow jacket and the honey bee can outrun you. Swatting at a yellow jacket or any member of the wasp family will most definitely make them more aggressive. Actually, if you get one yellow jacket angry, it releases a scented hormone that gets other yellow jackets in the area angry too – so don’t do it!
Remember, bees fly in a straight line. Yellow jackets have a more erratic flight pattern, and their bright yellow stripes make them easy to differentiate from honey bees. Whichever one you identify, bee calm, and carry on!
In the battle of bees vs yellow jackets, the sweet and gentle honey bee is the winner! They go about their business and work hard to take care of all the members of their hive. They may not be as fast or as athletic as the yellow jackets, but they are much kinder to humans. And the bottom line is always…BEE KIND!