How to Identify Stinging Flying Insects

Updated July 13, 2018

Few flying insects cause as much fear as those that sting, like bees, wasps and hornets. As a general rule of thumb, the best way to tell if you are looking at a bee, compared to a wasp or hornet, is to look at its texture. Bees have hair, while wasps and hornets are smooth. A popular misconception is that bees have barbed stingers while wasps and hornets do not. In fact, some bees have smooth stingers and can sting repeatedly. Read the steps below to identify the differences among these stinging flying insects.

Identify a wasp by its distinctive narrow waist. Its body is slim, smooth and often shiny. Its legs are tubular in shape. Its stinger is smooth and can be used to sting repeatedly to defend itself.

Identify the type of wasp known as a yellow jacket by its primarily yellow abdomen, with two or three large black stripes in the centre, and a few black dots near the stinger.

Identify a baldfaced hornet by a body that is mostly black, with yellow on its head and the tip of its tail.

Identify a paper wasp by a thorax that is mostly black. Its abdomen is black, with evenly spaced yellow stripes.

Identify a bee by its thick, hairy body. Hind legs are flat and wide for carrying pollen.

Identify a honeybee by its narrow abdomen with thin black stripes. Honeybees have barbed stingers. When it stings, it usually leaves its stinger and a piece of its abdomen in the wound, which kills the bee.

Identify a bumblebee by its size. A bumblebee is larger and thicker than a honeybee and is almost furry in its appearance. The head of a bumblebee points downward and is hunched. A bumblebee does not have a barb on its stinger and can sting multiple times. However, these bees are usually passive and are not easily provoked into stinging.

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About the Author

A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.