At first glance, you could forgive somebody for thinking that bees and hornets are almost the same, given that they’re both small, buzzing, flying, stinging insects.
However, they are unique in the world of tiny airborne terrors. Around sixteen thousand bee species are on planet earth, with the western honey bee the most common.
Hornets, however, are a name given to the largest of the eusocial wasps, of which twenty-two different subspecies exist.
- Bees are pollinators, feeding on nectar and collecting pollen, while hornets are carnivorous, primarily feeding on other insects.
- Bees are generally smaller, with a more rounded, hairy body, while hornets have a larger, elongated body with a smooth, striped appearance.
- Hornets are more aggressive and likely to sting, while bees are usually less aggressive, with many species capable of stinging only once.
Bees vs Hornets
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. Hornets are a type of giant, social wasp. They are known for their large size and aggressive behaviour. Hornets are not as crucial for pollination. Hornets are more aggressive and dangerous than bees.
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|Parameter of Comparison||Bees||Hornets|
|Size||1.5 centimetres||6 centimetres|
|Appearance||Furry, black and yellow striped||Red/brown or black/white|
|Aggression||Not very. Stings as a last resort.||More than bees, less than wasps|
|Number of species||Approximately 16,000||22 current and seven extinct|
|Queen’s egg production||Up to 1,500 per day||Up to 100 per day|
|Swarm size||40-60,000||Up to 700|
|Diet||Pollen and nectar||Fruit, other insects, food scraps|
|Main function||Pollinate different plants||Eat pests that damage plants|
What are Bees?
A typical honey bee is half an inch long and has a yellow and black striped body covered by a fine layer of hair.
In this hair, they will often have a lot of pollen caught, as they are the primary pollinator of various plant species. This makes bees incredibly important for the earth’s biosphere.
However, bees are not super aggressive and will only sting when provoked or threatened, such as somebody is too close to their hive.
If a bee does sting a human, the sting will break off, and the bee will die. A bee’s sting is designed to fight other insects, not take down large animals.
Bees produce beeswax from the nectar and pollen eaten from plants and flowers, which they use to build a hive made from beeswax, giving them a safe place to live and store honey.
There are approximately sixteen thousand species of bees, and they are found on every continent except for Antarctica.
In one swarm, there may be up to sixty thousand individual bees, most of whom are workers (females) with many different jobs inside the hive.
Worker bees help feed the queen, process and store honey and pollen, build and maintain the beehive, and collect water, pollen, and nectar for food and usage in the hive.
Around five per cent of bees are drone (male) bees, whose sole responsibility is impregnating a queen bee. Drone bees live forty days on average, whereas worker bees live up to four months.
What are Hornets?
A hornet is a considerable wasp, the largest of which can grow up to two and a half inches long. They are brown/red and, thankfully, less aggressive than other wasps.
The diet of a hornet consists primarily of other insects, and as such, hornets play an essential role in controlling crop-destroying pests.
Hornets have also been known to eat fruits and other food scraps left by humans.
Typically, hornets are more aggressive than bees and are more likely to attack than fly away if provoked.
Unfortunately, the hornet’s sting is more painful than a bee’s because it has a giant barb and does not break off in human skin, allowing the insect to sting repeatedly.
A poison is also found in a hornet’s sting, which is not found in bees, causing the aftershock to be two to three times more painful than a bee sting.
There are twenty-two known, current species of hornet, the largest of which is the Asian giant hornet, measuring two inches long on average. There are seven known extinct hornet species.
Swarms of hornets can number up to seven hundred, with one queen per swarm or nest who will live for around twelve months, producing approximately one hundred eggs per day.
Male hornets, known as drones, live for approximately three weeks and are solely responsible for impregnating a virgin queen bee once they have left the nest.
On the other hand, female hornets will live for only two weeks and spend their time foraging, maintaining the nest, and looking after the queen’s larvae.
Main Differences Between Bees and Hornets
- Bees are 1.5cm long on average, whereas hornets can grow up to 6cm.
- Hornets are much more aggressive than bees, however, less so than other wasps. They also have a more painful sting than bees and do not die when stinging a human.
- Bees are furry, with black and yellow stripes, whereas hornets are a solid brown/red colour or sometimes black and white.
- There are approximately sixteen thousand species of bees and only twenty-two species of hornet living today.
- A queen bee can produce 1,500 eggs daily during her peak, whereas a queen hornet can only manage around 100.
- The lifespan of a hornet is very short-lived compared to a bee, with hornet queens living for around twelve months, whereas queen bees can live for up to five years.
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Piyush Yadav has spent the past 25 years working as a physicist in the local community. He is a physicist passionate about making science more accessible to our readers. He holds a BSc in Natural Sciences and Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science. You can read more about him on his bio page.