Identifying Different Types of Hornets Bees and Wasps

Concerned About “Murder Hornets?” Here’s a Quick Guide to Identifying Different Types of Bees, Hornets and Wasps

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Hornets, bees and wasps are common summertime pests. In addition to trying to taste the food at your family BBQ and make nests around your home, they also deliver a nasty sting. This year, Americans have yet another stinging insect to worry about — the murder hornet. This giant Asian native made its way to North America late last year. While scientists work to get rid of them before they make the United States their new home, you can protect yourself by learning to identify them and other stinging species. 


Bees are relatively easy to identify, and you probably know one when you see one. Generally, they have round, fuzzy bodies with black and yellow stripes and like to forage for nectar in flower gardens and fields. While they can sting, they aren’t as likely to do so as hornets and wasps. 

Carpenter Bee 

Carpenter bees have a fuzzy yellow thorax and a shiny black abdomen. You’ll often find them around wooden decks and older, untreated structures. There, they bore into the material and lay eggs. Males lack stingers and die early in the summer. Females, however, do have stingers and will use them if they feel you’re threatening their nest. 


Every year, bees pollinate more than 150 crops in addition to wildflowers. Honeybees are one of the main contributors to this pollination dance. Often, you’ll find them and their hives close to fields and agricultural land. These bees are slightly smaller than carpenter bees and have orangeish brown and black stripes. Much like carpenter bees, they also only sting if they feel you’re threatening them or their hive. 


Bumblebees’ overwhelming fuzziness distinguishes them from other bees. These tiny hairs cover almost all of their bodies, helping them pick up and carry pollen to and fro. Planting a pollinator garden in your yard will certainly attract these black and yellow insects. You might even find them in pollen clump nests in the ground or grass. 


Hornets tend to be the largest of the stinging insects and are more apt to sting than bees. They can also sting repeatedly, causing serious pain, injury and even death in some cases. 

Asian Giant Hornet

The Asian giant hornet — or murder hornet — arrived in the U.S. in December of last year. These insects are one and a half to two inches long with prominent burnt orange eyes and black and yellow stripes. As scary as they sound, they rarely attack humans. They’re a much larger threat to honeybees, which they actively attack and decapitate, decimating populations. If murder hornets make a home here, the bees that provide honey may not last much longer. 

European Hornet

The European hornet is the most common type in the United States. Until the Asian giant hornet made its way here, the European hornet was the only true hornet in North America. These stinging insects build paper nests in hollow trees, barns, walls and even attics. You’ll know them by their yellow abdomen stripes and pale faces. 


Wasps are generally the smallest type of stinging insect, with hornets and some bees being more round in comparison. They’re also carnivores — just like the murder hornet — and use their stingers to kill their prey and lay eggs inside them. In this way, they’ve taken a toll on honeybee populations in recent years. 

Northern Paper Wasp

The paper wasp is thin with a brownish color and yellow and red markings. These insects chew up wood and spit it back out to form a paper nest. You may see these nests hanging from twigs, decks or eaves. While paper wasps aren’t typically aggressive, they’ll likely sting you if you try to swat at them or their nest. 

Yellow Jacket 

The yellow jacket is a bit shorter than the paper wasp and has a fatter waist and thicker wings. While they also build a paper nest with spit, they encase the entire thing in an envelope of multiple layers. Depending on the species, they may construct this nest on roots or logs, in sheds or on branches.

Ground Digger Wasp

Also known as the cicada killer wasp, the ground digger is quite large and comfortable invading your personal space. Its head is a rusty orange, and black and yellow stripes ring its abdomen. You’ll often see them in flowery prairies and open ranges. They’re most active during the summer, digging tunnels in dry soil and burying their prey.

Types of Bees: The Big Picture 

Luckily, murder hornets generally avoid humans. While they can sting, they likely won’t be any more of a threat to you than hornets and wasps already are. As long as you’re aware of your surroundings and can identify a few different types of bees and wasps, you’ll likely avoid stings and have a safe, enjoyable summer. However, regardless of whether you can identify them, you’d do best to keep your distance.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.