About Bees & Wasps

European honey bee © David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org
European honey bee © David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Bees and wasps (including hornets and yellow jackets) can inspire fear because some of them sting. However, these fascinating insects are vitally important to nature and to our economy. Many are important pollinators of food plants that we rely on. Some wasps are among our most effective controls on crop-eating insects. And, of course, honeybees give us tasty honey and useful beeswax.


Both bees and wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and sawflies. There is a great deal of variation among these insects. Broadly speaking, and with some exceptions, bees have round bodies and flattened back legs. They are often fuzzy, which helps them collect and hold pollen when they visit flowers.  Wasps tend to have skinny waists and streamlined bodies and legs, which are perfect for swift hunting.


Some bees and wasps are “social”. This means that they form a colony with multiple individuals who have different roles, from caring for the young to building the nest to reproducing. A colony of social bees or wasps builds an elaborate nest, and will defend it with varying degrees of aggression.

Other bee and wasp species are “solitary”—they may work together to defend a nesting area, but they don’t form colonies. Typically, the female builds the nest and deposits food for her offspring.

Life Cycle

Except for honeybees, social bee and wasp colonies last for only one season. All of the colony members die in the fall, with the exception of the young queens, which find a sheltered place to overwinter. These queens emerge in the spring to choose a nest site, lay eggs and start a new colony.

Adult male and female solitary wasps and bees typically overwinter beneath the ground, and emerge in the spring to begin reproducing.


Adult bees and wasps may eat nectar, pollen, and insects. Depending on the species, they may feed their young pollen, insects and insect larvae, or spiders.