Honeybees are often confused with other stinging insects, the most common being the yellow jacket. Stings from wasps and hornets are also often attributed to honeybees. For many people, any flying insect that stings is labeled, "bee".
Honeybees are usually tan or brown, with black or dark brown striping on the abdomen. They are also covered with a dense coat of tiny hairs giving them them a fuzzy appearance. Honeybees are generally gentle and rarely display high levels of aggression unless their nesting area is opened and exposed.
Yellowjackets are generally bright yellow and black with a shiny, smooth exterior. Yellowjacket nests are usually fround in the ground, often at the base of trees or stumps, although above ground nests are not uncommon. This makes avoiding nesting areas difficult. Yellowjackets tend to be very aggressive, with the slightest knock triggering an attack by tens or hundreds of individuals.
Yellowjackets are very beneficial animals despite their level of defensiveness. They provide pollination for some plants that honeybees ingnore. They are also consumers of protein and help to get rid of dead animals.
Like yellowjackets, wasps have a shiny exterior. A defining characteristic of wasps is a long narrow thorax. Wasps tend to be less aggressive than yellowjackets, usually displaying defensive behavior only when their nesting area is approached too closely.
Wasps are beneficial in that they are insectivores, ridding our gardens of catterpillars and other insects and there are several types that prey on spiders.
Hornets, like wasps and yellowjackets have a hard, shiny carapace. Hornets can be very aggressive and their nesting areas should be avoided. If a hornet is killed near a nest it may release a pheromone that can trigger other hornets to attack.
Hornets are beneficial in that they primarily feed on insects, and controlled populations can help curb local insect populations. Because of their aggressiveness, however, a nest located inside or near a home can be very dangerous to humans.