Human communication

Bees vs wasps: Which insect really deserves all the buzz?

Bees get all the PR goodness compared to Wasps, but how do their talents measure up? new scientist pit these insects against each other in eight different categories, from cognitive skills to stings, from architecture to cunning


July 12, 2022

Ian Grainger + JJ Gouin/Alamy

It’s a beautiful sunny day. The smell of a barbecue is in the air and a bee is hopping from flower to flower. Everything seems perfect. Then a wasp appears, arousing quite different feelings: fear, disgust, anger.

Our widespread dislike of wasps — and our love of bees — goes way back. “Hornets and wasps… lack the extraordinary characteristics that characterize bees,” Aristotle wrote more than 2,000 years ago. Was he right, or are there more wasps than most people think?

It’s hard to compare different animals fairly, but we like a challenge, so here we pit the talents of bees against those of wasps in eight categories, from cognitive abilities to stings, from architecture to navigation. Which of these bugs should we be buzzing about?

European honey bee (Apis Mellifera) project

MYN/Clay Bolt/naturepl


“Most social insects communicate with a vocabulary of chemicals and vibrations,” says Fred Dyer of Michigan State University. This includes bees and wasps.

Bees use their abdomen to produce vibrations to create a “get to work” signal. Wasps also engage in gastric drumming, banging their abdomen against the walls of the nest when there is food nearby.

Bees and wasps emit hissing, buzzing and chirping sounds, and wasp larvae emit a clicking sound to alert adults that they need food. Chemically, individual social bees and wasps release substances to communicate and elicit responses, such as recruiting others to join them for food or urging them to defend their home. Queen bees produce a chemical mixture called “queen signal” which physiologically alters the development of other bees, suppressing reproduction and retaining all…