Wasps, bees, hoverflies and how to tell the difference

As the weather starts to warm up, we start to see insects of the stinging variety appearing. The trouble is it can be difficult to know whether the insect is harmful or not, whether it will sting, how bad the sting will be and if it will sting repeatedly. As Plymouth pest control consultants, we take a look at a few of the common UK wasps and bees and what you need to know about them.

Often, these flying insects, all belong to the same family. The popular approach is always one of caution and in many cases, wild hand waving as we try to shoo it away. As experienced Plymouth pest control consultants, we often get asked how to tell the difference and what you should do if you are stung by anything.

Of course, some of these insects are perfectly harmless but there are some that can deliver a nasty sting, which some people are allergic to. The reaction to how we treat these creatures will differ according to their species. You see bees, in particular, the honeybee, are useful, in fact, integral to our lives, while the common wasp is seen as a nuisance (despite its usefulness in the food chain). But how do you identify these insects and what should you do if you think you have a nest or swarm?


Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

The Common wasp is black with yellow lines which run straight but vary in size. It can be very difficult to tell the common wasp from the German wasp which is slightly bigger unless you are closer than you probably want to be. It usually the end of April when the queen builds her nest, usually in an old animals’ nest, hollow trees or walls. The trouble is as we experience warmer springs this can be earlier in the year. Constructed from moist and decaying wood, a wasps nest can be over a metre long and contain some 12,000 creatures. Aggressive in nature if you are going to get stung, it’s likely to be from the Common Wasp.

Hornet (Vespa crabro)

The largest of the wasps with distinctive yellow/black bandings on the abdomen and reddish-brown stripes on the head and thorax., you will first see the hornet in April/May time when the queen goes looking for the perfect location for her nest. Usually, the nest is built in a hollow tree or nesting box. A hornet nest can be as big as 60cm and contain 1,700 creatures by the time it is fully developed during the late summer. The sting of a hornet can be painful but it is not usually an aggressive creature.


German wasp (Vespula Germanica)

It is very difficult to tell the German Wasp from the Common Wasp unless you know what you are looking for. The German Wasp is likely to be among the first you see in the year with their nest being built in early April. Their nests can be as big as 2 metres and contain 10,000 insects, pupae and eggs. While they are not as aggressive around the nest, they won’t be so forgiving when there is food around.

Red Wasps and Saxon Wasps are also found in the UK, more recently the Saxon Wasp which is only found in the south. August is the most prolific time for wasps as they become agitated in busy nests and fight for food.



There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK. Social insects, they nest in colonies of a few to a few hundred. It is easy to spot a bumblebee and differentiate them from other types of bees. Their big furry bodies and sheer size are what give them their unmistakable appearance. The Tree bumblebee, Red-tailed bumblebee and White-tailed bumblebee are among the most commonly sighted in UK gardens and woodlands. While a bumblebee will quite happily rest in the palm of your hand, beware if it lies on its back as this is a sign that it is about to sting. Unlike a honeybee, a bumblebee can sting multiple times as it removes the stinger from the sting site.

bumblebee Plymouth


There is only one species, slim and sandy coloured with black and gold bands. Smaller than the bumblebee it lives in hives up to 20,000 strong. They like open flowers as they have short tongues. Unfortunately, the honeybee cannot survive without its stinger and if it stings you, vital parts of its anatomy are left behind with the sting. This is why a honeybee is the only bee to die after stinging.

Mason bees, Miner bees and Carder bees are among the other popular species that you are likely to find in local habitats like your garden or local woodlands. All are very different in style and colour and all have different traits and habitats.

Miner Bee

As Plymouth pest control consultants, we have had a few calls coming in about the Miner Bee already and it is only April. Most are harmless to humans. Nearly all the females have stingers, but the stingers are often too small to penetrate human skin. Yes, some do sting, but the stings, especially in lawn-dwelling species, are light—nothing like a wasp or honey bee. They are non-aggressive.

miner bee


The Hoverfly is often mistaken for a wasp because of their yellow and black appearance. You will often find a hoverfly, hovering around a flower as it goes about its business collecting nectar. while they do have a similar appearance to wasps and bees, they are harmless and you can often distinguish a hoverfly just by the nature of their distinctive movement.

Plymouth pest control consultants will help you to determine what these insects are

Call the Plymouth pest control consultants if you are not sure

Now ordinarily the advice is to stay calm, stay still and wait for the bee or wasp to move on. Wasps are less resistant to this though and often we find ourselves wafting them away. If you do happen to be stung by any of these insects then you will feel some discomfort and the area will become red and swollen in many cases. If you feel unwell, or the area swells more than you just the immediate area then seek urgent medical advice.

It’s not a problem if you see the off one enjoying your flowers or passing through your garden but if you start to see an unusual amount around your property then it is time to call in the experts. whether its a bee swarm, a wasp nest or you just aren’t sure, call in our Plymouth pest control consultants on 01752 929292 and let us assist you.




Plymouth pest control consultants


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