Bee Hive vs Hornet Nest: Key Differences Explained

Bees, wasps, and hornets are often mistaken for one another due to their similar appearances and behaviors. However, understanding the differences between their nests can help us better identify these species and take appropriate action when encountering them.

A honey bee nest is typically made of wax and is situated within cavities or hollows, such as trees or walls. On the other hand, hornets and wasps are known to build papery nests, which can be found underground, in trees, or under eaves. Hornets are also predatory insects that can pose a threat to bees¹.

By familiarizing ourselves with these differences, we can better protect our local bee populations and manage potentially harmful hornet and wasp infestations with greater precision.

Beehive Vs Hornet Nest: Understanding the Differences

Appearance and Structure

Beehives:

  • Made from beeswax
  • Hexagonal cells
  • Closed structure

Hornet Nests:

  • Made from a mix of wood and saliva
  • Rounded, umbrella-like cells
  • Paper-like, open structure

Bees and hornets have distinct nests that differ in appearance and structure. Beehives are built from beeswax and have hexagonal cells. The structure is closed, with honeybees utilizing it to raise their young and store nectar.

On the other hand, hornet nests are made from a mix of wood and saliva, creating a gray paper-like texture. The cells are rounded and umbrella-like, and the structure is open. Hornets, a type of wasp, also use their nests to raise their young.

Location and Habitat

Beehives:

  • Trees
  • Man-made structures
  • Underground (for some species)

Hornet Nests:

  • Eaves of buildings
  • Attics
  • Trees

Bees and hornets also choose different locations for their nests. Honeybees typically build their hives in trees or man-made structures, while some species of bees, like bumblebees, prefer underground locations. Hornets, such as the bald-faced hornet or yellow jackets, build their nests in eaves of buildings, attics, and trees.

Size and Shape

Beehives:

  • Large structures
  • Flat and organized combs

Hornet Nests:

  • Smaller structures
  • Rounded, umbrella-like cells

In terms of size and shape, beehives are generally larger structures with combs arranged in a flat and organized manner. Comparatively, hornet nests are smaller, with rounded, umbrella-like cells.

Species and Behavior

Hornets

  • Hornets are a type of wasp and are part of the Hymenoptera order of insects.
  • They are known for being more aggressive than other stinging insects and are mainly predators.
  • Hornets might attack when threatened and can deliver a painful sting.

Example

  • The Baldfaced hornet is a species that builds nests in trees and preys on other insects, including bees.

Bees

  • Bees play a significant role in pollination and are generally considered gentle, especially when compared to hornets.
  • They have a barbed sting, meaning they can only sting once and will subsequently die.

Example

  • The Honeybee is a well-known bee species responsible for honey production and pollinating a large portion of human-consumed crops.

Wasps

  • Wasps can be either predatory or parasitic and are often more aggressive than bees.
  • Unlike bees, they can sting multiple times without dying.

Example

  • Paper wasps are a common species that construct nests made of a paper-like material.

Yellow Jackets

  • Yellow Jackets are a type of wasp and can be both predators and scavengers.
  • They are more aggressive than bees and have a painful sting.

Example

  • The European Yellow Jacket is known for scavenging at outdoor events, making them a concern for humans.

Comparison Table

Insect Species Behavior Sting Type Role
Hornets Aggressive Multiple stinging Predators
Bees Gentle Single-barbed stinging Pollination
Wasps Aggressive Multiple stinging Predators, Parasites
Yellow Jackets Aggressive Multiple stinging Predators, Scavengers

Ecological Importance and Functions

Pollination and Food Production

Beehives and hornet nests play crucial roles in the ecosystem. Bees, for example, are vital pollinators that help with food production. Some examples of the crops they play a role in pollinating include:

  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Almonds

Bees collect nectar from flowering plants, which benefits the growth and reproduction of these plants.

On the other hand, hornets are not as efficient as pollinators, but they do contribute to the ecosystem too. They obtain their nutrition from nectar, thus providing a minimal level of pollination.

Predatory Behavior and Pest Control

Both bees and hornets are classified under the Hymenoptera order of beneficial insects. Hornets, in particular, exhibit predatory behavior that contributes to pest control in gardens and crop fields. They prey on various insect species, helping to maintain a balance within ecosystems.

The following is a comparison table of the roles bees and hornets play in ecosystems:

Feature Bees Hornets
Food Production Highly effective pollinators Minimal contribution through nectar-feeding
Pest Control Less significant role Efficient predators of various insect pests

In conclusion, both bees and hornets have ecological importance, as they help maintain balance within ecosystems through pollination, food production, and pest control.

Dealing with Beehives and Hornet Nests

Safety Measures and Precautions

When dealing with beehives and hornet nests, safety is of utmost importance. Some key measures include:

  • Wear protective gear: Ensure you’re covered from head to toe with a bee suit, gloves, and a hat with a veil.
  • Avoid sudden movements: Sudden or aggressive movements can provoke bees and hornets, so stay calm.
  • Keep pets away: Ensure pets are at a safe distance to avoid stings or agitation of the insects.

Professional Pest Control Options

Professional pest control can be a reliable option for dealing with beehives and hornet nests. Here are some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Trained professionals have experience in handling various bee and hornet situations.
  • Safer and more reliable than DIY methods.

Cons:

  • Can be expensive.
  • May harm insects unnecessarily when removal or relocation is possible.

Relocation by Local Beekeeper

When dealing with beehives, contacting a local beekeeper is an excellent alternative to pest control, as they can safely relocate the bee colony to a new location. This helps preserve pollinators while keeping your property free from beehives.

Comparison Table: Beehive vs. Hornet Nest

Aspect Beehive Hornet Nest
Location Tree hollows, wall voids, manmade hives Trees, shrubs, under eaves
Danger Level Lower; only drones can sting Higher; aggressive if disturbed
Removal Method Contact a local beekeeper for relocation Consider professional pest control options

In summary, addressing beehives and hornet nests safely is crucial for both human and insect well-being. Whether it’s taking safety precautions, hiring professional pest control, or contacting a local beekeeper, it’s essential to choose a method that suits your specific situation.

Beehive and Hornet Nest Removal for Homeowners

Identifying and Assessing the Situation

When dealing with potential beehives or hornet nests, it’s crucial to identify the type of infestation in your property. Check common areas like decks, porches, barns, attics, wall voids, and sheds for signs of activity. Honey bees build their hives with hexagonal cells and focus on honey storage. In contrast, hornets, such as bald-faced hornets, build nests that are more paper-like in appearance.

Nests and Hives Comparison

Bees Hornets
Hexagonal cells Paper-like
Focus on honey storage Predatory
Beneficial pollinators Can be aggressive

DIY Removal Methods

If you’re dealing with honey bees, the best option is to contact a local beekeeper to safely remove the hive. For smaller hornet nests, you may attempt DIY methods using protective clothing and insecticides. Remember, both bees and hornets can become aggressive when their home is threatened.

Before attempting any DIY removal, consult with a professional to assess the risks involved.

Preventing Future Infestations

To prevent future infestations from bees or hornets, follow these tips:

  • Keep a well-maintained property, sealing any potential entry points on your home exteriors
  • Remove clutter and debris that may attract nesting insects
  • Avoid planting flowers rich in nectar too close to your home’s entry points
  • Utilize traps or deterrents designed for bees or hornets

Remember, bees are essential pollinators that support thriving ecosystems, whereas hornets are predatory insects. Differentiating between the two helps preserve honey bees while protecting your home from unwanted intruders.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Hornet Nest: early construction

 

Subject: habitat?
Location: Mathews, VA, USA
May 29, 2012 6:09 am
This is on my porch. The tube is flimsy and moves with the wind. I don’t see any bugs fly to it or arouund it. Do you know what it is?
Signature: Gloria

Hornet Nest

Hi Gloria,
Our initial thought was that this must be the first phase of the construction of the nest of a Bald Faced Hornet.  We did some research and came upon this At The Water blog that supports our theory.  Probably the queen is the only inhabitant at the moment, but she is likely raising her first generation of workers that will increase the size of the nest.  By the end of the summer, there could be more than 1000 Bald Faced Hornets in the nest

Letter 2 – Barked Stripped from Tree: Hornets are suspects

 

Subject:  I’m resending bald-face hornet girdling gridwork on bark.
Geographic location of the bug:  Tonasket WA
Date: 06/27/2019
Time: 08:11 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I sent this about a week ago and got the confirmation e-mail and I realize you can’t post everything. I did kinda wonder if the picture came thru as I’m on Windows 7 and I’ve had problems with the upload before. So, just checking. I was told BF hornets did it. I thought, Makes sense, thy use the bark to make their paper nests. Then I looked it up! I read they do it to make the sap run and then they eat it! They are “vegan?” and only gather insects and B-B-Q (haha) to provision their babies. Apparently they can girdle a tree, but this pattern leaves bark and cambium to continue the sap flow. Can you verify this behavior? Or if something else did, do you know who? I don’t think it’s our red-naped sapsucker, they leave a grid work of little round drilled holes, and they’re the only sapsuckers we have. Thanks.
How you want your letter signed:  Cathy

Did Hornets damage this tree???

Dear Cathy,
We cannot confirm that Hornets damaged this tree, but if your theory is correct, they should revisit the site to feed.  We have images on our site of European Hornets (introduced to eastern North America) stripping the bark off of lilac bushes.  We will attempt further research into this matter.

Letter 3 – Hornet Nest

 

Subject: Hornet nest
Location: Anniston, AL
May 13, 2014 11:07 am
Found one just getting started under my eaves.
Signature: Rick

Hornet Nest
Hornet Nest

Hi Rick,
Thank you for sending this image of what is most likely a queen Bald Faced Hornet beginning to construct her nest.

Letter 4 – Hornet Nest

 

Subject:  Cocoon
Geographic location of the bug:  Inside a shed hanging from ceiling
Date: 01/02/2019
Time: 02:42 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi. Just wondering what insect(?) Emerged from this?
How you want your letter signed:  Yvonne

Hornet Nest

Dear Yvonne,
We can’t help but to wonder if your ceiling is in Sydney, Australia or Schenectady, New York, or perhaps some other place on the planet.  This appears to be the early stages of a Bald Faced Hornet nest, so depending upon your location, this might be the nest of a related species  If summer just began in the Southern Hemisphere for you, this nest is probably being constructed.  If you are in the grips of a northeastern North American winter, this nest was probably long abandoned.

Thanks.
I live in Tasmania, Australia. It is the size of a tennis ball. I havent touched it to determine if its occupied. Its in a barren shed used as a change room at a local country pool. (So only used in summer). It is suspended from a ceiling joist. There was no activity for the 10 minutes we were in the shed. This was in the daytime
Cheers yvonne
Another suggestion was a polyphamus moth??
Just cant find an exact replica on google images.

Thanks for the clarification Yvonne.  This is not a moth cocoon.

Thanks Daniel. Will keep an eye on it. See what develops. Yvonne

Letter 5 – Hornet Nest from Panama

 

Subject: This is the Stuff of Nightmares
Location: Boquete, Panama
June 1, 2014 8:12 am
Hi Bugman!
I live in Boquete, Panama and found this nest in the tree outside my house. I know that insects are fun and interesting, but the sight of this nest gives me the creeps. Can you tell me what kind of creature builds such a nest and feels that they can hang out by my porch like they own the place?
Signature: ~Cate

Hornet Nest
Hornet Nest

Hi Cate,
This appears to be a Hornet Nest, but we cannot make out individual insects well enough in your image to provide an exact identification.

Letter 6 – Hornet Nest with Larvae

 

Bald faced hornet grubs
Location: New Hampshire
September 13, 2011 1:05 pm
I’ve been watching these grubs fall from the hornets nest all morning. The adults pick them up and fly away with them. Are they next year’s queens?
Signature: Laura

Hornet Nest

Hi Laura,
We hope our readers know that they can just click on all photos posted after 2009 and get enlargements in a new window.  It is a nice feature of our site when it comes to making the information we have to convey even more accessible.  We must confess that we don’t know why the larvae are fleeing the nest and the workers are flying away with them.  Perhaps the hive is overpopulated and they are culling the grubs.  They may instinctively know how to select the most perfect and fecund of the brood while it is still larviform.  They may be choosing their heir because the entire nest is basically the mother.
We love your photo.  We hope to have some free time in the next month to be able to research the phenomenon it communicates. 

Letter 7 – Canadian Swallowtail from Alaska

 

Subject: Swallowtail Butterfly Alaska
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
July 11, 2016 6:10 pm
Here is the ONLY photo of one of the yellow Swallowtail butterflies that I have seen in Alaska. I can’t believe I don’t have more pictures. I will be on the look out for more photos now that I know you are interested.
I think have seen at least 2 different species of yellow swallowtail here in Anchorage. This is one of them, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but it is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. (Taken in Anchorage, Alaska May 2010)
Signature: MsRobin

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Dear MsRobin,
We are very happy we decided today to look back over the past two weeks to see if we missed anything in the 100s of unanswered emails, and we discovered the request we made from you, unopened in the mailbox.  We agree that this is most likely a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail,
Papilio canadensis.  You may enjoy our own account of trying to get a decent image of the Western Tiger Swallowtails that frequent our office garden.

 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Hornet Nest: early construction

 

Subject: habitat?
Location: Mathews, VA, USA
May 29, 2012 6:09 am
This is on my porch. The tube is flimsy and moves with the wind. I don’t see any bugs fly to it or arouund it. Do you know what it is?
Signature: Gloria

Hornet Nest

Hi Gloria,
Our initial thought was that this must be the first phase of the construction of the nest of a Bald Faced Hornet.  We did some research and came upon this At The Water blog that supports our theory.  Probably the queen is the only inhabitant at the moment, but she is likely raising her first generation of workers that will increase the size of the nest.  By the end of the summer, there could be more than 1000 Bald Faced Hornets in the nest

Letter 2 – Barked Stripped from Tree: Hornets are suspects

 

Subject:  I’m resending bald-face hornet girdling gridwork on bark.
Geographic location of the bug:  Tonasket WA
Date: 06/27/2019
Time: 08:11 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I sent this about a week ago and got the confirmation e-mail and I realize you can’t post everything. I did kinda wonder if the picture came thru as I’m on Windows 7 and I’ve had problems with the upload before. So, just checking. I was told BF hornets did it. I thought, Makes sense, thy use the bark to make their paper nests. Then I looked it up! I read they do it to make the sap run and then they eat it! They are “vegan?” and only gather insects and B-B-Q (haha) to provision their babies. Apparently they can girdle a tree, but this pattern leaves bark and cambium to continue the sap flow. Can you verify this behavior? Or if something else did, do you know who? I don’t think it’s our red-naped sapsucker, they leave a grid work of little round drilled holes, and they’re the only sapsuckers we have. Thanks.
How you want your letter signed:  Cathy

Did Hornets damage this tree???

Dear Cathy,
We cannot confirm that Hornets damaged this tree, but if your theory is correct, they should revisit the site to feed.  We have images on our site of European Hornets (introduced to eastern North America) stripping the bark off of lilac bushes.  We will attempt further research into this matter.

Letter 3 – Hornet Nest

 

Subject: Hornet nest
Location: Anniston, AL
May 13, 2014 11:07 am
Found one just getting started under my eaves.
Signature: Rick

Hornet Nest
Hornet Nest

Hi Rick,
Thank you for sending this image of what is most likely a queen Bald Faced Hornet beginning to construct her nest.

Letter 4 – Hornet Nest

 

Subject:  Cocoon
Geographic location of the bug:  Inside a shed hanging from ceiling
Date: 01/02/2019
Time: 02:42 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi. Just wondering what insect(?) Emerged from this?
How you want your letter signed:  Yvonne

Hornet Nest

Dear Yvonne,
We can’t help but to wonder if your ceiling is in Sydney, Australia or Schenectady, New York, or perhaps some other place on the planet.  This appears to be the early stages of a Bald Faced Hornet nest, so depending upon your location, this might be the nest of a related species  If summer just began in the Southern Hemisphere for you, this nest is probably being constructed.  If you are in the grips of a northeastern North American winter, this nest was probably long abandoned.

Thanks.
I live in Tasmania, Australia. It is the size of a tennis ball. I havent touched it to determine if its occupied. Its in a barren shed used as a change room at a local country pool. (So only used in summer). It is suspended from a ceiling joist. There was no activity for the 10 minutes we were in the shed. This was in the daytime
Cheers yvonne
Another suggestion was a polyphamus moth??
Just cant find an exact replica on google images.

Thanks for the clarification Yvonne.  This is not a moth cocoon.

Thanks Daniel. Will keep an eye on it. See what develops. Yvonne

Letter 5 – Hornet Nest from Panama

 

Subject: This is the Stuff of Nightmares
Location: Boquete, Panama
June 1, 2014 8:12 am
Hi Bugman!
I live in Boquete, Panama and found this nest in the tree outside my house. I know that insects are fun and interesting, but the sight of this nest gives me the creeps. Can you tell me what kind of creature builds such a nest and feels that they can hang out by my porch like they own the place?
Signature: ~Cate

Hornet Nest
Hornet Nest

Hi Cate,
This appears to be a Hornet Nest, but we cannot make out individual insects well enough in your image to provide an exact identification.

Letter 6 – Hornet Nest with Larvae

 

Bald faced hornet grubs
Location: New Hampshire
September 13, 2011 1:05 pm
I’ve been watching these grubs fall from the hornets nest all morning. The adults pick them up and fly away with them. Are they next year’s queens?
Signature: Laura

Hornet Nest

Hi Laura,
We hope our readers know that they can just click on all photos posted after 2009 and get enlargements in a new window.  It is a nice feature of our site when it comes to making the information we have to convey even more accessible.  We must confess that we don’t know why the larvae are fleeing the nest and the workers are flying away with them.  Perhaps the hive is overpopulated and they are culling the grubs.  They may instinctively know how to select the most perfect and fecund of the brood while it is still larviform.  They may be choosing their heir because the entire nest is basically the mother.
We love your photo.  We hope to have some free time in the next month to be able to research the phenomenon it communicates. 

Letter 7 – Canadian Swallowtail from Alaska

 

Subject: Swallowtail Butterfly Alaska
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
July 11, 2016 6:10 pm
Here is the ONLY photo of one of the yellow Swallowtail butterflies that I have seen in Alaska. I can’t believe I don’t have more pictures. I will be on the look out for more photos now that I know you are interested.
I think have seen at least 2 different species of yellow swallowtail here in Anchorage. This is one of them, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but it is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. (Taken in Anchorage, Alaska May 2010)
Signature: MsRobin

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Dear MsRobin,
We are very happy we decided today to look back over the past two weeks to see if we missed anything in the 100s of unanswered emails, and we discovered the request we made from you, unopened in the mailbox.  We agree that this is most likely a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail,
Papilio canadensis.  You may enjoy our own account of trying to get a decent image of the Western Tiger Swallowtails that frequent our office garden.

 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

12 thoughts on “Bee Hive vs Hornet Nest: Key Differences Explained”

  1. I love your site. I love the very accessible one-to-one conversations, it’s like hearing 2 people talking. Today, I saw that you had written about the bald-faced hornets image above, and you said you wanted to research the “phenomenon it communicates”. Well, that phrase really sang to me, and perfectly describes what I try to capture when I take pictures of the forest citizens I encounter. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Lisa. Alas, with new work schedules, we are having a bit of a problem managing time right now, and this research will need to wait for another day.

      Reply
  2. We have found two of these nest in the last week . Still not sure what they are I have never seen a nest or insect like this . We are in North East Ohio close to the Pa state line. I have photos I would like to email if possible. Thank You

    Reply
  3. This is crazy.. we have the same thing here in northern B.C. Canada !! Would live to post a pic . This hornet is now dismantling the nest and moving it elsewhere from all the busy traffic.

    Reply
  4. Glad you got this. I resent in Int. Exp. and it told me it was sending. First time was in Firefox, and I never got any status box showing it was doing anything.

    So far I haven’t seen anyone near the serviceberry, but it’s far enough from my house that it’s not where I usually end up. I do have tons of Bald faced hornets and yellow jackets perusing the apricot and quacking aspen, but no bark damage on either of them. I’ve got a fair amount of leaf miner and aphids this year. Would either of them do the work at night? The spot keeps growing. And the gridwork so perfect!!! Thanks

    Reply
    • Thanks for letting us know it is a serviceberry tree. Lilacs seem a popular bark choice for European Hornets in the east.

      Reply
  5. I found this site, but I’m not really convinced. Sapsuckers drill like a woodpecker and get into the tree, and the effect is rows of dots, closely spaced.

    Reply
  6. We have the same thing…two funnel shaped nests. One early this spring which we destroyed and another now in the fall of 2019. We now have an invasion of the wasps or bees in the house. They seem longer than a regular bee, fuzzy, with yellow and black coloring. Wings are longer and black. We live in middle Indiana.

    Reply
  7. Union Springs, NY – just discovered Bald face hornet nest, looked it up as we’ve never seen this shape before. It is on our deck gutter, facing Cayuga Lake. Will try to spray tonight as they are active.

    Reply

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