Bees vs. Hornets vs. Wasps: What's the Difference?

Image credit: 

blind-melon-bee.jpgThe Dilemma: "What just stung me?!"

People You Can Impress: six-year-olds (maybe)

The Quick Trick: A bee can generally only sting you once, while hornets and wasps can sting multiple times.

The Explanation: The problem with elucidating the difference between wasps and hornets is that, at least according to most definitions of wasps, all hornets are wasps. So here's the deal:

Bees are fuzzy pollen collectors that almost always die shortly after stinging people (because the stinger becomes embedded in the skin, which prevents multiple stings). Bees don't die each time they sting, though; the primary purpose of the stinger is to sting other bees, which doesn't result in the loss of the stinger.

Wasps are members of the family Vespidae, which includes yellow jackets and hornets. Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and are definitely not fuzzy. Only the females have stingers, but they can sting people repeatedly.

Hornets are a small subset of wasps not native to North America (the yellow jacket is not truly a hornet). Somewhat fatter around the middle than your average wasp, the European hornet is now widespread on the East Coast of the U.S. Like other wasps, hornets can sting over and over again and can be extremely aggressive.

The Best Darn Animal Roundup Since Noah!

Monarch Butterfly vs. Viceroy Butterfly: Both butterflies have very similar bright orange markings and excrete a bitter acid that makes them taste terrible. But only the monarch flies thousands of miles south in the winter.

Snail vs. Slug: Snails have telltale spiral shells; slugs have shells, too, but they're invisible because they're located inside their bodies.

Donkey vs. Mule: A mule is the offspring of a female horse (that is, a mare) and a jackass (that is, either a male donkey or Johnny Knoxville). Mules are sterile and slow, but they're also strong and hard- working. A donkey is an animal closely related to the horse (obviously, since they can mate), but donkeys are smaller and have longer ears. (See also Eeyore.)

Llama vs. Emu: Both are newly domesticated farm animals, but that's where the similarity ends: Llamas belong to the camel family, while emus are birds related to ostriches. But the two animals do have one thing in common: crankiness. When llamas get annoyed, which is frequently, they spit up their own stomach acid. And emus are largely solitary animals that don't like too much human company.

Mighty Mouse vs. Mickey Mouse: Mickey was created in the 1920s by Walt Disney, while Mighty (a Terrytoons character) wasn't born until 1942. Mickey has no superpowers, while Mighty is excellent at flying and has X-ray vision.

This post was excerpted from the mental_floss book What's the Difference? For more columns like this, click here.

More from mental_floss...

September 24, 2008 - 8:00pm
submit to reddit