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What's yellow & black and goes buzz?*

Another question, posed by the BBC website today, asks 'Why do we hate wasps and love bees?'

On the face of it, it's a good question because both animals (and their hornet cousins) use sting as a powerful defence, but both also make invaluable contributions to the health of the natural environment.

We've had a little office tea-break to think about this, and come up with 5 perceptions about each animal that we think helps to explain why we feel the way we do...

Jammy wasp...

Bees: 1 they make honey!, 2 they are important pollinators, 3 they're furry which makes them seem, if not cuddly, a bit more likeable, 4 they die after they've stung their victim, and 5 good press.

Wasps: 1 they look hard, shiny and vicious, 2 they seem constantly on the look out for someone to annoy, often you personally, 3 they live to sting (you) another day, 4 they serve no useful purpose on this planet, and 5 bad press.

The fact is, none of the above is entirely true! Research continues to add to our kowledge about these small creatures, but we're here to help you sort out some of the facts from the fiction

  • Bees don't necessarily die because they've used their sting. Honey bees are likely to because they have a barb in their stinger that means it can get stuck in the hide (skin) of the animal they're fending off. The problem is that the sting doesn't detach neatly from the bee; instead the process causes irreparable damage to the abdominal lining and digestive tract leading to death a short time after

  • Not all bees sting. Females do, males don't. Bumblebees and solitary bees can sting, but are less likely to than honey bees

  • Only honey bees make honey. Bumblebees and solitary bees drink nectar and collect pollen but they don't make honey

  • Wasps are just as important to the pollination of crops and natural vegetation as bees

  • Wasps control many of the pests that cause a nuisance in our gardens such as aphids, flies, and caterpillars. They also eat fruit, and are drawn to sweet foods as anyone with a jam sandwich will know!

  • Wasps are also really important predators of spiders - of course spiders are really important ecologically, but even so...

  • Wasps construct beautiful, fragile paper nests from wood that they chew up and moisten with saliva to make a kind of papier mache

  • In the UK there are 900 species of wasp (that's right, 900!), but while they do all have the nipped in waist, they don't all wear the black and yellow colours we all know are are wary of, just as they don't all sting

  • In contrast, there are only about 250 species of bee and, again, they don't all come in regulation yellow and black

  • Amy's favourite be is the Tree Bumblebee; it has a ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail and will nest in bird boxes and tree holes - hence the name. Find out more here:

  • Michelle's favourite bee is the Hairy-footed Flower Bee; only partly because of the name. The males have hairy legs/feet which is where the name comes from. Hairy-footed flower bees are solitary bees and often nest in soft mortar of old buildings including domestic chimneys (which they often fall down). To learn more about these cuties (they really are) look here:

So back to the question why do we hate wasps and love bees? It's pretty obvious isn't it?

But the thing to remember is that 1 wasps are every bit as helpful to the environment - and therefore humans - as bees, 2 are master builders of beautiful and delicate structures, 3 do an excellent job on pest control in the garden, 4 provide a valuable food source for other animals, and 5 they exist and should be accepted as an integral part of the complexity that is the natural world in their own right.

Bumblebee Conservation Trust -

Bees, Wasps and ants Recording Society -

*A Belisha Beacon on the blink... boom-boom!

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