Bumblebee vs Honey Bee – How to Tell Them Apart

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From afar, they oftentimes look the same. But bumblebees and honey bees are totally different when it comes to appearance and behavior. Here’s a quick bumblebee vs honey bee guide to help you differentiate these two insects from each other.

Bumblebee vs Honey Bee – How to Tell Them Apart

Bumblebees are bigger and hairier than honey bees. CC Image courtesy of Vera Buhl on Wikipedia and Pixabay

Difference in Appearance

No doubt that the fuzziest looking bees in their kingdom are the Bombus bees. They vary in appearance when it comes to each species. But to give you some indefinable traits, bumblebees are big, stubby and chubby looking insects with dense hair or fuzz around their bodies. For color, most of them have black legs. And some have the usual amber-and-black stripes while others come in orange with white markings.

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In contrast, honey bees are much smaller. They’re also less round-looking. This is partly due to the bee’s less fuzzy appearance. But make no mistake. They do have hair covering their bodies, but the follicles are shorter and thinner, giving way to more pronounced legs and abdomens. Honey bees are also famous for their black and yellow stripes.

Difference in Nesting Habits

When it comes to nesting, there are a lot of distinctions between these two insects.

First things first. Bumblebees live in “nests” while honey bees live in “hives”. This major difference is largely due to the number of inhabitants in each bee’s home. Hives tend to have a lot of occupants, often times numbering up to more than fifty thousand while the creatures that live in a nest can range from a single individual to just a few hundred.

To be specific, bumblebee nests can only house up to 400 bees while honey bees can make an empire of 60,000 buzzing inhabitants. If you want a more in-depth look at this, head on to our post here.

Honey bee hives also have very waxy walls. They’re loaded with honey, and the chambers are hexagonal in shape. In contrast, bumblebee nests have thinner and crusty wax chambers. They’re usually very dirty, with a lot of debris and foliage around them. They also don’t have a lot of honey in them since these bugs don’t last very long, and they look like round pods not hexagonal containers.

Another bumblebee vs honey bee key detail is their nesting sites. Bumblebees tend to go for underground hiding spots while honey bees go higher, up on trees or on roofs. However, this doesn’t mean that these places are exclusive for each kind of bee. In reality, they can pick out any place as long as it will protect them from predators and bad weather.

And lastly, these bugs differ greatly in nest lifespan. Honey bees have ingenious ways of lasting through the tough cold seasons while bumblebees inevitably die out a few months after starting their nest.

Difference in Stingers


A stinger is one of the major defensive weapons that an insect has. For both bees, only the females of their populations can sting. Their male counterparts are basically stingless and can only ward off enemies by hovering on them.

However, honey bee stingers are a little different. They’re curved like a hook. They also have tiny barbs embedded on them, making them susceptible to latching on to soft tissues like human skin. This is why once a honey bee stings you, it usually dies. It tries to fly off after it stings, but it can’t do that with its stinger hooked to the skin. If it doesn’t break free, it usually ends with the bee ripping open its abdomen and leaving the stinger and the internal organs that are connected to it.

Bumblebees don’t have this problem. Their stingers are straighter with no barbs on them, enabling them to sting multiple times without getting injured. This type of stinger is also present in carpenter bees and hornets.

So when it comes to bumble bee vs honey bee, each bug has its own perks. Bumblebees have better stingers while honey bees capitalize in working together to produce a huge colony and a lot of honey. To recognize each of them, you really have to take a closer look. This may help you find a great strategy in your plan to drive them away from your house.

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