Identification of Bees, Wasps and Hornets in Illinois

Bees, Wasps and Hornets in Illinois

Bees and wasps, although feared by humans for their stings, are very beneficial to the environment and play a key roll in pollination and insect control.

Honey bees pollinate over half of all fruit and vegetable crops. Wasps are predatory insects that attack and consume many pests that are harmful to these same crops. They are both an important piece of the ecosystem in Illinois.

Related: Why we need bees

In this post, we review the most common types of bees, wasps, and hornets in Illinois and how to identify them.

It can be a challenge for many people to tell the difference between bees and wasps. They are both members of the Hymenoptera order of insects, which includes sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants.

Differences between bees and wasps

  • Yellow Jacket Nest in GroundHoney bees are hairy; wasps usually have smooth, shiny skin.
  • Wasps have narrow waists; bees do not have a narrowing of the abdomen.
  • Most bees are about 2.5 centimeters long; wasps are usually longer.
  • Bees may have black or brown bodies with orange or yellow striations. Wasps are brightly colored, with black and yellow patterns.
  • Bees feed nectar and pollen to their young while wasps feed their young insects and spiders.
  •  Yellowjackets and hornets will scavenge for food including fruit, sweets, meats, and carrion.
  • Both bees and wasps can be solitary or live in colonies.

Illinois bees identification

Honey Bees

Honey Bees

  • About 15 mm long
  • Light brown in color
  • Golden yellow bands
  • Tiny hairs on body
  • Live in large colonies of up to 50,000
  •  Lives in cavities of trees, rock formations, and buildings
  • Protected species in Illinois

Bumble BeeBumble Bee

  • 1/2 inch to 1 inch long
  • Buzzing sound
  • Fuzzy black and yellow abdomen
  • Live in old rodent burrows, under porches, and in wall voids.
  • Small colonies of 50-400

Carpenter BeeCarpenter Bees

  • Similar to bumble bee
  • All-black abdomen
  • Solitary
  • Nest in holes chewed in wood

Illinois wasp identification

Paper WaspPaper wasps

  • Very similar in appearance to yellowjackets
  • Black body with yellow markings
  • Slender body with tiny waist
  • Commonly nests on structures
  • Umbrella-like nests hang upside-down from eaves and overhangs
  • Nests can harbor up to 75 wasps

Yellow JacketYellowjackets

  • Aggressive and most likely to sting
  • Smooth and thin body
  • Narrow body and waist
  • Predatory and consumes insects
  • Will feed on human food; attracted to trash and picnics
  • Yellow jackets can sting multiple times

Related: Yellow Jacket Identification and Nest Removal

Illinois Hornet Identification

Here are the Illinois Hornets you will encounter outdoors.

  • Bald Faced Hornet
  • European Hornet
  • Mud Daubers
  • Cicada Killer

Bald faced hornet

Bald Faced Hornet

  • About ¾-inch long
  • Black and white
  • White face
  • Live in paper nest
  • Round oval nest usually hangs from tree branches

European Hornet

European Hornet

  • An inch long or more
  • Reddish brown in color
  • Yellow stripes on the abdomen
  • Nests in trees, attics and wall voids of structures near forested areas

Mud DauberMud Daubers

  • About ¾-inch long
  • Brownish-black with yellow markings
  • Construct tubular nests of mud
  • Hunt spiders to feed young
  • Solitary

Cicada KillerCicada Killer

  • Up to 1.5 inches long
  • Largest wasp in Illinois
  • Mostly black with yellow markings on the abdomen
  • Hunt cicadas in trees to feed young

If you need professional yellow jacket and wasp removal services in the Chicago area, please contact us online or call us (847) 464-1861.


Related information: Illinois Department of Public Health