[INFOGRAPHIC] Bees and Wasps in Canada

What Are Bees And Wasps?

Click image for full infographic

Although stinging insects like bees and wasps may appear to be very similar at first, it is important to be able to tell them apart since different control methods may be necessary if they become a pest.


With the exception of Antarctica, bees are found throughout the world. There are about 20,000 different species of bees in the world with about 800 species in Canada. Honey bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees are most commonly encountered by Canadians.


Appearance. Honey bees range in size from 10 to 20 mm and are usually golden brown in colour. Smaller than the bumble bee, they have specialized feathery body hairs and flatten hind legs that help collect and transport pollen.

About. Originally introduced by early European settlers for honey and wax production, the honey bee is an important pollinator. They are an essential part of the agricultural industry, pollinating billions of dollars of crops in the U.S. and Canada every year.

Habitat. The honey bee is a social insect and lives together in colonies or hives. Hives can be located in cavities of trees or dead wood and can hold up to 80,000 bees.

Seasonality. Honeybees live year round, but are most active in summer months. During winter, honey bees gather within the hive and have the ability to generate heat to keep their hives warm.

Danger. Honeybees will usually only sting in defense and can only sting once, because the barbed stinger becomes stuck in the victim’s skin and pulls out as the bee flies away.


Appearance. Bumble bees are about twice as big as a honeybee (about 2.5 – 4 cm long). Bumble bees are large-bodied bees with antennae and have a fat furry look. Their hairy bodies are usually black with yellow stripes but a few species have orange markings.

About. Native to North America, there are about 250 species of bumble bees and more than 20 species live in Canada. In the same family as honey bees, bumble bees are also considered a beneficial insect because they are effective pollinators for a wide variety of crops and plants. However bumblebees are not used to pollinate large cultivated areas because they are usually too small in number, living in nests of 15 to 100 bees.

Habitat. These large bees typically nest underground, in places like abandoned mice nests, but can also be found above ground around patio areas or decks.

Seasonality. Bumble bees are seasonal; only queens overwinter to survive, starting a new colony in the spring. Danger Bumble bees are social insects and will defend their nests aggressively. They have been known to chase nest invaders for a considerable distance. The bumble bee sting is one of the most painful. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting more than once and don’t lose their stinger.


Appearance. Carpenter bees range in size from 3 to 12 mm and have smooth shiny black bodies with a metallic blue or green sheen. They are large and sometimes mistaken for bumblebees; however carpenter bees are smooth and shiny black, with fewer colours and less hair.

About. Approximately three quarters of North American bees are solitary, and the carpenter bee is one of them. There are more than 300 small carpenter bees in the world, with about 20 species in the United States and Canada. Carpenter bees can live for up to three years.

Habitat. Carpenter bees burrow in holes into wood that are about the size of a penny, leaving a telltale pile of sawdust behind. They prefer wood that is bare (unpainted), weathered, or softwoods like redwood, cedar, cypress, or pine. The bees can burrow into any structure such as decks, outdoor furniture, siding, and wooden window trim.

Seasonality Carpenter bees are most active in the spring and early summer.

Danger. Depending on the amount of damage done by carpenter bees, some structures may become unstable and in danger of collapsing. A preventative measure against infestation is to paint the wood, which makes it less attractive to the bees.


There are more than 30,000 species of wasps worldwide. Although they look similar to bees, wasps can be distinguished by their slender body, a narrow waist, pointed lower abdomen, and by the bands of black and yellow or white on their stomachs. All wasp species have chewing mouth parts and the females have a stinger. They are most common particularly during the daylight hours and during summer and early fall months. The most common wasps that you will see in Canada are yellow jackets, hornets, and paper wasps.


Appearance. Yellow jackets are often mistaken for honey bees because they are similar in size (about 10 to 20 mm), but yellow jackets have large shiny black bodies with a brighter yellow pattern. These flying insects may also be identified by a rapid side to side flight pattern prior to landing.

About. There are several species of yellow jackets native to North America. Like other wasps, yellow jackets are carnivorous and eat other insects.

Habitat. Yellow jackets are a social wasp. They live underground or in a hidden wasp nest or colonies with up to 5,000 other wasps. They build paper carton nests out of chewed up cellulose, which are usually found in the ground or in hollow areas such as eaves and attics.

Seasonality. Like all wasps, yellow jackets abandoned their nest by late autumn. They can become a nuisance at picnics, parks, around homes, and outside restaurants, especially in late summer when their numbers have increased and a colony is at its peak.

Danger. Yellow jackets are territorial, defending their homes very aggressively and will sting if threatened. They are particularly attracted to sweet foods and commonly invade outdoor events. Their painful stings can cause allergic reactions.


Appearance. Hornets grow up to 3 – 5 cm long and may look similar to yellow jackets in colour, but hornets are larger and thicker. Most hornet species are yellow and black, though some variations are white or black.

About. There are several species of hornets in Canada. Hornets are one of several kinds of wasps that are beneficial in gardens, since they are predators of smaller insects that damage plants.

Habitat. Hornets are social insects and live together in colonies. Their large round grey paper wasp nests can house as many as 700 members and typically have a pointed end like a football. They can typically be seen foraging in gardens, parks, and forest edges. The aerial nests can be found hanging high in a tree, attached to bushes, low vegetation, in attics, and on the side of buildings.

Seasonality. A single queen survives the winter and begins building the nest in the spring. The nest continues to expand throughout the summer. A mature colony can have several hundred workers by the end of the summer. In fall, workers die and next year’s queens find over-wintering sites.

Danger. Though less aggressive than yellow jackets, hornets do not like to be disturbed. When hornets defend themselves with their stinger, it is extremely painful.


Appearance. Paper wasps are medium sized (2.5 – 3.5 cm), with small heads and long, slender bodies that are primarily black, with a few yellow and rusty brown or black stripes and orange antennae.

About. Paper wasps arrived in Canada from Europe less than 15 years ago and have thrived since. One of the most commonly observed wasps in Canada, paper wasps are named for the grayish paper-like material (actually wood fibers mixed with the wasps’ saliva) out of which they make their nests. They eat nectar and other insects like caterpillars and flies.

Habitat. Paper wasps are social insects and live in small colonies, from 5 to 30 wasps inside one nest. Wasp nests are built by the queen wasp and are shaped like upside down cones. Their nests are usually in protected areas, hanging downwards in attics, awnings, porch ceilings, eaves, deck floor joists, or under tree branches.

Seasonality. Hornets’ nests are abandoned in late fall and only new, young queens survive the winter by finding protected areas. In the spring, the queen will begin a new nest. The hive will continue to grow throughout the summer.

Danger. While not an aggressive species by nature, paper wasps will sting if they are disturbed or their nest is threatened and have a painful sting.

Tips for Bee and Wasp Prevention and Control


Bees may also become defensive if they are foraging or close to the colony. Avoid close contact with them, and they will go about their nectar-gathering without a second thought to humans. Swarms form as part of a process when the queen bee sets out to find a new location for the hive and some of her worker bees come along with her. A visible cluster can consist of hundreds to thousands of bees that are on the move. They will temporarily stop-over to allow the queen to rest but will eventually produce new colonies. Don’t panic – most honeybee swarms are not dangerous if you leave them alone and keep your distance. Treat honey bee colonies and swarms as you would a venomous creature such as a snake or a scorpion; be alert and stay away.


Wasp infestations can be fairly common in residential areas. If you notice a few wasps flying near your home, it can be an indication that a nest is located nearby. Before wasps become a problem, inspect your yard and home surroundings in early summer. It is easier to discourage a single queen wasp from establishing too close to your home than handle a full-sized nest later in the season. Wasps nest are usually small in size but can quickly grow to house a huge population of wasps. Before trimming shrubs or hedges, or picking fruit, check the plant for paper wasp nests. Treat wood fences and deck railings with a repellent oil to deter paper wasps from gathering cellulose from the wood. As prevention, get rid of fallen fruit which will attract wasps. Seal holes and other potential sites to help prevent nesting. Remove garbage frequently, keep trashcans covered, and ensure all doors and windows have screens that are in good condition. Wasp nests that are visible and near human activity can pose a potential problem. Always take extra care when around a nest because wasps will sting if they feel threatened. If you find a wasp nest, contact your local pest control professional in order to ensure a quick, safe and effective removal. Do not attempt to remove a nest on your own, as there is a high probability you will get stung multiple times.


Bees are commercially valuable and along with wasps are an important part of our ecosystem, but in the wrong place at the wrong time, they can become pest. Never attempt to remove a bee hive or wasp nest on your own. Be careful and remain calm. If you think you may have a bee or wasp infestation, call a professional pest control expert to determine whether you’re actually dealing with bees, wasps, or some other stinging insect. The sooner a hive or nest can be identified, the safer and cheaper it can be to have removed as established colonies can be extremely protective. Keep pets and children well away from any suspected nesting sites until you get a professional inspection.


Each year, stinging insects send approximately half a million people to the emergency room and are one of the leading causes of anaphylaxis-related deaths in the United States and Canada.


People can all react to stings differently. Generally, stings do not pose a serious health concern unless an individual is allergic or sensitive. If the stung person is allergic, go to the hospital immediately or use an epinephrine shot, if available. Most importantly, stay calm. Remember that your pets can also be vulnerable to stings and keep them away from hives and nests. If a bee or wasp lands on you, remain calm and wait for it to fly off, or brush it off gently. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting a sting because the insect will feel threatened by any sudden movement. Because they live in colonies, if one bee or wasp stings you, you may be stung by many. The symptoms that result from a sting will vary, depending on the amount of poison that has entered the victim’s system. Typically, people who get stung will immediately feel a sharp, burning pain, rapidly followed by a red welt at the sting site. In most cases, the swelling and pain resolves within a few hours, however, as many as 10 percent of individuals develop a large local reaction experiencing exaggerated redness and swelling at the sting site. Although the bee dies after a sting, its sting takes effect quickly. If the stinger is not removed quickly, the venom continues to be pumped into the wound. So it is important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Do not pull it out with tweezers or your fingers as this will only squeeze more venom into the wound. Scrape it out using your fingernails, the edge of a credit card, or a dull knife. After removing the stinger, it is important to immediately clean the area with soap and cold water and to use cold compression like an ice pack. It is also helpful to elevate the limb where you were stung. An antihistamine and hydrocortisone ointment can help calm the swelling or itching. You can also apply a mixture of baking soda and water or calamine lotion. It can take up to 5 days for the area to heal. In the meantime, keep it clean to prevent infection.


Stings can be extremely dangerous for those who may be allergic to the insect’s venom. Those who have sensitivity should immediately seek out emergency medical assistance. In rare cases, individuals can experience an extreme allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). These reactions may be life threatening and require immediate medical treatment. If you are stung multiple times or experience any of the below symptoms, even if you don’t have a sensitivity, you should seek medical attention as a precaution. Seek immediate medical attention if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Hives, rashes, or generalized itching
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Itching and swelling around the eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shock or loss of consciousness
  • A history of severe allergy reaction to insect stings

If you come in contact with a stinging insect, the most important thing to do is to remain calm. Most deaths related to stings happen because people panic and act irrational. Remain calm and seek medical attention immediately. For bee and wasp removal, contact your local Truly Nolen pest control specialist. We have locations in Goderich, Hamilton, Merrickville, Mississauga, St. Catharines, Gloucester, Port Elgin, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia, servicing the local and surrounding areas.