Bees, wasps and bumblebees

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Bees, wasps and bumblebees are often confused. If you find a family resemblance to them, you are quite right. These insects share several characteristics and are all part of a common group: the Hymenoptera. Here are some tips to get to know them better and distinguish them.

The bees

There are several species of bees in Quebec, most of which are solitary. However, the best known species, the honey bee, is social. This fascinating insect builds a wax nest, which it readily installs in the hive offered by the beekeeper. Bees are not attracted to our food and rarely sting.

Distinctive features

  • Slender silhouette
  • Little apparent size
  • Hairy body
  • Legs with pollen baskets
  • Length: 12 mm (worker)
  • A honey bee can only sting once; its hooked stinger cannot come out of the skin. She dies after the bite


Among all the wasp species present in Quebec, only about 20 are social. To house the colony, these wasps make a paper nest, or bee-eater, by chewing wood fibers which, mixed with their saliva, form a paste. Wasp nests are sometimes clearly visible, sometimes hidden underground or in a wall. Watch out for these insects: Wasps explore plates and trash cans and don’t hesitate to sting when they feel disturbed.

Distinctive features

  • Slender silhouette
  • Very thin waist
  • Smooth body (low hairiness)
  • Tapered legs
  • Length: from 10 to 25 mm
  • A wasp can sting several times; its stinger is smooth.


In Quebec, there are about twenty species of bumblebees, all of them social. The queen sets up her nest in various types of cavities, most often underground, such as an old rodent hole or the hollow of a low wall. This nest is made of wax cells in the shape of small pots.

Bumblebees forage on flowers and are not attracted to our food. Unless disturbed in their nest, they will not sting.

Distinctive features

  • Chunky silhouette
  • Little apparent size
  • Very hairy body (plush appearance)
  • Legs with pollen baskets
  • Length: from 6 to 25 mm
  • A bumblebee can sting several times; its stinger is smooth.

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