Although bees and wasps are often grouped together -- since they both sting -- the two are very different. Bees have a robust body and are covered with hair. Wasps are skinnier with a shiny body. Although some of the fundamentals of a wasp nest and a beehive are similar, they are distinct differences that can help you tell the two apart.
When trying to compare wasp nests to beehives, you must first understand that wasps build different types of nests depending on the species. Paper wasps build exposed combs under eaves and roofs. Mud daubers build cell-like chambers that look like small tunnels. Yellow jackets and hornets build more complex nests similar to bees in a variety of locations.
Both bumblebees and wasps will create underground nesting sites by modifying rodent burrows or other underground cavities for their own use. Honey bees, when not residing in man-made structures, also use in cavities in large trees or voids in buildings. A few wasps, such as the bald faced hornet, are known for creating exposed football-shaped nests high in trees. These nests protect the combs by covering them with paper. While bees may also create exposed nests like this, they are rare and are not covered like wasp nests.
Both wasps and bees construct combs in their nests. These combs are small cells that are used to contain the larvae and store food. Bee combs consist of hexagonal cells, while wasp cells are round. Both construct combs in layered, horizontal tiers within their structures.
Wasps make their nests out of mud, or by creating a paper-like substance they make by mixing pieces of wood with their own saliva. Some wasps also use mud that they collect and smooth-out to create a nest. Bees, however, create their nests using wax that is secreted from the abdomens.