How to Identify Bees?

You hear a buzzing noise, and a small, black and yellow creature hovers into view.  Your first thought may be,”Oh, it’s a bee!”  In fact, many swarming insects have coloring similar to bees, but have different behavior and different levels of aggression.

A bee is not the same as a hornet, neither is a hornet the same as a wasp.  While they all can become aggressive if provoked, and provide a painful, stinging warning, not all of these buzzing, swarming creatures are actually bees.

Plus, there are different subspecies of bees which behave differently, so it is helpful to be able to identify which bees are in your garden or yard.

Types of Bees

Bumble bees

Bumble bees, the fuzzy, large bees you will normally encounter in your garden, are the only social bee species native to North America.  They can often be seen feeding at various types of flowers, and are also used to pollinate large swathes of crops.

Generally, bumble bees are the largest true bees you will see in your garden, and they will are generally rather docile.  However, bumblebees also have the ability to sting repeatedly, and will do so to defend their nests.

Honey beesHoney bees are not native to the area, but were introduced by European colonists.  Honey bees can be about half the size of bumblebees.  Two species of honey bees have been domesticated by humans.

Again, the worker bees with sting in defense of the nest, but once a honey bee stings, it dies.

Digger beesUnlike other types of bees, digger bees do what their name indicates: they dig to create their homes.  Instead of living in a hive aboveground, they live in sandy soil.  Digger bees are more solitary than other types of bees.

Digger bees make a higher pitched buzzing noise than other bees, and their wings seem shorter in proportion to their bodies.

Carpenter beesCarpenter bees are the bee equivalent of carpenter ants, in that their diet consists of wood.  Thus, like carpenter ants, they can be quite destructive, as their diet includes the material that makes up many buildings!

Carpenter bees can be as large as 30mm or as small as 3mm in length.  Carpenter bees may resemble bumble bees at first glance, but carpenter bees have a shiny black abdomen, while bumble bees do not.

If it is focused on an activity, a carpenter bee is unlikely to sting, even if disturbed.

Bees, Hornets, and Wasps

Wasps have no body hair, while bees generally have a fuzzy look to them.  Wasps’ bodies are also generally longer and more streamlined than those of bees.

One subspecies of wasp, the yellow jacket, is the nuisance at picnics that likes to crawl into soda cans and inspect the desserts.  They are very attracted to sweets of all kinds!

When you are next outside, take a look at what is buzzing around in the flowers–it might be one of the very different types of bees, or it may not be a bee at all!

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