Honeybee, Wasp or Yellowjacket?
September 5, 2012
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Bees sometimes get a bad rap, but unless you are allergic to bee stings, the benefits of these uniquely special creatures far outweigh the risks as they are one of the most important pollinators in the world. Oftentimes honeybees get mistaken for other types of bees or wasps that aren’t as helpful to the human race. Bee identification is not too difficult – just take a closer look and you’ll be able to tell who is buzzing around your home and garden.
honeybee with pollen
The common European Honeybee is fuzzy and compact, and has muted black and yellow striping. These bees are vegetarian – they are not the ones interested in your picnic, but they might want to investigate your brightly colored shirt. They spend most of their time gathering pollen from flowers and are the world’s most efficient pollinators. Honeybees have only one sting and once they use it they die, so they would rather fly away than sting you, although they will typically try to sting if cornered or threatened.
Yellow jackets are most often confused with honeybees but they are much different and are actually a type of wasp. Their bodies are smooth and shiny and their black and yellow stripes are much brighter than honeybees. They eat other insects and fruit and are attracted to meaty and sugary odors. These guys are the ones buzzing around your picnic. They also sometimes hang around honeybee hives and try to steal honey. Unlike the honeybee, yellow jackets are often aggressive and can sting multiple times.
carpenter bee. photo by Jim Gilbert
CARPENTER BEES AND BUMBLEBEES
Bumblebees and Carpenter bees are much larger than honeybees. The Carpenter bee has a shiny black bottom and the bumblebee has a furry, striped one. Carpenter bees like to nest in dead wood, hence their name. Bumblebees can sting multiple times but are usually even less aggressive than honeybees. Drone (male) carpenter bees don’t even have a stinger, and getting stung by a female is quite unlikely and generally very mild.
WASPS AND HORNETS
While there are several types of wasps, most have smooth, shiny bodies and are more compact than bees. They often have longer legs and tiny waists. Most of them eat other insects or bugs like caterpillars. If you come across a hornet nest in your home or garden don’t try to move it. They will become very aggressive when disturbed and can sting a hundred of times each when threatened.