Don’t Bee Fooled: How to Identify a Bee from a Wasp

Even some entomologists are fooled when it comes to identifying bees and wasps. In some cases, it may be easier to see a little yellow and black buzzer and call it a bee, but many times, it is more challenging than one would think to do so accurately. Wasps are most easily identified by their tiny waist compared to the rest of their bodies, but not all wasps have this hourglass shape characteristic. Bees are typically rounder and hairy, but some species are almost hairless. The point is that even entomologists can find themselves scratching their heads when it comes to determining whether these insects are wasps or bees.

It May Be a Bee

Bees are a familiar sight worldwide (except Antarctica) because they are everywhere that pollination is happening, whether it be farms, forests, wide open spaces, or forests. Bees go where they can forage, so the presence of flowering plants and trees is a significant draw for bees in their daily life. Although bees travel and are incredible flyers, most species don’t travel extensively long distances typically and forage closer to their beehive home.

Honey Bees

The brownish and black worker bee is a honeybee and is in charge of a majority of the collection of nectar and pollen for the beehive. Our crops rely heavily on the honeybees to pollinate, hence why there are so many groups and organizations making strides in protecting them. The honeybee lives in nests in hollow trees or in a rock crevice. Bees are very social, which is why some beehives have over 40,000 bees in one hive! The queen runs the hive and keeps laying those babies, accompanied by a few hundred male drones, and the rest are worker bees. Honey, larvae, and pollen can be tempting to bears and skunks. Bees who feel threatened will defend their nest through stinging. Bees use their detached abdomen with stinger still attached to send off a scent that tells other bees from the beehive that help is needed.

Bumble Bees

These are the images of bees we grew up drawing – chubby and furry yellow and black striped bumble bees. They have the most recognizable look and are friends to gardeners worldwide. There are a striking 250 bumble bee species, and probably more! Bumble bees have smaller beehives and are champions when it comes to pollinating native plants. They are also favorites of gardeners. Bumble bees use vibration to buzz pollen out of blossoms. Bumble bees help cranberries, eggplants, tomatoes, and blueberries return to the table every year.

Cuckoo Bees

Cuckoo bees are arguably one of the laziest bees, but they are not crazy despite what their name says. The cuckoo bees do not forage to feed their young but instead wait near the entrance of other bees' nests. When the queen bee is out, the cuckoo bee sneaks in and lays her eggs in the spots meant for other bees in the beehive. Unfortunately, cuckoo bees have parasites, so when the eggs are laid in another’s nest, it is almost as if she wants a different queen to do all the work for her brood.

Cuckoo bees have sparse and flattened hairs that appear like scales. Cuckoo bees also have longer stingers and armor that protects them from other stings. These bees that comprise 10% of all bee species look very similar to wasps and are often mistaken for them.

Yellow Jacket Wasps

The “yellow jacket” wasp is the most well-known picnic wasp. These wasps are shorter in length and can be mistaken for bees. However, they have armored bodies and are essential in keeping harmful caterpillars away from gardens. Although wasps get a bad rap, some are beneficial and crucial to keeping a garden safe.

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Bees and Wasps: Similar but Not The Same

It would take an expert to identify a bee or wasp that wasn’t one of the more recognizable mentioned. Nearly 90 percent of bees are ground-nesting, and so are wasps, which is a common misconception. Bees will always have some hair, even if it is not visible to the human eye. Since bees and wasps sting, entomologists use this to indicate if the bee or wasp is a male or female. Males do not sting; some bee species have gone without stingers through adaptation throughout history.

Regardless of whether you encounter a nee nest or a wasp nest, steer clear. Always contact a professional to handle a removal of any type. Even those not allergic to stings may have an adverse reaction to multiple stings. If you are in Southern California and have a bee or wasp concern, contact the professional bee technicians at D-Tek Bee Removal. Treating bees humanely during removal is essential to their survival, and the professionals at D-Tek will be able to treat wasp and bee nests appropriately. Contact D-Tek today for any bee or wasp concerns.