Bees and wasps are both insects that belong to the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and hornets. Some kinds of bees and wasps are helpful to humans. They aid in food production by pollinating crops and can help to control insect populations. The same creatures, however, often have painful stingers and can cause injury to humans. Knowing the difference between different kinds of bees and wasps can help you to decide whether to leave a nest alone or have it removed.
The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is an introduced species. According to Critterzone, this species was brought to the Americas by early European settlers. Honey bees are helpful because they produce honey and beeswax and pollinate plants. European honey bees are brown with indistinct black bands on the abdomen, and their bodies are covered in a prickly coat of fuzz. They will sting if provoked, but they are not usually aggressive.
The species Apis mellifera scutellata physically resembles the European honey bee, but they are a great deal different in temperament. Apis mellifera scutellata is also known as the Africanised honey bee or "killer bee" because of its aggressive tendencies. Africanised bees swarm in large numbers and will fly long distances to attack a perceived threat.
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service indicates that bumblebees produce honey but they store very little of it, so it is impractical to try to harvest bumblebee honey for commercial use. Bumblebees are useful to humans as crop pollinators. They have yellow and black stripes and a thick coat of fuzz on their abdomen, and they make their nests underground.
Other Bee Species
According to the Colorado State University Extension, many types of bees are solitary and do not create colonies. Some of these types of bees are sweat bees, leafcutter bees and carpenter bees. Sweat bees are often metallic green and shiny, and they are attracted to sweat, so they can be annoying to humans. Leafcutter bees use parts of plants to create their nests. They are not aggressive, but they are capable of stinging. Finally, carpenter bees are often called wood bees because they burrow into wood to create their nests. Carpenter bees look like bumblebees, but they do not have as much fuzz on their abdomens. Male carpenter bees do not have stingers, but the females will sting if provoked.
Yellow jackets, a type of wasp, look similar to honey bees, but they have brighter colours and do not have fuzz on their bodies. The Colorado State University Extension indicates that yellow jackets often nest underground, but they occasionally make hives in the eaves or rafters of buildings. Yellow jackets will swarm and sting to defend the nest.
Mud daubers create their nests out of mud. The Iowa State University Department of Entomology describes mud daubers as long and thin with solid black and blue colouring and occasional yellow markings. They are not aggressive and rarely sting. They are useful to humans because they are insectivores and can help to control insect populations.
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- Critterzone: European Honey Bee, Apis Mellifera
- Columbia University: Introduced Species Summary Project: Africanised Honey Bee
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees, and Sweat Bees
- Colorado State University Extension: Nuisance Wasps and Bees
- Iowa State University Department of Entomology: Mud Dauber Wasps