Wasps and other Bees

Species images


  • Wasps are not bees, however, like honeybees they are insects with stinging apparatus and a few species of wasps, like honeybees, are social¹ as well. Some of the different species of wasp, particulaly Vespula germanica (the European yellow jacket) accidentally introduced about 1940, is vaguely similar in appearance to the honeybee although more yellow in color. However, the wasp feeds meat, which the adult has hunted and chewed up, to it's carnivorous young (bees feed their young gland secretions and honey). Wasps, with their strong mandibles, scrape pulp from bark, plants and wood to make their nests of paper and don't produce wax. Wasps, by virtue of their stinger shape, can sting repeatedly where honeybee's can sting (flesh) usually only once. Wasps, other than mated queens, die during the winter and their mated queens who've survived a modified hibernation reestablish their cycle in the spring creating new nests. Honeybees are active all year, which is why they store copious amounts of honey and pollen (enabling we humans to harvest some), and their hive may survive continuously for many years.


  • Vespa crabro (Missouri European hornet). Hornets are not bees either. The only true hornet in the U.S. Introduced mid 1840's (until the recent introduction of the Asian Giant Hornet-Vespa mandarinia). Found eastern coast to mid west. About 1½ inches, brown to reddish with yellow markings.hornet This hornet builds its nest of paper within cavity of trees or wall voids. Life cycle is similar to the common bald faced hornet (Vespula maculata) found throughout the U.S. except that their seasonal cycle is slightly longer and they will fly at night.
  • Vespa mandarinia (Asian Giant Hornet) Dubbed the murder hornet to the annoyance of entomologists.This apex insect predator earns its nickname from its proclivity to decapitate bees and other wasps to feed the hornets young. However, during the fall, at the end of the hornets life span, raiding parties of several dozen Asian giant hornets might attack a hive for the nurishment bee larvae will provide to hornet queens who will survive the winter and begin other nests come spring. These several dozen can kill entire beehives containing thousands of honeybees in just aa few hours.

Bees - superfamily Apoidea

Africanized honeybees

  • Apis mellifera scutellata. Africanized honeybees and the European honeybee Apis mellifera/mellifica (which is common in N. America) are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from one another. The Africanized honeybees are descendants of bees brought to Brazil in 1956 for research. Being almost pure African they possess traits unlike those of the European honeybee we are accustomed to. They respond quicker to threats, in larger numbers and for longer periods and as a result can pose a considerable hazard.

Bumble bees

  • Bumble Bees in the genus Bombus are a eusocial² bee with about 300 species. They are somewhat larger in size than the honeybee and they often nest in natural or man-made cavities as well as vacant mouse holes. Bumble Bee queens also reestablish their nests in the spring and the numbers in their colony are considerably smaller than that of the honeybee which commonly reaches into the tens of thousands. Bumble bees rarely sting unless handled or swatted and do not swarm.
  • Cuckoo Bumble Bees are found in the Genus Psithyrus.

Solitary bees

Unlike the honeybee or the bumble bee, most native bees are solitary nesters. Each female mates and builds its own small nest. Solitary bees don't cooperate with other females in building or defending their nest or young, or with collecting pollen and other resources. And solitary bees are considered docile. They rarely sting unless handled or swatted and do not swarm.

Sweat bees

  • Family Halictidae, genus Dialictus zephrum. The sweat bee is a small (less than 1/4 inch - 1/2 inch) metallic green or black bee sometimes attracted to the salts in human perspiration. It is common in the Northeast U.S. Some sweat bees build small nests in the ground that they stock with pollen (where they live communally with others). Other sweat bees are solitary³. Adult bees feed on nectar and are important pollinators of many plants. Some one thousand species exist in the U.S. and they exhibit varying degrees of sociality.
  • Parasitic sweat bees are found in the genus Sphecodes.

Leafcutting bees

  • Megachile rotundata. A common solitary "leafcutter" bee of the western U.S. and an important alfalfa pollinator. introduced from Eurasia late 1930's. Nests in pre-existing holes in wood or in soil in cut banks. Lines cells within it's nest with leaf cuttings.

Alkali Bees

  • Nomia melanderi. A solitary bee that is very gregarious and nests in large numbers in moist alkaline soils common to western U.S. An important alfalfa pollinator. Similar in size (slightly smaller) to honey bees they are black with iridescent copper green stripes

Digger Bees

  • Subfamily Anthophorinae. Sometimes referred to as polyester bees they are solitary but may nest in dense aggregations. These bees range in size from that of a honeybee to that of a bumble bee and are mostly ground nesters (hence the reference to "digger") that line their brood cells with a secretion that is waxlike. Important wildflower pollinators.

Miner bees

  • Anthophora abrupta. Solitary, ground nesting bees. Nests are tunnels built in hard clay and lined with secretions of a clear liquid from the Dufour's4 gland which is on the bee's abdomen. Secretion may be similar to that secreted by the Cellophane bee which is a suspected ant barrier and the waxlike secretion of the Digger bee.

Stingless bees

  • Apidae Meliponinae. Non-stinging (stingless) bees are eusocial and workers are more like the males than the queen. They are native to tropical and sub-tropical climates and cannot survive the cold of temperate regions. They are perennial, maintaining permanent hives in hollow sections of trees and other enclosed spaces (above or below ground) where their numbers vary from hundreds into the tens of thousands for some species and can exceed a hundred and fifty thousand for others. Within these spaces they store honey (in pots not comb), pollen and wax. There are some hundreds of different species that vary in size (from 2mm to more than 1cm) and appearance and exhibit considerably different habits. Although their sting mechanism has atrophied (or is non functional) they can, in defense of their hive, bite and/or exude a burning substance. Stingless bees are good pollinators of native flora and, like Apis mellifera, most collect pollen on their hind legs. Unlike the european honeybee though stingless bees store nectar in their crop for transporting back to the hive and the males may perform chores alongside the females. It has also been reported that males (of a certain age) will perform modified guarding of the hive, excrete and work wax and respond to communications of direction to food sources. Stingless bee numbers are in decline due to loss of habitat and competition from non-native often Africanized honeybees.

¹social: Living and breeding in a more or less organized colony or community,
²eusocial: A society in which individuals cooperate in caring for the young, which not all of them have produced
³ solitary: Females emerge in spring, mate, forage, and alone rear the next generation of offspring.
4Dufour's: A gland located on the abdomen of bees and wasps and the metasoma of ants its use determined by the mixture of chemicals present. (preceding information acquired through various online sources)

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