When you hear the word “bees,” what do you think of? Being stung (ouch!) the taste of delicious honey, or maybe the buzzing sound that we know these interesting insects to make? Few people realize the importance of different types of bees in our environment, but recently, scientists have been working to change this.
These flying insects are the world’s greatest pollinators, and they help with the pollination of one-third of the food we consume. They are also a massive part of our global economy. Without them, we would ‘bee’ in big trouble.
But just like dogs, there isn’t only one type of bee. To truly understand how these creatures help us, humans, you’ll need to be able to distinguish between the most common types of bees.
- All Types of Bees
- Types of Bees in a Beehive Explained
- All Different Types of Wasps
- Our Readers’ Bee Questions Answered
- What’s your favorite type of bee?
All Types of Bees
There are around 20,000 known species of bees. Antarctica is the only continent without a bee population. There are over 4,000 species that can be found in North America alone. Regardless of location, bee types usually fall into one of two major classifications; these are social bees and solitary bees.
Social bees are what people think of when they hear the word ‘bee.’ Social bees have made their way into television, film, and literature. Winnie the Pooh loved them since they created his favorite snack. There’s even a whole story surrounding if ‘bees were bears.’
These kinds of bees create large gatherings or colonies and live in a group. Social bee hives have many bees and these bees have many jobs such as producing combs, nourishing their larvae, and producing honey.
These ‘overachievers’ are the most likely to be seen generating hives or functioning together to create a community. In general, social bees are docile and only sting when they feel that their colony or hive is threatened.
1. Bumble Bees
Bumble Bees are also known as “big bees” which are the hairy pollinators of all kinds of plants and flowers in the garden. Their adeptness in pollination comes with the help of their furry coats.
They are quite large in size, second only to honey bees in terms of pollination, and ability to enthusiastically leech to flowers when finding pollen and nectar. Unfortunately, over 1/5 of all Bumble Bee populations have been lost because of things like pesticide use and climate change. Competition from honey bees is another struggle.
2. Honey Bees
Honey Bees are another top pollinator and are vital in our ecosystem. They make colonies that can be as huge as 80,000 individual insects, exist in hives, and produce honey.
Honey Bees do not appear furry or hairy like Bumble Bees, are smaller in size than the Bumble Bees, and have lengthier but narrower figures. In addition, these bees have groups that labor in a caste system and have roles in maintaining the hive.
The three castes include the queen bee, the worker bees, and the drone bees. What amazes me about these creatures is the amount of work it takes for them to make just one pound of honey. This production requires each bee to fly at least 90,000 miles (think three trips around the globe.) Talk about work ethic!
3. Africanized Bees
Africanized Bees are also called “killer bees.” They were formed with common honey bees to be a new cross-bred that ran away from a lab in South America. They are notorious for being wicked tempered, for domination areas once occupied by honey bees, and for their disposition to attack anything or anyone that comes near their bubble.
Although they are dangerous and prone to attack at random, they are smaller than honey bees and not as lethal as one might think. The best way to survive? Run as fast as you can, protect your head, and seek shelter immediately.
These kinds of bees do not swarm, live alone, and desire to work on their own or with very small groups. Moreover, solitary bees have very teenier nests, fly solo, and produce enough food just to feed the larva they have.
Most of them are fairly harmless to individuals and only a few of them can cause harm. I like to think of them as the introverts who prefer staying home alone with a book rather than partying with friends like the social bees described above.
4. Carpenter Bees
Carpenter Bees are one such introvert. They look like huge, tubby, and extremely hairy Bumble Bees. However, there are dissimilarities between carpenter bees and Bumble Bees. For one, these bees are blue-black with the hair in stripes like a Bumble Bee.
Carpenter Bees are called such a name because they create their nests inside the wood of almost any kind, even trees, and logs. This may seem like no big deal, however, it can become a problem for humans when they start to set up their colonies inside our homes.
A Carpenter Bee will make a hideaway into the wood as chambers for larvae and eggs. This can be a source of damage to many homes. They can deteriorate wooden structures and eventually cause destruction to buildings.
In terms of stings, Carpenter Bees are not that aggressive. Male Carpenter Bees do not have stingers. However, female Carpenter Bees do have a stinger that they will use to defend their nests if necessary.
Want to discourage Carpenter Bees from setting up shop around your wooden structures? Try painting and pressure washing the surfaces.
5. Digger Bees
Usually smaller than Carpenter Bees, Digger Bees are also hairy. In terms of length, they are generally about 12 to 18mm. They are often seen getting out of holes in the ground where they make compartments as their nest.
Diggers will make a hideout and utilize special glands that guard the chamber. Their tunnels are usually comprised of one major hollow and some tunnels for food or storage and for their eggs and larvae. Fortunately, there is very little danger of being stung by a Digger Bee.
6. Mining Bees
In the Andrena family, there is an estimate of 1,200 species of bees, widely known as Mining Bees. They have the same behavior as digger bees. Mining Bees make tunnels and nests that are intricate underground. Occasionally, mining bees’ offspring set up their chambers nearby on the ground.
The underground nests they build are similar to housing units with each little bee having its own apartment of sorts. Like most Solitary Bees, the risk of Mining Bees stings is marginal. They are harmless to humans and shouldn’t be harmed.
7. Leafcutter Bees
These types of bees are measured about 7 to 18mm in length. They are also very dark and look like they are made from iron. Leafcutting and mason bees are under the same family, but Leafcutter Bees create their tunnels and nests in decaying wood and in buildings’ insulated panels.
At a distance from buildings, these types of bees will use deep spaces in timeworn trees and logs. Fun fact: their name came from their inclination to cut small pieces off of plants and using them to mark their tunnels.
8. Mason Bees
Mason bees are the same as the type above except that they have been recognized to burrow into soft cement in buildings. They tend to create small holes. With their size, the holes usually do not give any risk to them. Similar to most solitary bees, there is little threat of being stung by a leafcutting or mason bee.
9. Sweat Bees
I tend to avoid bees at all costs, even though I realize their importance and respect them. Just the thought of being stung is enough to cause me to avoid these creatures. If you are out on a hot summer day and encounter a bee, most likely it’s a sweat bee. These are also known as Alkali Bees. These bees can be as small as 3mm in length.
Just like other Solitary Bees, they like to build their nests in a covert way. Sweat bees are fascinated at the perspiration of humans and other animals. This is why they attract to you!
Nonetheless, they are so small that getting stung by them is rare. They are not aggressive and will only sting if pressed against the skin.
10. Plasterer Bees
Just a little larger than sweat bees, plasterer bees are 10 to 18mm in length and fairly hairy-looking. They also burrow underground, but will also use cracks in stone and bricks to make their nests. Because they plaster the walls of their nests with a discharge that will dry to a lustrous, transparent appearance, we call them Plaster Bees.
11. Yellow-faced Bees
How vicious do these guys look? Thank goodness these bees are much more docile than they appear. Yellow-faced Bees come from the same family as Plasterer Bees and usually are small as about 6mm.
They are named from their yellow-colored faces, though sometimes they are white. Over 60 different types of yellow-faced bees call Hawaii home. They are known for their elaborate mating rituals.
Types of Bees in a Beehive Explained
Honeybees create a wonderful, structured community that is crucial and helpful to our food chain. Normally, they thrive in colonies that comprise of a queen, drones and about 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. A bee colony is highly specialized where no bee is able to survive on their own.
Hence, there is a partition of work and every bee must fulfill its own duties and co-operate in order to survive. In the following list, I’ll give you a quick overview of the types of bees in a beehive and their roles.
1. Queen Bee
The Queen Bee is the largest and long-surviving kind of bee (she can survive for five to six years. She is the only sexually developed adult female bee of a colony.
The queen bee is capable of laying enough fertilized eggs in just one day for the next generation of bees. That’s actually up to 2,000 eggs in a day.
Furthermore, she also releases chemicals to have an influence on other types of bees. The role of the queen bee is deemed vital in maintaining a harmonious work cycle in a beehive.
2. Drone Bees
Drone Bees are male bees whose tasks are easier than worker bees and queen bees. These types of bees only have to eat and mate with the queen bee. Talk about living the life of a king! In terms of size, they are bigger than the worker bees but smaller than the queen bee.
In spring and summer, hundreds of drone bees live in the hive. Although they seem to have it made, drones actually die after mating with the Queen Bee. The ones that survive without an encounter are expelled from the hive by the worker bees before winter comes.
3. Worker Bees
In the caste system of a hive, the worker bees are all female bees that hunt for food, develop the hive, guard the hive, and maintain the cleanliness of the air within the hive. Unlike the other two types of bees, Worker Bees are not capable of laying eggs and are sexually undeveloped. In case you see a bee outside a hive, it’s a worker bee since other bees do not go outside. These ladies are the backbone of all that goes on within.
All Different Types of Wasps
Just like bees, there are about 75,000 species of wasps that are known all over the world. Though people mostly confused wasps for bees, they are different. The major difference is that while bees are nectar-drinking insects, wasps are carnivorous flying creatures that prey on other insects like spiders.
The bees are your vegans while the wasps like a nice meaty snack. Usually, they are beneficial to the surroundings that act as organic pest control on farms, crops, and gardens.
These fliers are usually grouped into two categories: solitary wasps (they live alone) and social wasps (live in colonies) just like the bees. So, it’s no wonder we tend to confuse them.
Social wasps thrive and function in colonies the same way honeybees and ants do. Mostly, the creatures that work in a wasp hierarchy are the queen’s infertile daughters that create the nest, get food, and look after the queen’s offspring. Their colony can only last for one year.
The common types of social wasps such as yellowjackets, hornets, and paper wasps start a new nest each year. The fertilized queens are the only ones to survive while all the other workers simply die as frost approaches. The following are the common types of social wasps:
Yellowjackets have the same size as honeybees (about half an inch to three-fourth inch-long) and black with bright yellow marks. A nest can comprise of up to 5,000 members.
They are often mistaken for Honey Bees, even though they are smaller, speedier, and have a brighter yellow in appearance. Furthermore, they make their paper nests like how hornets do but either in logs, attics, grounds, or walls.
When they hunt for food, they are seen hovering back and forth from their nest and usually eat sweets and meat. In terms of stinging, they can be a pain. However, they are usually non-violent except when bothered since they are aggressive in defending their nests.
One of my favorite southern sayings is “he was mad as a hornet.” This comes from the fact that these Wasps can be very temperamental.
Hornets are measured two inches and construct large paper-like nests made from chewed wood. They are also referred to as bald-faced hornets and have a similarity to yellowjackets in terms of color but differ in size.
Their nests can be found usually in wooded spaces, bushes, tree branches, sides of buildings or houses, and poles. In a Hornet nest, there are only seven hundred members.
3. Paper Wasps
Paper Wasps are called such since they create distinctive umbrella-shaped nests that are water-resistant out of gray or brown paper material. Their nest does not have an external cover but houses around 25 wasps, though the number may become over 100 in the late season. In terms of appearance, they are longer and slimmer than yellowjackets, and they have various colors due to different species.
Unlike Social Wasps, Solitary Wasps live alone and do not create big colonies. They usually flock during midsummer. To add, they are hunters and prey on crickets, cicadas, spiders and other insects. They weaken their prey and carry it to a den.
After that, they lay an egg to their prey and the larva feeds it. Usually, they are not hostile and their stings do not hurt. The following is a list of common types of solitary wasps:
4. Cicada Killer Wasps
Considered as the main wasp species in Nebraska, Cicada Killer Wasps are about one and a half to two inches in size and have yellow stripes on a black physique. The holes they create underground are near trails, driveways, and walls. These wasps have the capacity to build nests wherever they like.
They actually get their names from the fact that they have a sophisticated way of killing their prey (cicada, grasshoppers, and crickets) using paralyzing venom. Not to worry though. These wasps usually don’t waste their hunting time on humans.
5. Tarantula Hawk Wasp
This kind of wasp is a huge, dark, blue wasp that has glossy brown-orange wings, somewhat tinier than a cicada killer. It is also called Spider Hawk Wasp. A distinguishing feature is the curled female’s antennae. Spider Hawks have the same performance but as can be guessed by their name, favor spiders as food for their larvae.
6. Steel Blue Cricket Hunters
Another large wasp, this one measures one to one-fourth inch long. A Steel Blue Cricket Hunter is also called Thread-waist Wasp or Aphid Wasp. Up close, you can see that their body is a dark steel blue metallic color with dusky wings. As implied in their name, their larvae are nourished mainly with crickets.
7. Sand Wasps
The Sand Wasp is an inch long, has huge eyes and has a black and white striped body. Despite the fact of being a Solitary Wasp, some females group as one to make separate nests in the soil and dishearten attackers.
Sandboxes in backyards are sand wasps’ target for feeding their larvae primarily with flies. So if you have children and see wasps in their sandy play areas, these are the most likely culprit.
8. Mud Wasps
Considered as a “lone wolf” of the wasp species, Mud Wasps build their colonies on their own and attack only to catch their prey. These Mud Wasps have three types: Mud Daubers, Potter Wasps, and Pollen Wasps. As their name suggests, they create nests both above and in the ground.
Mud Daubers are long, slender swaps of about an inch long. Their nests are small with tube-shaped or cylindrical structures with a colony of three to twenty wasps. Sometimes, they are called “Thread Waist Wasps” or “Dirt Daubers”.
They can sting even when not provoked and do not defend their nests much like the Yellowjackets. Moreover, they can be found under porches, attics, eaves, and walls. Their usual prey on spiders, specifically black widow spiders, so I think that they make a better ally than an enemy.
These are tiny wasps at about half an inch in size, also known as mason wasps. They are called like that because of their nests’ jug or pot shape. Among all the other wasp species, Potter Wasps have the largest diversity, about 200 groups.
Pollen Wasps are occasionally mistaken for yellow jackets because of being small (about 0.25 to 1 mm long.) However, Pollen Wasps have huge antennas. They create their nests underground in the mud and water. From their names, we can see that they love to feed on pollen and nectar.
Our Readers’ Bee Questions Answered
Are you curious about bees? Do you have unanswered questions in mind? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about bees with answers.
In a honeybee colony, their hierarchy has three kinds of adult bees: workers, drones, and a queen. Many a thousand worker bees work together in building a nest, food gathering, and nurturing offspring. Every member has a duty to carry out depending on their age and capabilities.
To distinguish a Honey Bee, you must remember that they are not furry or hairy as compared to Bumble Bees, smaller than the Bumble Bees, and have longer but slimmer figures. Another thing you can observe is their flight path since they travel between flowers.
Most bees will only sting when they feel threatened or bothered. They sting to defend their hive and normally only attack out of defense. The only exception is Killer Bees who can be irritated, causing them to attack from simple noise.
What’s your favorite type of bee?
To sum up, every type of bee or wasp is really important to our environment. Knowing and understanding each kind can help us to know how we can help it (and it’s delicious golden honey) survive. And it’s so much fun to do so, think about telling your children exactly what type of bee it is and how they are harmless the next time they’ll run away screaming.
Either way, you know what kept us bee-zy? Thinking about which type of bee from the bee-list above is our all-time favorite bee-to-be! Curious to learn which one is yours? Let us know in the comments below.
Nancy Drew here. I am a biologist and I love all living things, but plants have a special place in my heart. I aim to bring plants and YOU closer again. If there’s one thing I want you to take with you, it is that plants aren’t intimidating if you have the necessary knowledge. That’s why I’m here. I will share everything I know about my beloved plants and hopefully, you decide to adopt one in your home. You know, for fresh air, something to talk to sometimes, and possibly an instant destresser. Yes, I talk to my plants. A lot actually! If you got any concerns about planting, please don’t hesitate to message me.