“Save the bees,” is a phrase heard commonly throughout the past decade, but what has them so endangered, and why exactly do these bugs need saving? Why are bees so important in the first place, and how do you tell the difference between a docile bee and a wasp that’s out to sting you? Let this be your guide for facts about bees as we delve deeper into the role that bees play in bettering our environment and how to help bees from becoming an extinct species.  

Honey bee and honey comb
Close up of bees in a beehive on honeycomb

There are several different kinds of bees around the world, all varying in appearance, but each of them serve the valuable purpose of helping to pollinate flowers and crops everywhere. Honey bee’s are a keystone species, meaning that their existence and the jobs they perform keep our human ecosystem balanced and flourishing. Bees tend to the healthy growth of fruits and vegetables in both mass production and your own home gardens through the process of pollination. Pollinating is extremely important because it is what allows flowers and crops to continue reproducing, which in turn allows us to continue harvesting the food to eat and sell. Bees also produce sweet honey that is used and shipped around the globe for cooking, beauty and skincare, medicinal purposes, etc. Without them, so many of the common food sources we have become accustomed to would no longer be an option. If bees were to become extinct, there would no longer be a natural species within our ecosystem encouraging plant reproduction, and all our crops would start to die, thus leaving us without resources. 

In recent years there has been a significant decline in the amount of bees throughout the United States, and it only seems to be progressing into a more serious issue. The reason why bees have been becoming an endangered population is because of the use of pesticides. Pesticides are used frequently in commercial farming to get rid of weeds, parasites, and bugs that try to eat the crops. This keeps our crops intact so that they can last long enough to make it on the shelves of our local grocery stores and back home onto our dinner tables, however, pesticides kill and repel all the bugs they touch, bees included. During commercial crop growth, bees are just trying to pollinate the growing crops and get swept up in the extermination process, killed along with all the other bugs present. This remains true during the use of pesticides for things like lawn care or property care at homes and local businesses. Spraying chemicals on your land to get that nice green grass look and banish weeds and other unwanted critters is extremely harmful to bees. It leaves them unable to pollinate in that area and exposure to the chemicals harms and kills them. 

The Difference Between Bees And Wasps 

Bees and wasps are both buzzing, flying creatures, and in the spur of the moment it can be difficult to discern whether the insect flying by you or making home in your garden is a threat or a friend. There are a few visual differences that can help you to quickly identify between bees and wasps based on their physical characteristics. 

How to identify bees

Bees will have a fuzzy, furry, soft appearance. Honeybees and bumblebees are covered in striped yellow and black hairs. They carry yellow specs of pollen on their legs that gives off the same fuzzy/hairy look. A bee’s body is mostly proportional and only slightly curved in at the abdomen. When bees fly, their legs go up in the air with them. 

How to identify wasps

Wasps will have a smooth, shiny appearance. They can be striped with yellow and black but their colors vary and can be different shades of plain brown or black. Wasps have a cinched and small waist that separates their upper and lower body. Their abdomen has a prominent downward curve that faces inwards and towards the ground. When wasps fly their legs hang down below their bodys. Wasps also tend to stay close to their hive, which will be hanging down from a high ceiling or structure that is usually very visible to the eye. 

Although bees can at times seem intimidating, the reason why you should be favoring bees over wasps is because bees are pollinators. Unless you cause physical harm to them or their hive by accidentally stepping on them, they are truly just flying around trying to pollinate nearby plants. Honey bees that are out pollinating only have one stinger. It is a barbed stinger and it is attached to their intestines. If they become threatened enough to sting you then their stinger will get stuck inside of you and rip their entire body apart, killing them. For honey bees, stinging you means suicide, so you really have nothing to worry about. They only use stinging as a last resort self defence effort. 

Wasps on the other hand are natural predators. Waps do not pollinate or serve any natural benefits to our ecosystem. They will gladly bite or sting you without any valid reasons, and can sting and bite you as many times as they want without it causing damage to their own bodies. 

Types of Bees

Majority of bees seen wandering around outside, as well as the types of bees we are about to go over in the following sections, are known as social bees. Social bees refers to the category of bees that form and live in colonies together. Social bee hives have dozens of bees crawling all over each other, creating honeycombs, and feeding their larvae, etc. Social bee hives look like the traditional type of hive that most people see in educational videos, and you can probably already visualize what it looks like from past experience. Within the category of social bees, there are several different types of bees with varying appearance and purpose. 

Honey Bees

Honey bees are the most common type of bees, and even insects, in the United States. They are the number one pollinators in the world and the most important contributors to our ecosystem. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating all of our crops and flowers to ensure growth and reproduction. Honey bees are not very hairy, and have small, long, narrow body structures. Because of this, their body shape can sometimes be mistaken for that of a wasp’s. 

Honey bees live in large colonies and create hives with tens of thousands of bees at once, living and working to make honey. Within the colony there are three types of roles- the queen, workers and drones. Each bee is given their own role to help the colony stay maintained and flourishing. The queen bee is the female and gives birth to larvae that grow to become new members in the hive. The female remains in the center of the hive while other bees tend to her needs. Worker bees are usually female and help take care of the queen, providing food and caring for the queen’s larvae. Drone bees are usually male and they are the only ones that leave the hive. They are the bees that fly around and pollinate flowers, which allows them to collect nectar that can be brought back to the hive to feed all the other bees in their colony. 

Honey bees are very gentle and will not actively try to pursue and sting you unless you pose a threat to their hive and colony. If provoked, honey bees are strong in their attacks and will swarm in large numbers and chase you over long distances to keep you away from the hive and ensure hive safety. 

Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are the second most common type of bees in the United States. Bumble bees are black and yellow and plump in size, body appearance very large in proportion to their wings. Their bodies are covered in long hairs known as setae and they have a fuzzy, cotton ball-like look. This type of bee likes to come out in the warmer months, and will likely be found flying through gardens and pollinating. Bumble bees are in search of nectar and pollen, and they gravitate towards mainly flowers as their preferred source of food. 

Bumble bees usually create their hives in the ground. They will use things such as abandoned burrows created by animals, spaces underneath patio stones, areas of tall grass, etc to create their homes. Bumble bees are a very docile type of bee and have no interest in stinging unless they are physically threatened or their nest has been disturbed. When a bumble bee’s nest is disturbed, the colony will create a loud buzzing sound as a warning meant to scare the predator away from the nest. 

Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized honey bees, also referred to as “killer bees,” are one of the few types of bees that you should be weary of. They are a genetically modified crossbreed with honeybees, and they accidentally escaped labs in South America during the time of experimentation. Africanized honey bees are very aggressive and territorial of the land surrounding their hive. Their physical features are almost identical to those of a normal honey bee because of the way they were created through forced species breeding. These bees perform the same service of flying to crops and flowers for pollination, so you could come across them in the real world depending on location. This type of bee is typically only found in hot climates like Arizona, California, and Nevada. Africanized honey bees can be differentiated from regular honey bees based upon their behavior. If you are in one of those areas and see a swarm of bees together acting in a threatening or aggressive manner, keep your distance. From there it is recommended to contact a local pest specialist so that the issue can be dealt with to prevent any future bee attacks. 

Carpenter Bees 

Carpenter Bees, also known as wood bees, are a type of bee that creates their colony within wooden structures. Carpenter bees drill small holes into wood and use the space as their nest to lay and hatch larvae. They have gained a destructive reputation because of these habitual patterns, the holes they create appear identical to that made by a drill. These bees ten to be widely viewed as pests, and the only wood they are not able to create nests within are sealed or painted woods. However, carpenter bees still provide a large deal of pollination to plants and are very vital to the ecosystem. 

Carpenter bees are bigger in size than other bees, and have a black body with dense yellow hairs everywhere except their abdomen. Male carpenter bees can be territorial of the area surrounding their nest, so it is normal for them to fly close to you and buzz in your face as an act of dominance, but males are unable to sting you. Female carpenter bees do have stingers, but they are very unlikely to ever sting you. 

How to deal with bees in your area 

Encountering bees on a daily basis, whether it be outside your home, garden, or place of work is really nothing to fret over. Bees are just doing their job of pollinating plants and feeding their colony. Majority of bees are uncaring of humans, completely focused on their own priorities unless you blatantly try to harm them or their hive. Bees should not be something you want to evict from your area. They are helping the nature around you to thrive and flourish!

If you are encountering a large sum of bees near your home and are feeling unsafe or at the risk of being stung, then the next course of action to take would be contacting a local beekeeper. The appropriate beekeepers and insect specialists are available online through various search engines. Professionals will find a way to safely relocate the hive off your property without causing any harm to the bees. 

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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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