Bees and wasps are both flying insects that belong to the insect order Hymenoptera.
BEES have plump little bodies and are fuzzy with hair everywhere. There are 20,000 bee species on planet Earth, and out of all these species, only 8 are honeybees. In the USA, there are over 4,000 native bee species. Some global bees look exotic, but most have yellow/orange and black stripes.
Bees collect pollen from flowers and store it in pollen baskets on their legs, sip sweet nectar to bring home to the hive for making honey, and then they work hard to produce the best honey they can. The flavor of their honey can change depending on which flowers they forage on. They produce other things too, like beeswax, propolis and royal jelly. Bumblebees also produce wax.
The European or Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera, is the most common of the 8 global honeybee species. While some of these live wild, most of them are domesticated by humans and live in beehive colonies. Apis is Latin for ‘bee’ and mellifera is Latin for ‘honey-bearing.’ This is the honeybee that is most widely used for commercial crop pollination in the USA, like the vast commercial almond seasonal pollination each year in several parts of the world. Honeybees also produce the most commercially viable honey of all species. Honeybees are ‘rented’ by farmers to ensure quality pollination of their crops. One beehive can contain between 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees, but only has one queen bee who lays up to 2,000 eggs daily and a handful of male drones. Their colony is made of self-generated beeswax in a hexagonal model.
Many bees are solitary species that do not live in colonies. Instead, like bumblebees, they live alone but tend to stay in ‘neighborhoods’ of similar solitary wild bees. Such bees live communally, in hollow logs or stems, ground holes, or other natural spaces.
This 2:38-minute video by Solutions Pest & Lawn shows good visuals of what we discuss in this blog post:
WASPS have skinnier waists than bees, and smooth, slender bodies, so pollen does not stick to them as easily as bees and most wasps are not considered to be good pollinators like bees. When it comes to their colony, there are never more than 10,000 wasp residents and it is made of self-generated paper from wood pulp or mud and stacked in cylinders.
Contrary to what people think, they are not usually aggressive but if you put them on the defensive, they can sting multiple times since their stinger is not barbed. Keep your distance from bees and wasps, although sometimes you can find yourself up close unintentionally if you are out walking or gardening. They do not like when people get too close. The closer you are, the harder it can be to make a safe exit. Do not upset them. If you must leave the area, back away slowly. It is best not to turn your back and run as they may chase you. Usually they are non-aggressive unless you threaten their hives or nests. Whereas a honey bee can only sting once and usually dies right away due to its barbed stinger, a wasp can sting multiple times.
Bees are vegetarians, whereas wasps hunt other insects and even eat human meats, for instance at a picnic.
Bees have been stressed in recent years by many factors. One of the main challenges is that their habitat is disappearing. Many farmers use herbicides, insecticides, neonics, and other ‘cides’ that kill the vegetation that is considered ‘unwanted’ and this often includes wildflowers. This means that native bees, butterflies, and wasps have far less wildflowers to share for food, pollen and to pollinate.
As if this isn’t bad enough, the same pesticides kill billions of insects annually and reduce biodiversity all over the world. This has a domino effect, as songbirds and other creatures rely on insects as a form of dietary protein. Less flower pollination means less foods like apples, almonds, coffee, chocolate, etc.
We—individually and collectively—can plant self-seeding wildflowers that reproduce every year, quality nectar and pollen producing flowers, herbs, and indigenous native plants, to help feed pollinators. Insect biodiversity is critical to their survival and therefore to our survival as a species.
Humanity must address the global crisis surrounding pesticides and insecticides, to reduce, and eventually stop, using such poisons. Billions of plants are killed by herbicides and billions of insects are killed by pesticides. Needlessly.
Whether you own a home with a garden, or rent an apartment with a patio, you can do your part to help pollinators. Let’s be responsible stewards of our beautiful planet and take care of those that help feed us and beautify our world.