Whenever you hear the buzzing of a bee flying past, what is the first thing you think? Is it the painful sting or the delicious honey?
There are several types of bees, and all play an essential role in the environment. They help pollinate plants – a process necessary for plant reproduction and growth. They also provide us with honey.
Bees are also an essential part of the global economy, as, without them, food sources would be significantly depleted.
However, there is a lingering fear of getting stung by these fantastic creatures, especially by people who are allergic to bee stings. And since some bees are more threatening than others, it is essential to tell the difference between bees before handling them.
Below are some types of bees and their different behaviors.
- 1. Honey bees
- 2. Bumblebees
- 3. Carpenter bees
- 4. Africanized honey bees
- 5. Blueberry bees
- 6. Leaf-cutter bees
- 7. Mason bees
- 8. Sweat bees
- 9. Squash bees
1. Honey bees
Honey bees are some of the largest group of pollinators and prefer to live outside, where there are lots of flowering plants. These types of bees are usually about ½ inches long, although the Queen bee can be as long as 3/4 inches long. They are social bees with yellowish-orange and black coloring. Honey bees are typically not aggressive and prefer to build their nests in rock crevices, tree cavities, and under objects that can offer shelter. These nests can grow very big, and this puts the structures at risk of damage.
Although these insects are not aggressive, people are still afraid of their stings. Their stings are painful and can be dangerous to people allergic to bee stings; when a honey bee stings, the stinger, venom sac, and the bee’s internal organs become detached from the bee’s body, causing them to die. The glands associated with the venom sac continue to pump venom, therefore, the stinger should be removed immediately.
It is best to leave honey bees alone whenever you encounter them. However, if they are beginning to be an inconvenience in your home and causing structural damage to your property, it’s best to call a beekeeper to handle it.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, 49 species of bumblebees can be found in the U.S. These bees, which are a little larger than honey bees, have a black body with a dense covering of black and yellow hair. They are often confused with carpenter bees, but carpenter bees are noticeably larger than bumblebees. Carpenter bees have a broad head, while bumblebees have a smaller head.
Bumblebees derive their name from the noise they create when inside a flower. They make the noise by moving around so quickly; the vibration from their movement causes the pollen to fall off the flower and onto the hairs on their body.
They live in colonies and make their nests in the ground, sometimes using abandoned mammal holes. They are not so aggressive and have little interest in stinging people unless they have been threatened or mishandled. Bumblebees will emit a loud, angry, buzzing sound when their nest is threatened or disturbed.
Queen and worker bumblebees (the females) have stingers and can use them repeatedly, while drones (males) do not have stingers.
3. Carpenter bees
There are over 500 species of carpenter bees around the world, and only 5 can be found in North America. Carpenter bees, also known as wood bees, vary in color and size and don’t have a stellar reputation due to their tendency to bore holes into your wood.
A carpenter bee is a solitary bee and makes its nests in holes bored in the wood. The female lays her eggs in the hole, and the bees emerge from the hole in a single file.
Although the male carpenter bees are more aggressive and territorial, only females of the species possess stingers and may sting if mishandled, disturbed, or stepped on. Otherwise, carpenter bees are generally docile insects.
These insects are considered pests because they bore holes in wooden structures to make their nest. One hole may seem inconsequential, but when generations of these bees continue to bore through the same wood and surrounding structures, it can cause significant damage to the structure. These holes in structures can not only expose the wood to moisture and rot, the larvae developing in the holes may also attract woodpeckers, creating an even larger hole and more damage.
4. Africanized honey bees
Africanized honey bees, also known as killer bees, are a hybrid between European bees and Africanized bees. These bees originated from Brazil in the 1950s and eventually made their way to the U.S, where they reside in warmer climates. They are known for their aggressive behavior and will attack anything that disturbs or threatens their nests.
Africanized honey bees are social insects and tend to build their waxy-comb nests in the open. They sometimes build their nests in small, hidden locations like cement blocks and meter boxes. They will abandon their hive and swarm if disturbed.
These bees have a social structure similar to that of the European honey bee. They help pollinate plants but are very aggressive and threatening when protecting their nests. They conduct regular patrols in the area around their nests, and drone bees will alert the nest to attack anything – whether an animal, child, or adult – that wanders into that area.
Victims of attacks from Africanized honey bees usually report up to 100 stings. This is because this bee species respond to threat in more significant numbers than an average honey bee. Although their venom is only as potent as the average honey bee, the many stings from an attack mean more venom is entering the target’s body.
It is difficult to tell the difference between Africanized honey bees and their European counterparts. It is, therefore, necessary to stay away from their hive and contact a bee control specialist to determine the type of bee.
5. Blueberry bees
Blueberry bees are about the size of a honey bee, but their hair patterns and banding make them look like a smaller carpenter bee or bumblebee.
They get their name because they’ve evolved with wild blueberries, and over time, their bodies have become a perfect fit for the bell shape of the blueberry flowers. They also pollinate other plants along with blueberries. Blueberry bees have their nest in the ground, especially near blueberry plants, once they find them.
A blueberry bee is a solitary bee and will only sting when someone accidentally crushes them.
6. Leaf-cutter bees
Leaf-cutter bees measure about 7 to 18mm in length. They have a black coloring with white hairs covering the thorax and the bottom of the abdomen. Many species of this type of bee possess large heads with huge jaws to cut off leaves to seal their nests.
Leafcutter bees are essential pollinators of many wildflowers, as well as some fruits and vegetables. Commercial growers use them to pollinate crops, including alfalfa, blueberries, carrots, and onions.
They can sting, but these solitary bees are not territorial and do not aggressively defend their nests like other bee species, they only sting when handled roughly. According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, a leafcutter bee sting is “far less painful” than that of a honeybee.
7. Mason bees
Mason bees are small, fast-flying bees with metallic colors, including blue, dull green, and black. They lack pollen baskets on their legs and instead carry pollen in hairs on the underside of their abdomens.
These bees are solitary bees that are most active in the spring and derive their name from using mud to close nest cavities. Similar to the carpenter bees, a mason bee will lay female eggs first and then the male eggs. After which , she will gather nectar and use enzymes to create a food source for the offspring born the following spring. Then, she will use mud to seal the opening to the nest. In the spring, the males will come out first and be ready to mate when the females are born and emerge from the nest.
Mason bees are pollinators and pollinate various flowers, usually focusing on the one closest to their nest. Male mason bees cannot sting while the females can, although the species is even more docile than honey bees. They sting people only when they are handled roughly or trapped under clothing.
8. Sweat bees
This group of bees is only a quarter of the size of a honeybee. Sweat bees derive their name from their attraction to human perspiration. They make excellent pollinators and are active in October and even November.
The size of a sweat bee enables it to pollinate small flowers like fall-blooming asters of the Southeast. Sweat bees range in color from black to metallic blues and greens, with copper and blue overtones. Some also have stripes on their abdomens. They can be difficult to see due to their small size and high speed.
Female sweat bees can sting, but they are often docile. Avoiding them is the best way to ensure that you are not stung by them. Sweat bees are another group of beneficial bees that usually don’t need to be evicted. Use methods similar to other ground bees if you’re worried about being stung; keep the ground moist and grow some vegetation over bare spots to limit potential nesting sites.
9. Squash bees
Like blueberry bees, squash bees have evolved to become specialists in pollinating the family Cucurbita, which includes squash, melon, pumpkins, zucchini, and many gourds plants. They are one of the few bees that fly before dawn. Their main flight times last until mid-morning, and they will fly again near dusk when melon and squash flowers open.
If you see a bee nesting in a squash flower, it’s almost likely a male of the species as they nest and mate in squash flowers-females nest in the ground near food sources. The head and thorax of squash bees range in color from black or tan to orange. The thorax is hairy and black with banded abdomen stripes that are white, black, or tan.
Squash bees are not aggressive and very rarely sting humans. They are beneficial to the environment and pose very few risks.