Meet the Bees in Your Garden

Flower Garden

The weather outside is beautiful and if you’re anything like us, you are spending as much time in the garden as possible! But we're not the only ones enjoying the sunshine and fresh blossoms – we’re also sharing it all with our pollinator friends.

Like many kids, we loved playing outside in the summertime, and like many children, found bees to be a little bit scary. Here at the National Honey Board, we exist to educate children and adults alike to not fear the honey bee, as she is essential to our existence.

If you saw our recent Earth Day blog post, you got to learn about the importance of honey bees and their pollination work – Fun Fact: almost one-third of the U.S. diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and honey bees are responsible for 80% of that process! Without our little buzzing friends we would not have many of our favorite snacks like almonds, blueberries and summertime watermelon.

This time of year it is common for children to come across a variety of insect habitats while playing outside, but not all interactions will lead to stings. Many bees are not aggressive but do differ from their wasp relatives, so in honor of World Bee Day on May 20th, we want to take a deeper look at some of the friends buzzing in our yards and provide some quick insect identification tips.

Honey Bees
Honey bees are hairy insects that are brownish-orange and black. They have pollen baskets on their legs to carry pollen. They are social insects that feed on pollen and nectar. Honey bees are generally not aggressive and will only sting if they feel threatened.

Bumblebees are big, hairy, yellow and black, square-shaped bees. They live in nests in the ground and generally in colonies of only a few hundred. The nest is a ball of dry grass and moss with a cushion of pollen in the middle. The queen makes a very small honey pot and fills it with nectar to use in bad weather. Bumblebee colonies last just a few months, and all the bees except for the queen die at the end of the summer. All female bumblebees can sting more than once but are relatively unaggressive. Bumblebees do not use dances to “communicate” with others.

Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees are large and resemble bumblebees. Females are totally black and have shiny upper abdomens. Males are blonde or tan-colored and lack stingers. Carpenter bees have powerful jaw muscles and strong mandibles that they use to bore tunnels into dead trees or wooden buildings where they live. They are solitary insects and unlikely to sting unless handled.

Leafcutter Bees
Leafcutter bees live alone, not in groups, and therefore are known as solitary bees. They cut off pieces of leaf and roll them up to make their cells. Leafcutters make their nests in hollow twigs or other openings about the diameter of a pencil.

Sweat Bees
Sweat bees are solitary bees and are metallic blue or green. They often nest in the soil where the females lay their eggs on pollen balls. Sweat bees are known for licking sweat from people and animals.

Paper Wasps
Paper wasps are brightly colored black and yellow and are smooth and somewhat shiny. They have two sets of dusky-colored wings, narrow cylindrical legs and no pollen baskets. Paper wasps build their nests out of paper made from plant fiber or wood and like to put them in a hollow tree, in the ground or under the eaves of a house. They are predators and eat insects and spiders. Female paper wasps are aggressive and can sting repeatedly.

Yellowjackets are a type of short, stocky wasp. They have a cross-banded black and yellow abdomen. The head and thorax are black with yellow spots. Their broad abdomen tapers off to a sharp point where the stinger is concealed. Female yellowjackets can sting repeatedly and are quick to attack when disturbed. They nest in weedy brush areas on the ground or underground in an old animal burrow or crevice.

Keep your kids and pets safe as they soak up the sunshine. Educate them on the different insects they will encounter in nature, and most importantly, teach them to not to disrupt or disturb any insect habitat.

Wishing you many sting-free days in the sun!