Bees Vs. Wasps
gardeners and other urbanites often refer to bees and wasps interchangeably.
As you become familiar with the organisms in your yard environment
it is important to learn to distinguish bees and wasps as each
of these insect groups has very different lifestyles. Bees are
interested almost exclusively in pollen and nectar from your plants,
and they are adapted evolutionarily to use these specific plant parts
for energy (nectar) and to provision their offspring (pollen plus
nectar). Wasps, in contrast, are mostly predatory and visit your
garden searching for small prey items like caterpillars. Occasionally,
small slender wasps can be observed taking nectar from selected
flowers only, for example, from species of Eriogonum (shown at
right), the buckwheats. In almost every case, these are beneficial
wasps looking for a drink of nectar. They have no interest in the
pollen. In fact, they don’t have
body parts adapted for pollen transport as do bees.
The yellowjacket wasps (see above photo) are most
often confused by urbanites. Yellowjackets are not bees! These
wasps are predatory in habit, which means they hunt and feed on
other living organisms, mostly other insects. Often, they fly
around plants and even land on flowers where they look for prey
items such as caterpillars. However, these wasps have also taken
a liking to human food, especially meat and soft drinks. You may
have already noticed that encounters with yellowjackets usually
occur whenever we eat food outside. We can guarantee that you will
never see an authentic bee eating a burger or hot dog.
study the photos in this website you will begin to be able to distinguish
between bees and wasps. Note especially the great amount of fine
hair found on almost all bees in contrast to the sparse hair on
wasps. It is their hairiness that makes bees so important to pollination
and plant reproduction: these hairs are designed to pick up pollen
and carry it from one flower to the next.
Finally, as mentioned elsewhere in this website,
female bees and female wasps have stingers that are used in defense.
Some wasps species also use their stingers to paralyze prey items,
which are then used directly for adult food or later for food for
their offspring, in the case of social wasps. When close human encounters
with bees and wasps occurs, stings may result but this almost always
happens when the insect feels threatened. This is even true in the
case of the famous Africanized honey bee (or killer bee), which
behaves more aggressively than most other bees and wasps in defense
of their hives.