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Friday, April 1, 2016

Identifying bees vs wasps

Some people confuse bees with wasps, and call them all wasps just because of their colors. But there are differences in their appearance. Bees are generally non-aggressive, unless you are hurting them or their nest. Yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets are probably the most aggressive of the bees and wasps in the US. They will attack even if you get near their nest. And if you run a lawn mower over their underground nest, you are in trouble. I admit I screamed like a girl after getting stung 3 times.

This is a chart showing some members of the wasp and bee family. Notice the wasps usually have a very thin piece connecting the thorax with the abdomen. Wasps in the US also don't have many hairs, or they are hard to see. Bees tend to be more fuzzy.

Below is a honey bee. Notice somewhat furry body, with golden, not quite yellow, stripes on abdomen. Also look for the pollen baskets on its legs.
Below is a bumble bee. Bumble bees are larger, generally fly slow and meandering, and have a fuzzy body with black abdomen and yellow thorax.


Below: unknown wasp, possibly a hornet.
Below: Bald faced hornets. These are very aggressive and you will likely get attacked if you get too close to their nest. "Bald" is Old English for "white", because when a person went bald, you could see their white skin on their head. This is also where we get "bald eagle". It just means "white headed eagle".
Below: Blue mud wasp. You will often see these near muddy areas where they use mud to build their nests. Not aggressive but fun to watch as they flit about, flapping their wings on the ground in bursts of movement. These often have a slight bluish tint, like the Steel Blue Cricket Killer wasp.
Below: Yellow jackets are a type of wasp. These are very aggressive and will sting you if you stumble on their nest. They can nest in trees, under house eaves, and even underground. They make paper nests, but these are not what we term "paper wasps" per se.

Steel Blue Cricket Killer/Hunter. Not the same as a blue mud dauber wasp. Not aggressive. Fun to watch as they are a bit spastic when they are hunting on the ground.
Below: Blue mud wasp. Notice longer connection between thorax and abdomen.

Ichneumon wasps come on a HUGE variety of sizes. Including ovipositor, they go from .25 inches to 6 inches (Megarhyssa). They do not have stingers. What's the point with the ovipositor in the way? Not aggressive, and helpful. If you see a wasp with a noticeable pointy thing at its hind end, it's an ovipositor, not a stinger. 

An ichneumon Megarhyssa trying to lay eggs in dead bark. Length of body: 3", length of ovipositor: 3". When flying they are loud like a model airplane with a plastic propeller, but they are not aggressive, they are pretty calm. They also come in a chocolate brown with yellow stripes.
Below: Another ichneumon wasp. This is the general shape of the really tiny ones which might get trapped next to your window trying to get out. Not aggressive. They can also have very short antennae.

Not neither

Below is a clearwing moth, which is neither a bee or wasp. These often move about in a darting motion like a hummingbird, and they also feed on nectar.

Another type of clearwing moth. Notice how it tries to mimic the aggressive yellow jacket wasp.
Below is a syrphid fly. Notice the wings at rest are at about 45 degrees angle, like house flies. Also notice how the eyes are large enough they almost touch, also like house flies. I also called these "hover flies" because they like to hover, and then dart.
Bee fly. A fuzzy little ball of happiness, but not a bee or wasp. Noticed bicolor wings. The snout makes me think it eats nectar.


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