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Types of bees

If you just think "stinging" when you think about bees, then you are probably not fully aware of the breadth and depth of bees around the world. Bees, unlike wasps and hornets, for the most part tend to be the more docile of the stinging insects and they provide a really valuable service by helping to pollinate plants and flowers of all kinds. In general, bees are good for you garden, crops and even produce honey that can be shipped across the globe.

There are people who are allergic to bee stings, however. To them, even a single sting can be deadly. Too many stings can overwhelm even a non-allergic person, although their only a few bee species that are known to sting repeatedly.

Need to decipher between beneficial honey bees and threatening Africanized Honey Bees? We compiled a comprehensive list of the major types of bees found around the world and, in particular, North America.

If you do feel that you have a problem with beehives or bees around your home or on your property, contact Western Exterminator for assistance.

Social bees

Solitary bees

What type of bee are you seeing? Contact us to find out!

Social bees

Social bees are certain types of bees that form large colonies. This is the type of bee that most people commonly think of when discussing bees. Social bee hives contain dozens upon dozens of bees crawling over each other, creating combs, feeding their larvae and creating honey. However, not every type of bee is social. Although very common, the following types of bees are actually the most likely to be seen creating hives or working together to build a community.

Bumble bees

Bumble bees are very large, black and yellow, bees that you see flying around your garden during the warmer months. You may have hear the rumor that bumble bees should not even be able to fly given the size of the bodies compared with the lift they should get from their wings (this is not true). Bumble bees obsessively seek out flowers in search of nectar and pollen. They are one of the biggest pollinators, probably second only to the honey bee, on the planet and vital to the overall ecosystem of Earth.

Bumble bees tend to be quite large and they are entire covered with what looks like “hair.” Almost like flying cotton balls. The hairs are technically known as setae and even their abdomens are covered with it.

Bumble bees tend to make their homes in the ground and will gladly use abandoned rodent burrows and areas beneath patio stones, piles of compost, between piles of wood, and even within very long grass.

Bumble bees are social, have a queen, workers and scouts who seek out food that they then bring back to the nest to nurture their young.

Bumble bees are normally very, very docile. They often have zero interest in stinging people and will only do so if threatened or handled in any way. When a nest is disturbed or threatened, the colony will emit a very loud, angry, buzzing sound that usually is enough to send potential threats the opposite way.

The sting of a bumble bee has been ranked as much less painful than a honey bee, but more painful than the average wasp.

Honey bees

One of the most common social insects on the planet, honey bees create colonies that can be as large as 80,000 individual insects, live in hives and create honey. Honey bees are quite simply the number one pollinator insect on the entire planet and one of the most vital links in the entire ecosystem.

Honey bees are pollinators for more than 130 agricultural crops and in the United States it is estimated that honey bees are involved in 80% of the food that American consume. The amount of monetary value honey bee pollination brings to American crops and the economy is estimated to be between $9 billion to $40 billion.

Honey bees do not look hairy like bumble bees, are generally smaller than the bumble bees and have longer, narrower bodies. Honey bees are often confused with hornets and wasps because their body structure is somewhat similar.

Honey bees have colonies that work in a caste system. Each bee has a specialized role in maintaining the hive and helping the colony thrive. There tend to be three castes:

  • Queen – this is the female at the center of the hive and gives birth to the larvae that become the rest of the hive. They are tended to by the other members of the hive and stay in one spot.
  • Worker – usually females, too, but these tend to the queen, providing food, taking the eggs, caring for the larvae and protecting the progeny.
  • Drone – these are generally males and drones are the ones who fly out and search for flowers to pollinate and from which to get nectar and bring it back to the colony for use with the workers, queen and larvae.

Honey bees are usually docile and, at times, even gentle. Their only mission in life is to tend to the colony and will not seek out people to sting unless they feel that their hive, their colony, is threatened. If the hive is threatened, however, they are known to attack in full force. They will also pursue their predators and attackers over long distances if need be.

The difference between honey bees and other bees, wasps and hornets, is that they have a barbed stinger. This means that when a honey bee stings someone, that stinger gets stuck in the flesh and, when they fly away, their own insides get pulled out with them. This causes the death of the bee, but leaves behind the mechanisms that pump venom into their intended victim. Other stinging pests can sting over and over again.

Honey bees are so vital to the ecosystem that many of them are protected now. Colony collapse disorder is a serious problem in the world and, as the name suggest, can wipe out an entire colony. If honey bees have built a hive around your home or property, calling in professionals is essential as using home remedies can cause serious problems to the environment. Our specialists know the difference between honey bees and other stinging insects, and can recommend the best course of action.

Africanized honey bees

Africanized honey bees are also known as “killer bees” and originated on the African continent. They were cross-bred with regular honey bees to create a new version that eventually escaped a lab in South America and have worked their way north over the years. They are infamous for being bad tempered, for taking over areas once populated by standard honey bees and for their willingness to attack en masse anyone or anything that comes near their nest and literally sting them to death.

It is exceedingly hard to tell the difference between Africanized honey bees and standard honey bees. They look nearly identical. Even a professional would need to determine which type of bee it is by measuring wing length or other parts of the body. Generally speaking, you might only know you have a nest of Africanized honey bees instead of standard bees by their temperament.

Africanized honey bees have a social structure much like their less aggressive cousins. They even help pollinate plants when left to their own devices and not disturbed. However, they are extraordinarily territorial and aggressive when protecting their hive. They also have a much wider area that they consider their own and if a child, pet or person wanders into that area, drones can send out a chemical alert that will send the entire colony into “attack” mode. Africanized bees will attack their perceived threat with large numbers and sting them to death. Often victims of an attack will have hundreds of stings. That high level of bee venom cane cause even a non-allergic and healthy adult to react and go into shock.

Since it is so hard to tell the difference between a nest of Africanized honey bees, and that these types of bees have been found in warmer climates such as California, Nevada and Arizona, if you see a hive of bees that appear to behaving in an aggressive manner, stay away from the hive and contact a pest specialist.

Solitary bees

There are bees that prefer to operate on their own or with very small colonies. All creatures, of course, want to find a mate and create offspring. These bees do, too, but solitary bees tend to have very small nests, fly by themselves, and generate enough food just to feed what larvae they have and that’s it. There are a lot of species of solitary bees, and most of them are relatively harmless to humans. Only a few of them can create problems that might make you want to contact a pest control specialist.

Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees are tricky to spot, but you may see them flying around you if you are near their chosen nesting area. They look like very large, very fat, very hairy bumble bees. However, there are differences between carpenter bees and bumble bees. Granted, to see the differences you would likely have to look up closer than you would prefer.

Carpenter bees are blue-black in appearance, with the “fur” in stripes that resembles a bumble bee. However, the bumble bee (in addition to being slightly smaller) has hair all over its body and carpenter bees will not have hair on its abdomen.

Carpenter bees get their name because they prefer to make their nests inside wood. They will use almost any kind of wood and will use trees and logs out in the wild. The trouble comes into play when they decide to set up their colonies using your home.

A carpenter bee has mandibles and forelegs they can use to chew into:

  • wooden support beams
  • decks
  • telephone poles
  • wooden furniture
  • fences and other structures

Given their size, these holes are very noticeable and can appear quite large. Their legs push the sawdust aside and you can sometimes spot sawdust on the ground and then do a quick inspection to find the circular holes.

A carpenter bee will burrow into the wood and create channels and tunnels within the structure. They create chambers for eggs and larvae. As the eggs hatch, sometimes the bees that are born will end up setting up a nest nearby or within the same wooden structure. This can cause extensive damage to homes and property. Carpenter bees can weaken wooden structures, causing them to collapse and fall apart and that includes joists and wooden beams that support homes and buildings.

As far as risks of stings, there is little to worry about with carpenter bees. Males will hover around the entrance and their large size and impressive-sounding wings are often enough to scare away potential threats. They often “dive-bomb” those potential threats, swooping down and active aggressive. For most people, their natural aversion to bees kicks in and they will leave the nest alone, however, the male carpenter bees do not have stingers.

Female carpenter bees do have a stinger and it can be painful. However, females are generally not aggressive and rarely sting.

Ground bees

Ground bees are a species of bee which make their nests in the ground instead of hives hanging from trees or other objects. If you spot bees flying in and out of holes in the ground, you are likely seeing mining bees (also known as digger bees). These insects do not live in colonies, which makes them different from honey bees. Mining bees prefer spots with exposed soil and will create pencil-sized holes within the ground. Since these bees prefer to nest in the ground, they may use your lawn for nesting purposes.  Ground bees are capable of stinging, but they will likely not do so unless someone digs into the ground where their nests are located, which will trigger the instinct to defend their nest. If left alone, ground bees should not present much of a concern for home and property owners worried about stings. 

Digger bees

Digger bees are smaller than carpenter bees, but are also quite hairy. Generally, diggers get to be about 12 to 18mm in length. You will often see them coming out of holes in the ground where they build chambers to use as their nest. Diggers will create a burrow and then use special glands within their own bodies to line it with a waterproof, fungus-resistant lining that protects the chamber and their young. Digger bees tunnels will generally consist of one major chamber and a few branching tunnels off of it for storage or food and for their larvae and eggs. There is very little risk of being stung by a digger bee.

Mining bees

There’s about 1,200 species of bees in the Andrena family, most commonly called mining bees. They are very similar in their behavior as digger bees. Mining bees create complex tunnels and nests underground. Sometimes offspring set up their nests in ground right nearby, so an infestation of mining bees on your property has the potential to lead to lawn damage, but that is only in the most remote and severe cases. Mining bees like to find loose soil, so they might build nests in your recently planted garden, or areas of exposed loose soil. Once again, the risk of stings is minimal.

Leafcutting and mason bees

These bees are about 7 to 18mm in length and look like they are made from some light metal or are very dark in color. Leafcutting and mason bees are of the same family, but leafcutting bees prefer to make their tunnels and create their nests in rotting wood, wood shingle siding and in the insulated panels of buildings when they end up in contact with people. In nature, far from buildings, they will use hollow spaces in old logs and trees. They get their name from their tendency to cut small disks or pieces off of leaves and plants and using them to line their burrows.

Mason bees are similar, however they have been known to burrow into soft mortar around buildings. They holes are small, but if enough of them decide to set up their nests, the brick or mortar veneer of a home can become peppered with unsightly home. Given their size, the holes generally do not pose any kind of structural risk with them.

Like with most solitary bees, there is little risk of being stung by a leafcutting or mason bee.

Sweat bees

If you have ever been out on a hot summer day, sweating, and suddenly find a tiny bee hovering around your head, you have likely run across a sweat bee or alkali bee. They are very small bees that can be as tiny as 3mm in length. They are also the type of bee that prefers to build their nests underground. They tend to have hairy bodies and, although they are solitary, groups of them can build nests in clusters with telltale mounds of earth at the openings.

Sweat bees are attracted to the perspiration that humans and other animals give off. However, they are so small that getting stung by them is nearly impossible. They are generally non aggressive and will only sting if pressed against the skin. Which means, to get stung by a sweat bee you’d likely need to capture one and press its stinger against your skin.

Plasterer bees

Plasterer bees are a little bigger than sweat bees, coming in around 10 – 18mm in length and also quite hairy-looking. They are ground-burrowers, but will also use crevices located in bricks and stone to build their nests. They get their name because they “plaster” the walls of their nests with a secretion that will dry to a glossy, translucent finish.

Again, the risk of stings is very minimal with plasterer bees.

Yellow-faced bees

Yellow faced bees are part of the same family as plasterer bees and are very tiny, coming in about 6mm at their biggest. They get their name, as you might have guessed, from their yellow-colored (sometimes white) faces. They will build nests and burrows in crevices in brick and stone or even inside plant stems. A few species will even dig burrows in the ground.

Professional bee removal

These are the most common species of bee in North America. Although bees, with the exception of Africanized honey bees, are generally non-aggressive and not seeking to attack anyone, many will defend their nests quite actively. If you find a nest of bees around your home or property and feel that you or anyone in your family might be at risk due to a bee sting, contact Western Exterminator and discuss wasp and bee control solutions.

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