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How to Identify Honey Bees

If you enjoy being outside, you will come into contact with bugs and insects. Most of them are no danger to you-if you stay a respectful distance away. Honey bees have a reputation for being a docile insect. Some of their cousins tend to be a bit more defensive and require a wider area of personal space. To help us avoid trouble, we need to know: what does a honey bee look like.

What Does a Honey Bee Look Like?

Macro of a honey bee worker on plant image.

Everyone has heard about about honey bees. Together with Bumbles, they are two of the most popular insects on the planet.

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Both of them have a reputation for being rather docile and only wanting to go about their daily tasks. They calmly gather pollen and nectar to carry back to the hive or nest.

Some species of wasps and hornets require a much wider area of personal space. It is wise to give them that security and avoid them when possible.

While we can picture in our mind what a honey bee looks like, identifying one flying in the wild is not always easy.

If you see a black and yellow flying insect that may have a stinger, it can be a time of excitement for anyone.

If you suffer from a severe fear of bees, your heart may beat even faster. Learning how to identify the various members of the insect world can be a empowering feeling.

Honey bee carrying pollen on yellow flower image.

Honey Bee Identification Factors

Honey bees are insects. These medium sized bees belong to the genus “Apis”. Like all insects they have 3 major body sections: head, thorax, and abdomen.

They have 5 eyes consisting of 2 large eyes and 3 small ones. The large eyes are used for sight and the smaller eyes are light indicators.

A study of honey bee anatomy shows several specialized structures that allow them to carry out their tasks for the colony. However, some physical structures are not always noticeable during casual visual inspection.

In art, we draw bee pictures using a lot of yellow and black. Actually, they come in various shades of black, brown, and yellow. Some have noticeable stripes on their abdomen but some do not.

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Are Honey Bees Fuzzy?

The body and even the eyes of honey bees are covered with short hairs. While not as fuzzy as their Bumble Bee cousins, they are fuzzy.

This is a good advantage when bees are used for pollination. The extra hairs help move grains of pollen from one flower to another.

Fuzzy looking honey bee covered with fine hair and pollen image.

Size of Honey Bees

How big do honey bees get? Well, it depends to a large degree on the sex of the bee. The queen bee is the largest bee in the colony. She can reach a size of 20-25mm. It is rare to see a queen outside the hive.

Drones or male bees are slightly bigger than workers reaching a size of – 18-20 centimeters. Female workers average between 9 and 15 mm long. Workers are the foragers for the hive. These are the bees you are most likely to see in the garden.

Pictures of honey bees queen worker and drone image.

What do Young Honey Bees Look Like?

Young honey bees like pretty much like any other adult in the hive. When baby bees complete their development, they emerge from the cell fully grown.

During the first few hours after emergence, we call them a “callow bee”. They may have a greyish appearance for a short while. Once their exoskeleton and wings dry, they will look very much like other members of the colony.

The only noticeable difference in younger bees is that the thorax often has more hair than that of older members of the colony.

What Does a Killer Bee Look Like?

A killer bee looks like any other honey bee. They are indistinguishable in the field. True identification of killer bees, of Africanized Bees takes place in the lab.

Is This a Honey Bee?

It is natural to see bees nearby and want to know what kind they are. Use these tips to help determine if this is a honey bee. Honey bees don’t mind if you quietly observe them as long as you are not near a hive.

  • has 6 legs and 4 wings
  • is covered in fine hair
  • barrel shaped body – no wasp waist
  • is the insect carrying pollen?
  • what are the bees doing?
  • are you near a nest?

First, does the insect pass the basic anatomy of bees? It has 6 legs and 4 wings. What about body shape? Honey bees have a blocky body and lack the thin “wasp waist” seen in insects such as paper wasps.

Honey bee with blocky body shape and wasp with thin waist image.

Honey Bees and Bumble Bees collect pollen for rearing young. Seeing an insect carrying colorful balls of pollen on their hind legs suggests that this is indeed a bee and not a wasp.

What are the bees doing? Both wasps and bees will partake of sweet plant nectar. However, bees are more likely to spend a longer time moving from flower to flower.

Are you near a nest? Bee nests and wasp nests are very different. Honey Bees nest in cavities and not normally in the ground.

Pictures of Insects Similar to Honey Bees

The most common bees or insects similar to honey bees that we see are Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees and Yellow Jacket Wasps. They are often confused for honey bees by the casual observer. This is especially true for the small wasps. Their vivid markings are often confused for honey bee stripes.

Bumble bee, carpenter bee and wasp on flower image.

However, there are other insects that look so much like honey bees that they may be mistakenly identified as such even by beekeepers.

Hover fly on a yellow flower image.

Hover flies are easily mistaken for bees. With their body shape, fuzzy covering and markings, they are much like a bee. However, they only have 2 wings instead of 4 wings that we find on the honey bee.

Hummingbird moth resembles bees in a garden image.

A bit large to be confused with a honey bee, the hummingbird moth makes quite a display in the garden. They are often thought to be some type of bumble bee.

Mason bee with metallic sheen on body image.

There are several varieties of Mason Bees. Some look more like common house flies while others closely resemble our honey bee. Mason Bees do not live in large families, they are solitary insects. The easiest way to identify them is by the metallic sheen than many have on their body.

Large cicada killer wasp sitting on a stone image.

The Cicada Killer Wasp has the bright black and yellow coloring of many bees. They prey on Cicadas and are not aggressive to humans. Left alone, they rarely sting.

Bee Identification Promotes Safety

Learning how to identify honey bees and other insects is a very important skill. All pollinators have a place in our world and deserve protection and respect.

Knowing what a honey bee looks like allows you to safely watch their work. By understanding the temperament of the insects in our area, we can enjoy being outside without fear.

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