Perhaps you think you know a lot about bees? Sometimes I think I know a lot about honey bees – and other times…not so much. While honey bees are one of the most popular types of bees, there are many different kinds of bees to appreciate.
Bees are flying insects related to wasps but they are not the same thing at all! There are about 20,000 species of bees in the world. Bees live on every continent except Antarctica.
Bees that Sting
All types of native bees (and the non-native Honey Bees) can sting. Most of these bees are not aggressive and will not sting unless provoked.
No male bee of any species can sting. This is because the stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg-laying tube). Non-reproductive females will never need to lay eggs so their structure develops into a stinger!
While Honey Bees can only sting once, this is not true for most bees. The barbed stinger of the Honey Bee results in the stinger being ripped from its body during a sting.
Most bees however, have smooth stingers and can “give you the point” repeatedly if they need to. Yet another reason to respect bees.
Solitary Bees do not belong to a colony. The lone female raises her young. They rarely sting unless provoked.
Unlike social bees, like Honey Bees, all female solitary bees can reproduce. They do not have thousands of sterile female workers to share the work.
Honey Bees originally came to the New World from Europe with early colonists. There are 7 species of honey bees and many sub-species.
In the United States, we have the Western (or European) Honey Bee whose scientific name is Apis mellifera. This is the type of bees most commonly used for honey production and pollination services.
Honey Bees are social insects that live in large colonies. The Honey Bee colony can live from one season to another in their hive. The Honey Bee family survives Winter by feeding on stored honey.
The buzzing Bumble Bee is the second most popular type of bees. Bumble Bees can also make honey! But only small amounts that is stored inside their nest to feed young.
There are 46 species of Bumble Bees in North America. This type of bee has a fuzzy body covered with black and yellow hair. Bumble bees are larger than Honey Bees but smaller than Carpenter Bees.
They collect pollen to feed their young. Pollen is carried back to the nest on pollen baskets on their hind legs. Bumble bees live in small colonies of 200-400 members in nests in the ground.
They can be confused with Carpenter Bees due to similar coloring. However, Carpenter Bees have a larger head and no hair on their abdomen.
Carpenter Bees are probably one of the most unpopular bees that is easily recognized. They can be effective pollinators. Carpenter Bees collect pollen and have pollen baskets like Honey Bees.
Unfortunately, they are also destructive. Many upset homeowners (myself included) fight a yearly battle to keep Carpenter Bees from drilling holes in their homes.
For reproduction, female Carpenter Bees bore a neat round hole in wooden structures.
Inside the hole, she lays eggs that will be females first. Then, eggs to produce male bees are laid. The males will emerge first and be ready to mate with later emerging females.
Painted wood is less attractive to female Carpenter Bees than unpainted. I guess that is a good reason to keep the boxing around your home in good repair and painted.
Carpenter Bees can seem intimidating. The large males are known to hover near nesting sites and may buzz by your head. Only the females can sting but they rarely do.
For many, one of the most favorite types of bees is the Mason Bee. This solitary bee has become the darling of the beneficial insect movement.
These bees are small and fast. They come in several colors black, green and blue with a metallic sheen.
Mason Bees are highly prized for their pollination efforts. They have no pollen baskets but carry pollen on hairs under their abdomen.
The nesting traits of the Mason Bee help explain their name. They use mud (similar to a Brick Mason?) to close the entrance of their nests.
In nature, the Mason Bees select a hollow stem or twig. The female lays eggs in the tube. Eggs that will be females first and then eggs to become males.
She provisions the nest with food for the developing larva and then seals the nest with mud. The nest remains sealed over Winter. Next Spring, the males emerge first followed by the females.
Mason Bees can be attracted to special houses that are purchased for them to use. Some of the Mason Bee houses are quite decorative and a nice addition to any backyard or bee friendly garden.
Female Mason Bees can sting but they rarely do. They make good neighbors and provide pollination for many wildflowers that provide food for wildlife.
Most Prolific Types of Bees Worldwide
Most types of bees in the world are solitary bees. They do not live in large families like our Honey Bees. But they do tend to build their single nests close to others.
With the recent problems facing Honey Bees, there is an increase in interest of using solitary bees for pollination.
All bees, whether solitary or social, have a similar life cycle. The process begins with the laying of an egg, then larva development, a pupation stage and the emergence of a full-sized adult. This is the process of metamorphosis.
Sometimes our interactions with bees can be painful but they add a lot of value to our lives. Try to set aside some space in your world for your favorite types of bees and enjoy the benefits they provide.