The planet is home to many different pollinators, including hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, beetles, flies and moths — as well as certain lemurs, lizards and geckos. But it’s the bees that pest management professionals (PMPs) have an opportunity to protect.
Pollinators are essential because they make it possible for plants to produce seeds, fruit and young plants by facilitating sexual fertilization of the plants. They accomplish this by moving pollen from the male parts (stamens) to the female parts (pistils) of flowers.
All too often, customers tend to refer to all black-and-yellow flying insects as “bees,” but proper identification ensures PMPs do not harm pollinators.
Studying the differences among the species and learning their seasonal habits will help ensure you know which insect you’re dealing with. Here are a few important bee pollinators to watch for:
Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
- May be various shades of yellow, brown or orange.
- Body is covered in light-colored hairs.
- Stinging dislodges the stinger, and is fatal to the bee.
- Highly social.
- Nests consist of wax cells made by worker bees.
Bumble bee (Bombus impatiens)
- Bodies are stout and fuzzy.
- Body fur coloration is mostly yellow and black.
- Stingers may be used repeatedly.
- Generally nest underground; sometimes in structural voids.
- Nest in abandoned burrows under grass clippings, leaves, stones or logs.
- Rear brood and store honey in marble-size wax cells
- Do not die when they sting.
- Will attack and sting to defend nest.
Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica)
- Resemble large bumble bees.
- Female abdomen is mostly devoid of yellow hair (setae) and shiny.
- Females sting when provoked, whereas males do not have stingers.
- Overwintered adults emerge in early spring.
- Bore long tunnels into wood with single entrance and perfectly circular hole.
- Eggs are laid in the spring, after tunnels in wood have been prepared.
- New adults emerge in late summer and return to tunnels to hibernate in winter.
- Abandoned tunnels may be infested by other insects, including four-toothed mason wasps (Monobia quadridens), giant resin bees (Megachile sculpturalis) and ants.
Other solitary bees:
- Sweat bees (Halictidae)
- Leafcutter, mason and resin bees (Megachilidae)
- Mining bees (Andrenidae)
- Digger bees (Apidae: Anthophorini)
- Long-horned bees (Apidae: Eucerini)
- Plasterer, cellophane and masked bees (Colletidae)
Biology (depending on species)
- Stout bodies range from 1/8 inch to nearly 1 inch in length.
- Extent of furriness and coloration dependent on family, species and gender.
- Will sting if provoked.
Behavior (depending on family and tribe)
- Burrow in the ground, adopt existing tunnels, or gnaw brood galleries into soft wood.
- Females dig burrows during mating season, early spring through early summer.
- One female per burrow, although burrows may be numerous and closely spaced.
The editors wish to thank Dr. Gerry Wegner, BCE-Emeritus, for his technical assistance.
DID YOU KNOW? Less than 8 percent of the public will experience hypersensitivity to insect stings in their lifetimes. In beekeepers, however, this risk rises to 32 percent. (Source: Journal of Asthma and Allergy)