Over the past decade, we’ve been inundated with scientists warning us that bees are going extinct. This is an actual crisis, especially when you consider that if bees go extinct, so do a wide variety of other plants and animals.
Of course, the word “bee” is a term used to describe over 20,000 species of insects throughout the world. So, which bees are endangered and beneficial and which are not? That’s where bee identification comes in.
In today’s article, we are talking about bees and specifically which bees are most beneficial to your garden and our planet.
Bees Vs Wasps – What You Should Know
Bees, on the left, and a wasp, on the right, may be related but they are certainly not the same.
Before we dive into bee identification, let’s talk about the differences between bees and wasps.
While they both bees and wasps can sting, most bees and wasps are not generally aggressive and only sting to protect their territory or hive. Furthermore, both bees and wasps are beneficial pollinators, natural decomposers and even help aid in pest control.
We should also note that only female bees and wasps can sting. Now that’s girl power!
And while bees and wasps are related, they are not the same species. Most notably, bees and wasps differ in appearance. Wasps are elongated insects with longer abdomens. They are also generally free of the small hairs on their body that bees use to collect pollen.
Bees, on the other hand, tend to be smaller and have more rounded abdominis. They also have many more fine hairs covering them from head to abdomen.
While both wasps and bees can be beneficial, most people find bees to be much more beneficial and friendly to their gardens. With that in mind, we suggest you try and use bee identification to determine if you have wasps or bees before you opt to remove the insects in question from your property.
And with that in mind, let’s move on to our bee identification guide and learn how to distinguish between the good bees and the not-so-good bees below.
Bee Identification – Types Of Bees You Want In Your Garden
Bees can be incredibly beneficial to your garden and backyard.
Not all bees produce honey but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good bees to have around. Most bees in general are beneficial pollinators, as we mentioned above, which can help when trying to use bee identification to better understand which bees you should keep around.
Six of the most beneficial bees to have in your garden according to our bee identification guide include:
- Honey Bees
- Mason Bees
- Squash Bees
- Alkali Bees
- Blueberry Bees
All six of the above bees are considered to be highly beneficial pollinators when it comes to bee identification. Plus, most of these bees are known to be very docile and many will not sting unless provoked or unless they feel their hive is threatened.
Otherwise, when left alone these bees can truly help your garden flourish. Let’s learn more.
Perhaps the sweetest bee in the insect world, honeybees are known for making honey.
Scientific Name: Apis
Lifespan: 122 – 152 Days
Habitat: Woodlands, forests, gardens, orchards, and other areas with flowers
Appearance: Honey Bees grow to be 15 mm in length. They are generally light brown, black or yellow with a striped abdomen. These bees have fine hairs that give them a furry appearance from the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their abdomens. Honey Bees have two translucent wings, six legs and two antennae.
Overview Of The Honey Bee:
The honey bee is one of the most important bees on our bee identification guide, especially as far as humans are concerned. This is because these are the only insects that create honey. However, this sweet treat isn’t the only reason we should appreciate honey bees. Honey bees are also responsible for pollinating a wide range of vegetation including fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Honey bees have been beloved for centuries, with records of beekeepers keeping bees to harvest honey going back nearly 4,500 years!
In the wild, honey bees have a short lifespan of only a few months. However, in captivity they have been found to live as long as five years.
Honey bees are social insects that live in large hives of up to 60,000 bees. They are highly beneficial to gardens, helping flowers to grow and thrive. And the more flowers and colors you have in your garden, the more honey bees you can attract.
However, people with bee allergies reading our bee identification list should still be cautious of honey bees. Though they don’t sting unless provoked, their sting can cause a serious reaction known as anaphylaxis in people and animals with sensitivities.
If you do have a honey bee hive near play areas, porches, or other spaces on your property, you may opt to contact a professional to relocate the hive safely without harming the bees.
That said, and in spite of much speculation, honey bees are not on the endangered species list. But that’s not to imply they aren’t in danger of being added. Research has found that the population of honey bees fluctuates depending on the year and season, with many factors being behind this.
But you can help. The next time you see honey bees in your garden, use bee identification to enjoy them from afar and let them be(e).
Mason Bees are often confused for flies.
Scientific Name: Osmia
Lifespan: 12 months
Habitat: Mason bees prefer areas rich with mud, wood and flowers. This is because they are unable to build their own homes and instead must make homes out of natural tunnels or tubes they find in their habitat.
Mason bees will also live in made-made wooden tubes or mason bee houses, available online or at gardening stores.
Appearance: Mason Bees grow to be between 3/8ths – 5/8ths of an inch in length. Smaller than honey bees, they are either a metallic blue or brown color. For this reason, mason bees may be confused for flies upon first glance. They have fine hairs from head to abdomen, six legs and black heads.
Overview Of The Mason Bee:
Mason Bees are mostly native to the United States and, with over 140 different species in North America, they are some of the most common bees to be seen on our bee identification guide. Like honey bees, mason bees are beneficial pollinators known to pollinate a variety of plants and flowers.
However, unlike honey bees, mason bees are solitary. They build singular homes in small chambers they find in wood or in the ground. These naturally created spaces are often made by woodpeckers or other animals.
While mason bees can live for as long as a year, most people don’t see them until the early spring. This is when they are most active and when flowers, berries, and other vegetation are in full bloom.
When it comes to stinging bees on our bee identification list, Mason bees are incredibly docile. In fact, they are not likely to sting unless they are physically handled, and even then they must be roughly handled in order for them to be prompted to use their stinger.
Like all bees on our bee identification list, only female mason bees sting. Still, their sting can be painful and even dangerous to those who have allergies.
The good news is that since mason bees are solitary, they are not swarmers and usually travel alone.
Squash bees are also often known as Squash and Gourd Bees.
Scientific Name: Eucerini
Lifespan: 21 days upon reaching adulthood
Habitat: In gardens, primarily where guards are being grown
Appearance: Squash bees are larger than honey bees, growing to be around 3/4ths of an inch. Due to their size, they are often confused for bumble bees, though they look quite different.
Overview Of The Squash Bee:
Also known as a gourd bee, the squash bee is incredibly important for those hoping to harvest gourds. These bees are vital to the growth of squash, pumpkins, and other plants in the genus Cucurbita. However, they are not common pollinators of melons.
Squash bees are solitary when it comes to nesting, though they can swarm and live in close proximity to one another. This is likely due to the very specific types of vegetation they are attracted to.
These bees are commonly attracted to flowering gourds and vegetation in the genus Cucurbtita, as mentioned above, so they build nests below ground near this vegetation.
Unlike many bees listed in our bee identification guide, squash bees don’t have stingers and are therefore harmless to people. However, they can be aggressive and territorial, and are often known to attack other beneficial bees like honey bees, who are also on our bee identification list.
Alkali Bees are ground bees.
Scientific Name: Nomia Melanderi
Lifespan: Four weeks
Habitat: Below ground in salty soils and farms, meadows, and alfalfa fields.
Appearance: The Alkali bee looks fairly similar to the honey bee in size and shape. Though slightly smaller, these bees are also distinguishable by the more obvious and brightly colored yellow stripes on their abdomen.
In fact, some stripes even appear fluorescent in color. Like honey bees and many other bees on this bee identification list, Alkali bees have fine hairs along their back and abdomen.
Overview Of The Alkali Bee:
Also referred to as sweat bees, alkali bees are highly beneficial pollinators and are especially sought after by farmers of alfalfa. In fact, many farmers and ranchers will specifically create habitats ideal for these bees to help encourage them to come.
Named for their attraction to salty soil, Alkali bees live solitary or semi-social lives, which means they build singular chambers below ground while living in close proximity to one another. Interestingly, female sibling Alkali bees have been found to nest together in the same mud hole.
Alkali bees are not aggressive, though they are attracted to perspiration. This is due to the salt in sweat, and one of the reasons these insects are also called sweat bees. Unfortunately, this can be alarming to people who suddenly find an Alkali bee following them around or trying to land on them.
Like most bees on our bee identification list, female Alkali bees will sting when provoked. Otherwise, they are docile bees who prefer to be left alone.
Blueberry bees are native to the Southeastern United States.
Scientific Name:Habropoda Laboriosa
Lifespan: 3 – 7 Years
Habitat: The Southeastern United States and specifically in areas where blueberries grow. These bees are happy building nests below the soil.
Appearance: 12 – 15 mm in length once they reach adulthood, blueberry bees look similar to bumblebees in color and pattern. However, they are smaller than bumble bees and have different behaviors.
Overview Of The Blueberry Bee:
Blueberry bees, also known as southeastern blueberry bees, are one of several species of bee that particularly pollinate blueberries. They are highly beneficial to farmers who harvest berries and other types of edible vegetation, and are therefore often accommodated for during bee season.
Long-lived and docile, blueberry bees tend to stay away from humans and keep to themselves. They are solitary insects who build nests below ground in chambers they dig into the soil.
Though female blueberry bees do sting, they are not likely to as most people do not handle them. And while these bees can be found throughout the southeastern United States, most blueberry bees are most commonly spotted in Georgia in March through June, when the climate is ideal and their food source is abundant.
Along with blueberries, blueberry bees are attracted to Dogbane, honeysuckle, cranberries, azaleas, blueberries, heather, beans, clovers, peas, apples, cherries, blackberries, plums and strawberries.
Bumble bees are often seen as beneficial, and while they do have their pros, they also have their cons.
Scientific Name: Bombus
Lifespan: 28 Days
Habitat: Orchards, gardens and meadows near flowering plants.
Appearance: Bumble bees are the largest species of bees on this list of bee identification. They can grow to be between 3/4ths and 1.5 inches in length. Bumblebees come in different color variations depending on their type and are famous for their round, fuzzy appearance.
Overview Of The Bumblebee:
Bumblebees are some of the most famous bees in children’s literature and movies. They are also, objectively, some of the most adorable bees on our bee identification list. With over 250 different types of bumblebees found throughout the United States, this species is quite common.
Unfortunately, bumblebees are also most highly at risk of becoming extinct due to our climate crisis, according to different sources and studies.
Bumblebees are incredibly beneficial pollinators, helping to pollinate countless flowers and plants, as well as edible garden vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, melons, peppers, eggplants, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries and even potatoes.
In fact, bumblebees are currently the only known species of bee on this list of bee identification or otherwise to pollinate potatoes at all.
So next time you enjoy a french fry, you can thank a bumblebee.
Bee Identification – Types Of Bees You Want To Keep Out
Some bees can cause serious damage to structures.
While some bees like those listed above on our bee identification guide are wonderful to have around, others can cause serious damage and even be dangerous.
But before we begin talking about the good vs bad bees when it comes to bee identification, let us first point out that all bees, regardless of their pros and cons, play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.
It’s always best to leave bees alone when they are not causing damage or posing a risk to your health or quality of life.
With that being said, there are some bees you should keep an eye out for. Some of the most common bees you may not want to have around when it comes to bee identification include:
Although both species can be beneficial in their own way, both are also known to pose risks to health, safety and property. For this reason, they can do more harm than good if they choose to nest in the wrong environment.
Let’s learn more.
Carpenter bees chew wood to make their hives and can cause serious structural damage.
Scientific Name: Xylocopa
Lifespan: 12 months
Habitat: Carpenter bees are found throughout the world. In the United States they are most common in the southern US and eastern US, and typically build nests in wood using their powerful mandibles.
Appearance: Carpenter bees are often confused for bumble bees thanks to their robust size and the yellow or orange fuzz that males have on their heads and shoulders. Female carpenter bees are primarily black, though some carpenter bees can have greenish or purple abdominis.
Carpenter bees also have very large mandibles, which are easy to see with the naked eye. These mandibles help them to build their chambers in wood and other surfaces in the ideal habitat.
Overview Of The Carpenter Bee:
Though carpenter bees are beneficial pollinators and pollinate a variety of different plant and flower species, they can pose serious problems to homes and structures. These solitary bees are known to bore deep holes and chambers into exposed wood, especially if that wood is not treated or finished.
When this occurs, the structures can become compromised. In very large carpenter bee infestations, professionals will be required to come in and replace structural beams or rebuild areas where the bees have invaded.
Luckily, carpenter bees are not aggressive. They are standoffish to humans and, like most bees on this bee identification list, females will only sting if they are provoked.
Yellow jackets are actually wasps, though they are often confused for bees.
Scientific Name: Vespula Vulgaris
Lifespan: Females live as long as a year, while males live a few months.
Habitat: Yellow Jackets are commonly found in the same areas where people live. This is because they are highly attracted to human food sources. They often build nests along eaves, in hollowed wood, beneath porches, cracks and crevices in siding, and in other naturally open spaces.
Appearance: Yellow Jackets grow to be around 12 mm in length. They have elongated abdominis and are black and yellow. They do have fine hairs on their thorax but are not as furry looking as bees and bumblebees.
Overview Of The Yellow Jacket:
Though commonly mistaken for a bee, the Yellow Jacket is actually considered a wasp. That said, we have still included it on our bee identification list because it is so often considered to be a problematic bee pest.
Yellow Jackets are beneficial pollinators and decomposers, and they also help keep other pests at bay. However, Yellow Jackets are also fairly aggressive and can swarm in massive numbers.
Their sting can be very dangerous to those with allergies and their attraction to human food sources like sweets, sodas, candies, meat, chips and more make them common in areas where humans dwell.
These insects are also commonly found swarming around dumpsters, trash bins, picnic areas, parks, and anywhere else humans might congregate and bring food.
For this reason, it’s important to monitor yellow jacket activity around your home using bee identification and to take steps to repel them.
Bee Identification – How To Attract The Good Bees And Repel The Bad Bees
Bee houses can help attract bees and give them a safe place to live.
Now that you know how to use bee identification to distinguish between the good bees and the not so good bees, we want to provide you with some information and products you can use to help your garden flourish using all your newly acquired bee identification knowledge.
In order to attract the beneficial bees on our above bee identification list, it’s best to try and accommodate their needs. Keep track of their natural habitats and behaviors, and try and make your garden an ideal environment for these insects.
Many of the above beneficial bees on the bee identification guide are solitary and live in wood structures. Bee houses can help you in attracting these good bees, like those listed below.
Mason Bee House
A Mason Bee House helps attract the mason bees from our bee identification list. Mason bees, as we now know, are highly beneficial pollinators and pollinate a number of plants and flowers. These bee houses not only provide mason bees with a safe space to nest and live, but they will also help keep them away from play areas and property, which can help put everyone at ease.
The above bee house by GH Fulfillment is made of elderberry wood and is eco-friendly, beautiful, and safe for installing in gardens.
Beekeeping for Beginners: How To Raise Your First Bee Colonies
And if you’re especially interested in attracting honey bees or even potentially raising honey bees, we highly recommend this book by Amber Bradshaw entitled Beekeeping for Beginners. In this book, you can learn how to attract, raise, and harvest honey from the honey bees on our bee identification list safely and effectively.
The book also gives helpful tips on picking hives and provides a step-by-step guide on how to raise happy, healthy honey bees.
But what if you want to keep the “bad” bees on this bee identification list away?
Don’t worry, we have you covered there too. In order to keep the not so beneficial bees at bay, we recommend using repellents for yellow jackets and wood finishers for carpenter bees.
Minwax Polyurethane Wood Stain
Wood stains and finishes are not 100% effective when it comes to repelling carpenter bees, but they can help to repel these wood-destroying insects. These finishes are most effective when they contain polyurethane and when they are applied as directed.
The above polyurethane stain and finish comes in a stain or gloss and is available in different sizes. It works with one step application and can help protect your wood from termites, carpenter bees, carpenter ants and natural deterioration from the elements.
When it comes to preventing yellow jackets, we suggest investing in a wasp spray like the one listed below.
Ortho Home Defense Hornet and Wasp Killer
Since the Yellow Jackets on our bee identification list can be aggressive, it is a good idea to keep a wasp spray on hand if you live in a region where these pests are active.
The above spray by Ortho is designed to shoot at least 20 feet with a jet spray, which helps you stay a safe distance away when dealing with swarms. The spray also continues to kill yellow jackets as they return to the nest.
However, this spray does contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to people and pets, so use it only as directed and keep it out of reach of children.
You can also prevent yellow jackets by disposing of garbage in sealed garbage bins and refraining from leaving food outside.
Sealing cracks and crevices around your home and keeping eaves, gutters and debris clean and clear will also reduce your chances of having yellow jackets build hives on your property.
And that’s that for our bee identification guide.
Now we want to hear from you. Have you encountered any of the beneficial bees on our above list? Tell us what you think about bees and bee identification in our comment section below.
Thanks for reading!
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.