Friday, April 25, 2014

The Buzz On Bees (And Wasps, Hornets, and Their Mimics)


How I Learned To Love The Difference

Let me interject one thing here while I'm thinking of it.  Bees, wasps, and hornets don't bite people, they sting.  The stinger is located at the business end of the abdomen - back portion - the butt, so to speak - and the venom is injected through the stinger into the offending threat (sometimes we are that threat).  There is also a pheromone released, a special chemical scent, that signals to others to come and sting this threat.  

I don't honestly know if the solitary bees and their kin have this pheromone, but you can count on honeybees and yellow jackets (for certain) to cry out for help to their relatives.  Honeybees can only sting one time, then they die.  This is because the stinger stays in the person/animal being stung, and the venom sack is torn from the bee's body along with the stinger.  Wasps and hornets can sting as many times as they feel is needed to get the job done.  They do not lose their stingers.

Most times these insects are not aggressive if they don't feel threatened and I've had many an occasion to be heartily grateful for that.  I've wandered through fields of thistle or milkweed plants, eye on a butterfly to photograph, and blundered right by a nest of wasps without the bugs taking offense.  Other times when I WAS stung I had either come very close (less than a foot away) or stepped on a yellow jacket nest (they sometimes nest in the ground). Paper wasps are not at all aggressive but don't intrude on their personal space or you may be unpleasantly greeted.

If you are allergic to stings and plan on being outside in all but the deepest winter weather, be sure you have an epipen and know how and when to use it.  Here is a WebMD page that gives more detailed info on Epipens.

The anti-sting pens you can buy over the counter contain ammonia and work to help ease the pain if you do get stung.  You can also make a paste of baking soda and plaster the sting area with that.

You can help avoid problems when you go outside if you
  • Don't wear perfume or scented lotions.
  • Control odours at picnics, garbage areas, etc.
  • Avoid brightly coloured clothing outdoors
European Hornet - aka Cicada killer
This is the hornet that belonged to the nest shown below.  I can't figure out how to get this to add back to the post correctly - long story.  It now will reside here so you can see what it looks like.
The important thing to remember is not to panic.  The bees or wasps do not want to sting anything unless they feel it is absolutely necessary.  If one lands on you just hold very still and it will fly off before too long.  When our son was seven years old, we stopped at a soft ice cream shop and got cones.  A yellow jacket landed on his lips and started to eat the ice cream.  We told him to hold perfectly still and it would not sting him.  He was good, held still, and it did fly away after a minute.  If one lands on you, brushing it away or waving at it could very well make it feel threatened and get you a sting for your trouble.  Did you know that some bumblebees don't even have a stinger?  
Wasp on mint
Scolid wasp on Goldenrod
Blue wasp (how do you like that for an ID?) on Queen Anne's Lace
Scolid wasp on mint with bumblebee
Scolid (banded) wasp
This is a blooming Dogbane plant with a Scolid wasp
Here you see a Thread-waist wasp on Queen Anne's Lace

Again, a black and red Thresd-waist wasp on an unknown wildflower
Black wasp on mint - gotta love that mint!

Small wasp on yellow yarrow
Paper wasp on Goldenrod

This is the nest of a European Hornet, also called a Cicada killer.  It was in my butterfly bush and while I was raking leaves from under it, one of these hornets kept flying around me.  I didn't know what was going on, then I look down and realized I'd pulled the nest out from somewhere in the bush.  Good new, I didn't get stung!  Their stingers look to be about a quarter of an inch long - the bugs are HUGE.  The bad news is this nest was a goner and the babies were now doomed.  My husband came up to see what was happening and he killed the hornet because to was getting too close.  You can see the unhatched eggs in the center and the hatched larvae outside the inner eggs.   They look like the grubs you'd find in your lawn.
This is a lovely wasp.  Black and yellow is a common color combination for many species.
Paper wasps and potter wasps build nests in protected places like the eaves of houses, in a corner of the ceiling in barns and garages, etc.  Mud dabbers actually collect mud and carry it back to the nesting site.  There they for it into chambers to hold eggs and young larvae.  It's not unusual to see these wasps chasing spiders or attacking caterpillars, stinging them to paralyze them, then taking them back to the nest.  the paralyzed prey becomes food for the newly hatched baby wasp.  There are wasps that dig holes in the ground for nests - these are generally solitary wasps.

Yellow Jackets will nest in the ground, too, but their nests are huge colonies and you can see them flying back and forth in large numbers.  Stay away!  We found out the hard way that they hate the vibrations of lawnmowers and will attack.  I guess it feels like something is trying to destroy their nest.  They will also nest above ground, especially when the ground is very wet.
This is a paper wasp chewing on a dried flower stalk.  they use the cellulose to make the "paper" to build their nests.  I once was walking in the woods and heard loud chewing.  It turned out to be a White Faced Hornet chewing on an oak tree - interesting!
This is a tiny solitary kind of bee.  Just look at the glorious iridescence of this guy and the one below.  The picture below is taken on an oregano plant - the flowers are so tiny!

This bumblebee is enjoying a pollen snack on a Black-eyed Susan flower.
A type of solitary bee
Solitary bees are extremely important to the pollination of plants, especially now when the honeybees are rare.  Avid fans of these interesting bees even make houses for them to use as homes.  Here is one site that can give you an idea about these houses for bees.
This honeybee is happily gathering pollen from an Ironweed plant.
Solitary bee

Carpenter bee on wild aster

Bumblebee on climbing rose

This bare spot on the back of this bee says it's probably a Carpenter Bee.  It's dining on milkweed.

Sleeping Bumblebee

Bumblebee busy gathering pollen.  Note the yellowish pollen that fills the "pollen baskets" on the back legs.

This honeybee has full pollen baskets, too.  The flowers are wild asters.

Bee on Ironweed

Bee on Redbud tree

Male solitary bee on buttercup.
One way to be sure you are looking at a fly is by studying the antennae.  Fly antennae are very short and look like a tiny stalk with a big blob on the end.  They are neither long nor jointed, and they kind of look like an "X" when viewed from above.

I'm going to ask you take note of the antennae on the bees, hornets, and wasps.  They are the "feelers" on the head - fairly long and jointed.  The next group of images will be mimics - bugs that dress up like bees, wasps, and hornets but are perfectly harmless and have no sting.  Their protection is looking like the things that sting.  Some are called hover flies.

Here is an example of me not being sure about the question bee or fly.  The feet look "fly" to me and I think this is a bumblebee mimic.
This is a mimic - note the tiny antennae with blobs on the ends.

Yellow Jacket Mimic

Hover fly - I think these guys look like flying teddy bears:>)

Bee Fly

Bee Fly Mimic on Yarrow

Bumblebee mimic - this is a good one to note the blobs on the end of the short antennae.

Fly mimic of a honeybee

Yellow jacket mimic on blue Hydrangea

This is a fly mimicking a thread-waist wasp.
Of course I only scratch the surface here.  You could find quite a few types yourself but remember to keep a respectful distance and DON'T GET STUNG!

Thanks for coming over to view the blog and have a wonderful weekend!