Hymenoptera is a classification of insects that includes ants, bees, wasps and sawflies. Over 150,000 species exist worldwide. The “bee & wasp-like” pollinators include many easily confused species. Bees: are generally “furry-looking”; IF they sting will die, because the stinger is pulled out of the body; make large quantities of honey; are prolific pollinators; and are generally quite passive. Yet, Bumblebees, also: are furry; often nest underground or in rock piles; make honey, but in very small quantities; are generally passive, but can attack unprovoked; and can sting multiple times.
Both species give up the chase shortly after they are disturbed and won’t pursue an intruder like some other more aggressive Hymenoptera will.
Wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are all hairless, thin-bodied, narrow-waisted, elongated insects, with wings held parallel to the body. They can be social or solitary, with the latter being the least aggressive. Although they can be effective pollinators at times, most are predatory or scavenge for food and are incidental pollinators. They generally rear their young on dead or living insect prey.
The nests of the social species are often bulky, made of wood fibres that give the appearance of old gray paper, and are highly visible, as they will nest in trees and under the eaves of houses. Unlike many bees, they can sting repeatedly and will often aggressively chase intruders over long distances before finally giving up. Colonies can number in the hundreds and they can be quite dangerous as a result.
Fortunately many of the species are very tolerant of our presence and peacefully gather at sweet treats when we sit outside for lunch. The yellowjackets are perhaps the most dangerous. Their large underground nests are well-defended and swarms can rush out unexpectedly if we approach too closely.
Only the queen survives the winter in Canada so they must start the colony anew each spring. Interestingly, the queen that starts the new colony in the spring is not the same one that overwinters. A new queen is born late in the season and prepares for her duties the following year.
Fact or Fiction:
All bees die after stinging you. False
Only bees that dislodge their stinger in the intruder will die. Most species can sting multiple times if necessary, but only extremely aggressive ones are likely to do so under extraordinary circumstances. It takes a lot of energy to chase intruders and the risks are often higher than the benefits.
All bees, wasps, hornets and yellowjackets are pollinators. True
However, while all these insects can pollinate, only bees rely on nectar as a food source to make honey to feed their young.
All bees and wasps produce honey. False
Only bees do so, and then only honey bees produce enough to make it a viable crop to harvest.
The biggest wasp in the world can have a 3-inch wingspan. True
The Asian Giant Hornet is a huge and dangerous insect that frequents many areas of Asia. The stinger can be 0.25” long, and large quantities of venom can be injected when it stings prey or predators. It is often called the yak-killer due to the toxicity of the venom. If stung by over 10 of these aggressive insects, the chance of a person dying is quite high. Annually over 30 people are killed in Japan from these wasp’s stings.
OK, there you have it … stay tuned next time for some advice on what you can do to help our declining pollinators, while living safely beside these stinging species.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.