Honey bees, wasps, yellow jackets, bumble bees & carpenter bees often can cause some confusion when being identified; however these insects are different in appearance and behavior. Think of them in three categories honey bees, wasps or yellow jackets, and bumble bees or carpenter bees. Please see descriptions below:
Only honey bees create swarms or “bee beards” and can be observed as a giant swarm migrating. Honey Bees swarms often move into eves, chimneys, or structural openings. New honeybee swarms consist of 1,000 to 100,000 bees. An active hive generally has 40 to 250 lbs of honey. The honey bee typically ranges in color from black to orange or yellowish brown, with golden and dark banded stripes on their bodies. Honey bee stinger has a venom gland located at the end of the abdomen. They are usual very docile and will only sting when smashed or stepped on. If you see bees enter the hive with pollen on their feet then these are honeybees. Honeybees are very social insects and large hives may reach populations of over 100,000 bees. Honey Bees secrete wax to create wax comb. The wax comb will start white, and will appear yellow and may turn brown to black after a year or longer. A honey bee hives contains a single queen that can lay over 2,000 eggs per day. She can lay her body weight in eggs in a day. Worker bees collect honey and operate the hive. Worker honey bees born in spring will live about 6 weeks while those in the autumn will survive until the following spring. Workers are about 9-15 mm long and have a single stinger which can only be used once. Honey bees are rarely are very aggressive unless defending the hive. Some properties will often have multiple hives if left to grow. Bees swarm to duplicate and if the conditions are right can through a swarm of bees a week. Multiple times we have removed three honey bee hives in a small location.
Wasps and Yellow Jackets
Wasps and Yellow Jackets are very similar size to the honey bee, but has a flatter and more slender
body and the coloration is black and yellow. Wasps an yellow jackets can be very dangerous as they are attracted by any food left outside including sugar drinks. They are very persistent, aggressive and won’t hesitate to sting. Wasps are more dangerous than African Honey Bees when you disturb a large nest. Wasp hives begin each spring, initiated by a single yellow jacket wasp Queen that has survived winter. It is important to install traps in February – March in California to catch queens. Wasp and Yellow jackets hives are very small in the spring, but expand exponentially through the summer months. By the end of summer, a colony may include several thousand individuals and can be very dangerous and the hive can reach the size of a basketball.Yellow jackets and wasps scavenge for dead insects, earthworms, trash, cat food, and any food left out. This scavenging habit is usually when yellow jackets and wasps become serious nuisance problems. Yellow Jacket wasps are capable of producing a more painful sting but none leave the stinger embedded unless smashed. A large nest in a garden disrupted can send someone to the hospital with over 50 or more stings. Yellow jackets are banded yellow or orange and black and are commonly mistaken for honey bees, but they lack the hairy body and are more intensely colored. Yellow jackets typically nest underground using existing hollows. Nest can also appear in roof eves, vegetation or attics
Bumble Bees / Carpenter Bees
The bumblebee and carpenter bees vary in color, but usually have a dark body with yellow or orange bands. Most in the Bay Area are all black and much larger and wider than yellow jackets and honey bees. Bumblebees live in much smaller groups honey bees and may appear solitary. The bumble bee is loud, and slow, and is much less aggressive than wasps. Bumble Bees rarely sting or pose any threat. They will usually go out of their way to avoid humans. Bumble bees will only sting to defend themselves. Bumble bees do not lose their stinger and can sting or bite multiple times. Like honey bees, they are very important pollinators of flowers of many plant species. Carpenter bees will build homes in wood and will nest under piles of grass clippings or leaves, stones, and logs. A queen bumblebee makes a new nest each year. Their nests are small compared to those of honey bees, with each containing only a few bees.