Winning the battle of bee confusion
I have shouldered a burden that gets heavy by July and is nearly unbearable as September draws near. It’s because I’m compelled to correct the incessant misnaming of all buzzing, swarming insects as bees.
To begin with, no one really likes any bugs. Ants are pesky, flies are disgusting, spiders trap and eat other bugs but frighten many people. Cockroaches; say no more. In some places mosquitoes are literally deadly as they carry malaria, and in places like Wisconsin they can spoil a well-deserved outdoor summer gathering, the kind we dream about all winter. Bees are one of the better insect species but have a negative reputation, mostly from their waspy doppelgängers.
If you are sitting minding your own business and a flying, buzzing insect promptly stings you, be careful not to say a bee stung you. It’s not likely, and I’ll probably correct you. And I’ll be correct 90 percent of the time. The culprit is probably a yellow jacket wasp. Bees get the bad rap for the super aggressive modus operandi of wasps. I think it’s the “yellow jacket” wasps wear, and the buzzing around that cause the confusion. Oh yeah, and the stinging.
But a honey bee will die when it stings you. And bumble bees are obsessed with pollinating. Wasps have no problem stinging with wild abandon. Perhaps because the contraption on the left is their biggest deterrent.
Bees only eat nectar and pollen and stick to the flower beds. Sometimes they drink water, and they use it to clean their hives. The Queen bee eats Royal Jelly, a sticky substance that transforms them from a normal bee to a queen. Science!
Wasps will show up uninvited at your picnic or crash your patio get together by zeroing in on your Diet Pepsi or pitcher of lemonade. Also on their menu: other insects like caterpillars and flies. They don’t mind grabbing a nibble on your bratwurst either so it’s your job to try not have a simultaneous bite. They like nectar too but they don’t stick to the flower beds like bees.
Pollinators are necessary for three-quarters of our major food crops, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. An estimated 300,000 species of plants need pollinators. That’s around 80 to 95 percent of plant species. Other pollinators are butterflies, beetles and flies.
Wasps don’t produce wax. They chew wood pulp and make papier mache nests. That’s if they’re posh. Otherwise they burrow in the mud or a substance and become squatters. They set up nests under roofs, porches and decks, in woodpiles or yard waste. If you have an accidental encounter with a wasp’s nest they will come in force and sting you. It’s like a cartoon.
Bees create these highly complex colonies with one queen many worker bees called drones. Humans sometimes help out and then it’s called a hive which is used for to harvest honey and beeswax. Both are edible, while the wax has been used in human enterprise since prehistoric times. Hives have “densely packed matrix and hexagonal cells” and use them to “store food and house their brood of eggs, larvae, and pupae,” according to diffen.com where I got a lot of this information. Science!
Not all bees are the same. There are honey bees and bumblebees, and the bumble is a lesser species in my book. But it still doesn’t sink the the level of the wasp.
In recap, bee superiority boils down to a few things. There are the two p-words: pollinator and predator. Bees are pollinators. Bees are builders and chemists. Bees are fuzzy and cute, their many hairs collect pollen that is brought back to the hive, synthesized to protein by nurse bees who consume it and convert it for the growing larvae who need constant feeding. Every bee has a job and they are singularly focused (busy bees). They don’t have a lot of time to eat your taco dip. And finally, bees drink water, not Mountain Dew. Queen bees eat Royal Jelly. Yellow jackets eat hot dogs.
I haven’t even mentioned the nectar and the process of making honey which are unbelievably complex and fascinating. Look that up. I’m here to sing the praises of the glorious bee so people stop confusing them with their yellow jacket-wearing evil twins.