What's Buzzin' in My Garden?
"I don't know a bee from a wasp, a hornet, or a yellow jacket."
(These are pictures from the eastern USA, your garden may have different species.)

For more information on each of these, click the links provided, or go back to home page
and run a search, either at the pollination page site or on the internet.

Images are copyright, use without permission is theft

Stings: One of the first concern for many folks is whether these creatures will sting. Many can sting, but stinging is most likely when you disturb the nest of a colonial species, like honeybees, hornets, social wasps, and bumblebees. Solitary species rarely sting, and only under extreme provocation. No bee will sting when they are visting flowers, unless you grab ahold of them. If you don't run barefoot thru the dandelions and clover, and don't mess with their nests, you have little to worry about. If you are truly allergic (and a whole lot more folks think they are, than really are), carry a sting kit at all times. You cannot "bee-proof" the world; if you could it would be a world rife with famine.    Haaalp, I've Been Stung by a "Bee."

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On apple

  This used to be the most common visitor to home gardens, and still may be, if you have a beekeeper nearby.
   This fuzzy gal, seen on an apple blossom here, is an excellent all around pollinator. You can see one of the pollen pellets on her back legs here.

   Some folks hold it against her that she's not native to North America, but hey, most of our food crops aren't native either.

A honeybee's mother
(At right)

  Though rarely seen by most gardeners, you will learn to identify the queen if you keep bees for your garden pollination. She normally stays inside the hive, except on her mating flights, and possibly at swarm time in the spring.

Pollination For the Home Gardener by Veatch
Learn about honeybee biology by Keith Delaplane
More Resources for Beginner Beekeepers

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Vespula squamosa
Southern Yellow Jacket

Yellow Jacket
(At Left)

  Often called a bee by novices, she doesn't really resemble one, if you look closely. A honeybee is fuzzy, with muted tans and browns. A yellow jacket (a wasp) is shiny yellow and black striped. A lot of "bee" drawings in the popular press actually are drawings of yellow jackets. These are the pests that get into your can of soda at your Labor Day picnic.
   Yellow jackets don't visit flowers much; they mostly catch other insects. When they do visit flowers, they only accomplish a little pollination, because they aren't fuzzy. More on wasps below.

On star thistle

  She's fuzzy all over, and one of the most important pollinators. You probably won't see her in the spring, but she's can be around in great numbers by midsummer. Bumblebees live in colonies and the colonies don't survive the winter, so you only see an occasional queen in the spring.

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Xylocopa virginica

Carpenter Bee
On holly (at left)

   She's often mistaken for a bumble bee, but is easily distinguished by her shiny black butt, instead of a fuzzy gold and brown butt.
   Carpenter bees are much maligned because they bore into wood to make their nests, but they are valuable pollinators and should be protected. Usually the damage they do to wood is just cosmetic.
   They pollinate many spring flowers, though they sometimes slit blueberry flowers and steal nectar without pollinating them.
   Carpenter bees are solitary bees, with each lady making her own nest. They are most common in early spring.  

Drone Carpenter Bee
(Notice white spot on his head)

   Some folks are terrified of this buzzer. You won't see him visiting flowers and minding his own business like the female. Rather he'll be looking you over to see if you are sexy. Drones have a territory that they watch, and anything within it that moves, will be investigated.
   There is not an ounce of aggression in this harmless fellow's body, except toward other drones. He cannot sting you anyway. So when he comes to buzz around you, look him straight in the eye and dance with him. Toss a pebble and watch him chase it. Look cross eyed, or stick out your tongue at him. See, all he'll do is a friendly buzz game. This is an ideal chance to teach your kids one of the joys of nature, rather than load them up with wasted fear of something completely harmless.


Drone Carpenter: Close Up View

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Hoverfly or Syrphid Fly

   Hey, I KNOW the picture is fuzzy. But I'm lucky to get a picture at all, of this tiny fast-moving gal. She's usually seen hanging in mid air in front of the flower. Then she'll dart in for a sip of nectar. You can see her briefly hold still in the picture below.
   She does do some pollination, but not as efficiently as the fuzzy honeybee or bumblebee. Stingless...

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Syrphid fly
On chicory (at left)

   This bee mimic is often seen visiting flowers, and does accomplish some pollination. It only has one pair of wings, not two, as do bees. The striped abdomen may be a clever adaptation to fool preditors into thinking she's a bee and might sting. Actually she is stingless.

Drone Fly
On aster

   This gal can be an excellent pollinator. She has very large eyes thus mimicking the honeybee drone, but she's a fly, with only one pair of wings, not a bee, with two pairs.


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Solitary Bees
There are thousands of species (actually carpenter bees are solitary too).
Many are good pollinators. None are a threat to humans. Here are a few representatives.

Lots more on Solitary Bees as Alternative Pollinators

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Leafcutter bee on vervain. Note yellow pollen on her belly.

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Plaster Bee on goldenrod

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Digger Bee

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Halicitid Bee on Aster
Note green thorax. Many halictids are entirely or partly green.
Beautiful Halictid Pics
Halictid pic on
Adam Finklestien's Page

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Mason Bees

entering their homes in cracks in tongue and grove lumber. These solitary bees are quite gregarious. In other words, each female makes her own nest, but they like to nest near each other. Note pollen on one's "belly," which will be used to provision the young for next year.

   You can provide nesting sites for these gentle bees, which are excellent pollinators for spring fruit. They are dormant in the summer time.

Pollinator Paradise (All about solitary bees)

White Faced Hornet

  This gal will sometimes visit flowers, especially in the fall, when goldenrod blooms. She's a so-so pollinator then, but a wonderful pest control agent for most of the summer. She and her sisters prefer caterpillars for their lunch, and many caterpillars are the worst garden pests.

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Dolichovespula maculata

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Hornet nest
Don't Mess with
the Nest!
Our Hornet Nest kept our garden clean of worms
Hornetboy's photo gallery

There are thousands of wasp species. Larger ones usually prey on pest insects or spiders. Many of the smaller ones are parasites of pests in their larval stage. Most wasps are beneficial, and are quite gentle. Only yellow jackets and the larger nests of social wasps are likely to sting.

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Potter wasp

Ichneumon wasp

Tiphiid wasp

Grasshopper hunter

Paper Wasp

Tachinid Flies

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   Some tachinid flies resemble bees, as the one at left (called a "bee fly"); others don't, as at right. Most are beneficial because they parasitize pest insects. They also do some pollination.

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Photos of many hymenopteran species  MN

Thanks to Eric Eaton and others for help in identification.