How to Identify Bees

Bees carry honey in a sac on their hind legs
Bees carry honey in a sac on their hind legs (Image: Made available by

A bee's a bee, right? Not really. There are 20,000 species of bees, all part of the suborder Apocrita, which belongs to the insect order Hymenopterra. The ability to identify different types of bees is useful when you are purchasing pesticides to get rid of them or if you or someone you know has a serious allergy to a specific kind of bee. There are several relatively simple ways to identify a particular bee—just don't get too close for comfort.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Binoculars

Purchase a guidebook on bees to have on hand or to refer to after you examine a bee to identify what kind it is.

Examine the shape and color of the bee. For example, bumblebees are plump around the middle and hairy, while honeybees have a smaller body and are usually black or have a brown-yellow center. Carpenter bees are easier to detect because they are all black--no yellow markings. Orchid bees have bright colors that are somewhat metallic looking.

Observe the bee's habitat. Digger bees make homes in wood or in the ground. Plasterer bees live in the ground, so you might see them digging holes and tunnels in the soil. You might want to use your binoculars here so you don't have to risk getting too close to a big family of bees.

Look for where the bee stores its pollen. Honeybees, for instance, store pollen in a sac located on their hind leg. Ground bees carry pollen on their body and leg hairs. Digger bees store pollen in the middle of their hind leg. This may require a magnifying glass.

Observe the bee's behavior with other bees as well as with people. For example, Africanized bees, which originated in the southern part of the Sahara desert, are more aggressive when defending their nests. They are also known as killer bees because of their aggressive behavior, but they mostly act like honeybees. Parasitic bees are also referred to as cuckoo bees, and they live off other bees by using their nests and taking their food.

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