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There are several species of wasp generally referred to as 'wood wasps' belonging to the ichneumon family, which look very alarming due to their long 'stinger'. These wasps tend to be quite large and some species have a 'stinger' longer than their body! It is not actually a stinger, but rather an ovipositor, used to deposit eggs. These creatures, though terrifying at first, are often beneficial because they parasitize other organisms (usually pests). Many species inject their ovipositor into trees and lay eggs under the bark to parasitize grubs or other insects which may be harmful to the tree.
Honeybees are fuzzy, with a golden orange colour between black stripes. They can often be seen with tufts of pollen on their hind legs. They will congregate in large groups but will often forage solo. Colonies will swarm in late spring or early summer as their population expands and becomes too large for the hive, resulting in a cluster of bees on buildings, branches or anywhere else the queen chooses to land. She lays eggs before leaving and takes half the colony with her - the remaining workers will feed some eggs royal jelly in order to create a new queen, while the old queen and her loyal subjects go out in search of a new home. Honeybees should only be exterminated as a very last resort.
Wasps and hornets vary in appearance but are always hairless. Some species in this area have bright yellow stripes, others are all black. They can deliver multiple stings without losing their stinger or dying, and tend to be more defensive of their nest, making them seem more aggressive. Wasp colonies can create nests out of paper or other materials, other species nest in the ground, making them especially hard to find and avoid.
Bumblebees are yellow and black and very fuzzy, sometimes with a rust coloured patch on their back. They live in colonies but do not tend to actively defend the nest so stings are rare. This is a good trait for a beneficial pollinator because it results in them mostly being left alone. Bumblebees create very small amounts of honey, enough to feed the colony but not enough to harvest. They do not build wax as this photo suggests, this particular bumblebee robbed honey out of some comb produced by our honeybees.
We're pretty fond of bees - honeybees, that is. We keep hives in our backyard and love learning from these beneficial pollinators as we observe them and their fascinating behaviour.
It can be difficult to distinguish between honeybees, bumblebees, wasps and other kinds of bees. Given the current plight of the honeybee, it's really important to make sure you know what you're dealing with. See below for a photo guide to the difference between the major types of bee/wasp that you'll find in and around buildings, and some further information on them.
If you have a honeybee colony in your house or yard, don't be afraid to call us! We have constructed a 'bee vacuum' that allows us to collect the colony unharmed, and bring it back to our yard to rear with our own bees!