Is a Bee an Insect?
If you ever wondered whether bees are insects or not, you’re about to find out. We’ll also give you several other snippets of information about these beneficial pollinators.
Additionally, we’ll compare bees to other types of insects that are similar to bees and help you discover how to differentiate between the two.
Are Bees Classed as Insects?
Yes, they are. Bees fall under the incredibly broad classification of insect. They’re included in the third-largest order of insects, Hymenoptera.
Bees are part of the superfamily Apoidea, suborder Apocrita. There are an estimated 20,000 distinct species of bees.
Specific traits of bees, such as behavior and appearance, are species-dependent. Certain species might share a handful of traits in common but they’re far from identical.
There are characteristics that all types of bees share in common. These insects get all their nourishment from nectar and pollen.
All bees are capable of flight. Only bees that are suffering from a disease or have been injured are unable to fly.
Bees are also valuable as pollinators, although some are better at this than others. Bumblebees are efficient pollinators due to the length of their tongues.
Different species of bumblebees have proboscises (tongues) of varying lengths. This means they can reach the nectar of all shapes and sizes of flowers. This anatomical feature allows bumblebees as a whole to pollinate more species of plants.
What Other Insects Are Most Similar to Bees?
There are quite a few insects that can be confused for bees. Most of the insects with similarities are in the order Hymenoptera, like bees.
Genetically speaking, certain species of wasp are related to bees. Wasps can be either social or solitary, as can bees.
Social wasp species live in colonies akin to those that bees form. Like bees, they communicate with each other by emitting pheromones.
Some variations of wasp can easily be mistaken for bees at first glance. Many species of honeybees, bumblebees, and wasps share the same black and yellow patterning. Additionally, both wasps and bees have two pairs of wings each.
A useful trick to discern between a wasp and a bee is whether or not the insect appears hairy. Wasp bodies are almost always hairless, whereas bees tend to have hairs.
There are other major differences between the two. Firstly, most bees provide their young (larvae) with nectar and pollen. Wasp larvae usually eat other insects brought to the nest, or spiders (spiders are arachnids, not insects).
Adult wasps have a similarly varied diet. They prey on other insects and will even consume human food if given the chance.
A simple way to recognize a bee from a yellowjacket is the waist and antennae. Yellowjackets have narrow waists and yellow-colored antennae. Bees often have thicker waists and black antennae.
Yellowjackets, in particular, are aggressive when it comes to scavenging. They are a known nuisance at campgrounds and picnic sites for this reason.
If you see a winged insect that’s eating human food, it’s likely a yellowjacket. Bees might be attracted to sugary drinks or snacks, but not other foods.
Like bees, adult paper wasps feed off nectar and honeydew (nectar excreted by other insects). You might see them feeding off flowers, as you would a bee.
Paper wasps might look a little like bees, but they don’t nest the same way. This species likes to build nests that are exposed rather than hidden.
If you see a nest that looks like it was built out of paper-mache, it’s a paper wasp nest. These nests are usually built high up and are commonly found hanging from the eaves of houses.
Flies aren’t an insect you’d normally associate with bees. When you think of flies, you’re probably picturing the small-winged pests.
However, there are insects that are part of the Diptera order, comprising thousands of species. Of these thousands, some are similar to bees.
Hoverflies from the Syrphidae family are skilled bee-mimics. They can be hairy and have vivid black and yellow stripes.
The so-called bumblebee hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) is nearly indistinguishable from a typical bumblebee. Still, there are dissimilarities you can pick out if you look closely. Unlike bumblebees, hoverflies have two wings rather than four.
As the moniker implies, hoverflies can hover mid-air like little helicopters. Bumblebees usually don’t hover. They also have short, stout antennae and aren’t equipped with stingers. Bees usually have longer antennae and can sting.
Large Tachinid Fly
Tachina grossa, or the large tachinid fly, resembles the wool carder bee. These flies are attracted to flowers just as bees are. They’re also similar in size to wool carder bees.
As a fly, tachina grossa has bristly rather than smooth hairs. The yellow, bulbous head of these insects is characteristic of flies, as are the big eyes.
Large tachinid flies are also devoid of yellow patterning on their abdomens. Wool carder bees do have yellow dots on either side of their abdomens.
Brown Bombylius flies resemble Anthophora plumipes, the hairy-footed flower bee. Unlike these bees, Bombylius flies can’t retract their proboscises. Their tongues are always outstretched like a needle protruding from their heads.
Bombylius flies are rapid fliers compared to bees. They perform swift, abrupt maneuvers mid-air, whereas bees in flight aren’t prone to these sorts of moves.
Trichius fasciatus, or the bee beetle, is another insect that can be mistaken for a bee. These beetles earned their moniker from their peculiar wing patterns. The yellow and black blotched stripes match those of bees.
If you take a long look at a bee beetle you’ll soon realize that it isn’t a bee. They have square-shaped bodies that are particular to beetles. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bee that isn’t oval-shaped or round.
Bees certainly are insects and a species that we want to protect and preserve, due to their many beneficial aspects. Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of all vegetables, fruits, and nuts grown in the United States.
Add to this the delicious honey they produce, for just two reasons why don’t want to accidentally kill a bee that you’ve mistaken for a wasp, fly, or another insect.
Next time someone asks you whether bees are insects, you now have the knowledge to answer with confidence, and even back up your reply with a few interesting facts about bees.