…with bees. All types of them. In fact, Michigan is home to 465 different species of them. We’ll explore five of the most common ones.
Before we do that, let’s talk about insects that people often mistake for bees – wasps and hornets (which are actually large wasps). Wasps have distinct yellow-black bands around the abdomen. Bees have a more nondescript light brown/brown-yellow color. Bees tend to be hairy, allowing pollen to be gathered more easily. Wasps are bald and appear shiny. Other differences include their roles. Where bees primarily pollinate, wasps prey upon other insects such as aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers and assorted other pests. We tend to give wide berth to wasps because they can sting more than once and they deliver a more painful punch than bees. Both wasps and bees sting when provoked, though bees are less aggressive. Without wasps, however, we would have an abundance of harmful insects. Generally, if you leave bees and wasps alone, they will return the favor.
Our first bee, the Western Honey Bee, is also known as the European Honey Bee, and arrived in Michigan from Europe in 1776. They’re found on every continent except for Antarctica. Colonies are made up of several thousand bees with one queen, many non-reproductive female workers and a small proportion of fertile males (drones). A generally yellowish color and black stripes along the abdomen distinguish these bees from other species. They’re the primary species for honey production and pollination. Because they feed on pollen and nectar that native pollinators also rely on, thus depriving them of food.
The Brown-belted Bumble Bee is a Michigan native. You can also find them in many states in the U.S. except for the Southwest. They feature a yellow-golden thorax and yellow circular lines around its body. This bumblebee can occupy many kinds of habitat, including meadows, wetlands, agricultural fields, and urban areas, even densely populated cities (they’re found in beehives atop the Empire State Building). These are important pollinators of milkweed, thistle and sunflowers. Fortunately, this is one variety of bumble bee that is not in decline. In fact, their numbers typically increase year after year.
The Two-spotted Bumble Bee lives underground (70 percent of bees dwell beneath the ground’s surface). These bees pollinate a variety of plants, including mint, plums and clover. Two-spotted Bumble Bees are easily identified by by two yellow spots on the abdomen and black-yellow body. Located in the eastern United States, these bees are thriving and experiencing steady growth.
The Eastern Carpenter Bee. Females have powerful jaws to cut holes into wood to lay their eggs. If that wood happens to be your house, fence or other structure, there’s no need to worry. The holes, while unsightly, will not cause structural damage. Males stand guard as the females lay their eggs to prevent other males from trying to inseminate their mates. Where bumble bees are big, Carpenter Bees are huge (3/4″). They feed on flower nectar and are prodigious pollinators. Aside from their size, these bees are distinguished by a thorax covered with yellow hairs and a black hairless abdomen. Male bees sometimes have a white or yellow spot on their faces.
Our last bee isn’t actually a bee. It’s a hoverfly that looks like one. The Oblique Stripetail has yellow stripes on its thorax colors and crossbanding on its abdomen. It’s all a bluff meant to confuse predators. Like bees, they feast on nectar and pollen of both wild and commercial plants. One study found hoverflies carry more pollen than beetles, butterflies, and moths. As an added bonus, their larvae feed on harmful aphids.
While certain species of bumble bees are thriving, others are in decline. If you’d like to find out what to plant to help native bees and learn about bee keeping, visit these websites:
Have questions or comments about this article or others I have written? Reach out to me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, get out and enjoy nature.