Is it a Honey Bee?

While there are literally thousands of species of bees in the world, here in northern Michigan, there are a few that are quite common. The differences between Honey Bees, Yellow Jackets, Paper Wasps, Bumble Bees and Hornets are usually easy to recognize.

The honey bee will collect honey and pollen to help them survive the winter and hopefully start again in the Spring. If things are going well, they will continue to occupy the original site and maybe even cast a swarm that will set up a new home somewhere nearby. These are extremely social bees and a successful colony can often exceed 30,000 bees. One of the concerns with Honey Bees is the damage that a honey filled nest can potentially cause to a building when it is in the walls, attic, etc.

Other bees will usually die off after a frost or two. The only bee that will hibernate will be the queen and she will rarely occupy the same nest in the next year. Their nests are usually limited to between a dozen to 200 bees. Since they don't create wax nests or collect honey, building damage is rare.

All bees are beneficial. They help to pollinate flowers and crops. Some help to control other insect pests. But sometimes you just can't live with them. The Honey Bee is considered to have enough of a value that it is usually easy to find a willing beekeeper to rescue them. The other bees may require an exterminator if you need to get rid of them.

Bee Identification
  Honey Bee Yellow Jacket Paper Wasp Hornet Bumble Bee
  Honey Bee Yellow Jacket Paper Wasp Hornet Bumble Bee
Appearance Varies but usually light to dark brown with black stripes. Some are almost black. Usually has a furry thorax. Black and yellow stripes. Not furry. Yellow to dark brown or black. Thin body. Not furry. Black and white markings. Not furry. Yellow and black. Similar to honey bee but usually much larger/fatter. Very furry.
Behavior Gentle unless threatened Aggressive Somewhat aggressive Aggressive Gentle unless threatened. This bee is very docile.
Food Nectar and pollen from flowers. Occassionally attracted to a water source. Other insects, overripe fruit, sugary drinks, meat. Omnivore. Other insects. Carnivore. Other insects. Carnivore. Nectar and pollen from flowers.
Sting Bee stings once then dies. Can sting repeatedly Can sting repeatedly Can sting repeatedly. Can sting repeatedly.
Nests Large colonies, bee boxes built by beekeepers, hollow trees, sometimes create nests in structures. Wax and honeycomb that is yellow, white or brown in color. Usually nest in the ground, sometimes small cavities or structures. No wax or honey. Small papery gray combs with visible cells (looks like paper mache) in protected spaces often under eaves and in attics. No wax or honey. Large gray paper nest (looks like paper mache) shaped like a grapefruit and sometimes larger. Hangs from branches or eves. Sometimes nest underground. No wax or honey. Usually nest in the ground.
      Wasp Nest Hornet Nest  


Article by Paul Ward, 2017