It’s hard to imagine a world without bees and there are many different types of bees. In fact, our world and lifestyle as a species would be drastically altered if the humble bee was no longer around.
They form an invaluable part of our ecosystems and contribute heavily to many different lifeforms. Most of us probably first think of the unpleasant but mild sting bees are so notorious for but in reality, there is so much more going for these cute little critters.
Here is everything you need to know about the types of bees, their hierarchy in hives and some fun facts to boot.
Known as the world’s greatest pollinators, bees certainly live up to that reputation. They assist with the pollination of about one-third of all the food we consume, crazy right?
Because of this, they are inherently a huge part of our global economy and without them, life wouldn’t be nearly as abundant as it is today.
Not all bees are alike and understanding their behavior and the different types of bees can help us create a harmonious and beneficial relationship between our species and theirs.
Getting to Know Bees
Bees are winged insects that are closely related to wasps and ants. They are known for their massive role in global pollination as well as their production of honey.
They are currently considered a clade called Anthophila. A clade is essentially a natural group of organisms that are composed of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants.
There are around 20,000 known species of bees in the world where only Antarctica is without a bee population. They occur on every other continent, in every habitat that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
Bees range in size, characteristics and roles within their communities but they all feed on nectar and pollen. Nectar provides them with an energy source, which they certainly need considering all the work they do and the distances they travel.
Pollen is a vital source of protein and other helpful nutrients for bees and their larvae. The bee population is an integral asset, both ecologically and commercially.
As we continue to develop and expand as a population, the bee population continues to decline which should cause some concern. Luckily, there are things we can each do to help our bee friends which we will discuss later.
Different Types of Bees
There are over 4,000 species of bees in North America alone. Regardless of the location in the world, we can place bees into two main classifications, namely social bees and solitary bees.
Social bees are by far the more well-known and popularized bees, being depicted in literature, film and many other mediums throughout our cultural history. Solitary bees on the other hand live more introverted lives where many are fairly harmless.
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of bees and how you can distinguish them from one another.
Types of Social Bees
These bees thrive in numbers and create large colonies where each bee will have a certain role to play for the greater good of the hive. Whether it’s producing combs, caring for larvae or making honey, these bees work together in an intricate network of responsibility to create highly functional and efficient communities.
Social bees are, for the most part, fairly docile and will only sting if they feel their colony or hive is being threatened.
One of the top pollinators, honey bees are some of the most common globally and are vital members of our ecosystem. Their colonies can be as big as 80,000 members in the hive and they produce large amounts of honey.
They are smaller in size and less furry compared to the Bumble Bee. They also have longer and narrower figures. These bees can play one of three vital roles in their hives, namely the queen bee, the worker bee or the drone bees.
Did you know that in order to produce just one pound of honey, each bee has to fly around 90,000 miles! Honey Bees are certainly not afraid of hard work.
Also known as “killer bees”, these little fellers are known to have vicious tempers. They were bred with the honey bee to create a new cross-breed but they managed to escape their lab in South America and populate willingly.
They appear similar to honey bees but with darker hues in their coats and are smaller in size as well. They are known to dominate occupied areas and be quite territorial when other animals or people come near them.
If you accidentally disturb a swarm of these guys, your best bet is to run as fast as you can while protecting your head and seek the nearest shelter immediately.
Commonly known as “big bees”. They appear hairy with the common black and yellow stripes and furry coat. Bumble bees are big pollinators of all kinds of plants and flowers and they are extremely efficient pollinators thanks to their furry coats.
They are large compared to other bees and are the second biggest pollinators in the family. Unfortunately, due to climate changes and modern pesticides, one-fifth of all Bumble Bees have disappeared.
Types of Solitary Bees
Now we’ll look at the introverts in the family and the different kinds of bees in this classification. Solitary bees don’t swarm and usually work alone or in very small groups compared to their social counterparts.
They live alone, often in very small nests and prefer to fly solo. They produce just enough food to feed themselves and their larvae and most of these bees are harmless to us.
These bees look like bigger, fatter and hairier versions of the bumble bees but have distinct differences. They appear with a large blue-black abdomen and a lesser striped coat.
They get their names because they nest inside wooden trees, nooks or logs. They can be seen nesting in benches and wooden shelves as well.
Because of this, they can become quite invasive when setting up shop in our homes and can also cause some destruction to buildings. These bees are also not very likely to sting you.
The males have no stingers and the females will only use theirs to defend their nests. To discourage carpenter bees from nesting in your wooden structures, you can paint the surfaces and regularly pressure wash with just water.
As vicious as they may appear, these bees are very docile creatures. They share many similarities with the leafcutter bees but they prefer to burrow into soft cemented buildings.
They make very small holes so they won’t cause much damage or harm to your home or garden. They have wasp-like heads and a less metal-looking coat compared to the leafcutter bees.
Also known as Alkali Bees, these bees are some of the most prolific in North America. They are small in length, usually only coming in at around 3 millimeters.
They appear with greenish-yellow top abdomens with a large yellow and black striped lower abdomen near their stingers. These bees are enthralled with the scent of humans and other mammals so they might be a little more curious than the other solitary bees.
However, their small statues mean that being stung by one of these bees is very rare. They are among the most peaceful types of bees in the world so there’s no need to harm them.
These bees are slightly larger than sweat bees, usually coming in at around 10 to 18 millimeters in length. They are also hairy and also burrow underground.
For nesting, they usually use cracks in stones and bricks. They have a darker appearance compared to sweat bees and get their names because they tend to plaster the walls and surroundings of their nests with a discharge that dries and becomes shiny and transparent in appearance.
As threatening as they might appear, these bees are a lot more docile than they appear. Yellow-faced bees are a part of the same family as plaster bees and are usually no bigger than about 6 millimeters in length.
As their name suggests, they have yellow-colored faces, sometimes white as well. They have large eyes and are well-known for their elaborate mating rituals.
With similar appearances to carpenter bees, digger bees are also very hairy but smaller, generally being about 12 to 18 millimeters in length. As their name suggests, they nest in the ground where you can often see them appearing from their holes.
Once digger bees have established their nest or hideout, they become quite protective of it. Luckily, they are extremely docile and not known to attack humans.
They create intricate tunnels in the ground where they store food, lay eggs and grow their larvae.
Mining bees share very similar looks and behavior to diggers where they also prefer to burrow and make tunnels and nests underground. They do things a little differently though.
Much like humans, they build their nests in a way that allows each bee to have its own apartment of sorts. As with most of the solitary bee types, the risk of being stung by one of these guys or girls is not likely.
These bees measure in at around 7 to 18 millimeters in length and are very dark, appearing as if they have a metal coat. They are a part of the same family as the mason bees but these bees prefer to create their nests and homes inside of old decaying wood or in insulated panels within buildings.
They also sometimes prefer to nest deeply into trees and old logs. Their names come from their ability to use small pieces of cut-off plants to mark their tunnels and nests.
Types of Bees in a Hive
Honeybees create highly structured communities where each bee knows its role and hierarchy within the hive. These massive colonies consist of a queen bee, drone bees and about 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees.
All operating in a synchronized and efficient manner. Here are the types of bees in a beehive along with their roles.
- The queen bee is always the largest and longest-surviving kind of bee.
- She normally lives for around 6 years which is long for bees.
- She is the only sexually matured adult female in the colony.
- She communicates and influences other types of bees by releasing chemicals called pheromones.
- Queen bees are a vital part of any beehive, where she maintains a harmonious work cycle within her hive.
- She is capable of laying up to 2,000 fertile eggs in a day which is enough for the entire next generation of bees.
- These male bees have the easiest job of all. Their only responsibilities are to eat and mate with the queen.
- They are usually bigger than worker bees but smaller than the queen bee.
- As luxurious as their lives may seem, these guys die after mating with the queen.
- During spring and summer, hundreds of drones can exist in a hive but after that, the drone bees that didn’t mate with the queen are cast out by the worker bees before winter.
- Worker bees are all female.
- They hunt for food, build and maintain the hive and also purify the air within the hive.
- These females cannot lay eggs and are sexually undeveloped.
- These are the only bees in the hive that leave to go outside so when you see a bee, chances are it’s a female worker bee getting her daily tasks completed.
- These bees are the backbone of the colony and control many aspects of a hive's functionality.
Difference Between Bees vs Wasps
It is important to know how to distinguish between bees and wasps. Many people often confuse the two but there are clear ways to tell what you’re dealing with.
They are so often confused with one another because they share similar shapes and sizes a lot of the time. Here are some quick tips to help you tell the difference between the types of bees and wasps.
- Wasps tend to have distinct yellow or black bands around their abdomens whereas bees usually have a more subtle light brown to yellow hairy color.
- Bees usually have furrier coats and smaller stingers than wasps.
- Wasps tend to appear bald and shiny and have thinner and longer bodies than bees generally.
- Wasps are normally a lot more comfortable around humans.
If you’re still not sure whether it’s a bee or a wasp, be sure to check online for more tailored information to your specific area and the types of bees and wasps present there.
A World Without Bees – How to Bee Kind
Without bees, our way of life and the availability of produce would be drastically altered. Availability and diversity of fresh produce would massively decline, meaning our nutrition as a species would immediately be affected.
All the plants that bees pollinate could quickly be lost, which would heavily affect all the animals that normally eat those plants to survive. That would cause ripples up the entire food chain.
To help protect our precious bee population, there are things we can each do to help. Here are some of the ways you can help your local bees.
- Grow a bee-friendly garden – Plant a range of different flowers and flowering plants in your garden so that the bees have access to nectar when they need it.
- Feed them some sugar – By installing a bee or hummingbird feeder filled with sugar water can help give bees extra energy as they go about their daily activities. A combination of 2 teaspoons of white granulated sugar and one teaspoon of water should be perfect.
- Do more research on the specific types of bees in your area and you may come across more information to help them based on your climate and natural environments.
- Eat sustainable honey – When buying honey, rather choose something more local, made by individual beekeepers who practice sustainability. You can also try to eat a little less honey in general.
- Try to avoid swatting at bees and killing them if they come near. Most bees are solitary where the risk of being stung is extremely low.
Bees – Fun Facts
- Bees, considered insects, have 5 eyes and 6 legs.
- Bees fly at about 20mph.
- Losing its stinger will cause a bee to die.
- Bees have existed on the planet for around 30 million years.
- An average-sized beehive can house up to 50,000 bees.
- To make just one pound of honey, foragers have to collect nectar from about 2 million flowers. The average person eats roughly 1.5 pounds of honey per year.
Types of Bees FAQs
What are the worst types of bees?
Yellow jackets tend to be the most ill-tempered bees that will also pursue targets and chase them down. Africanized honey bees can also be quite aggressive.
Which bee sting hurts the most?
Carpenter bee sting is pretty unpleasant but the worst sting you can experience is the sting of a hornet.
What bees can sting multiple times?
Bumble bees, hornets, yellow jackets and wasps can all sting multiple times. For the bees, it’s naturally fatal.
What is the friendliest bee?
Bumble bees are the friendliest and gentlest of all bees.
Interested in beekeeping? Be sure to check out our other helpful guide below:
Wrapping Up Our Types of Bees Guide
Bees can be misunderstood and most of them are very docile and laid back. They are hardworking and an extremely important part of our daily lives so bee sure to do your part to protect our bee populations.
Now that you know more about the types of bees, their roles and how to tell the difference between wasps, we hope you feel a little more content with our flying bee friends.