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[INFOGRAPHIC] Friend or foe... What's the buzz about bees?

When spring comes along, you can barely walk outside without hearing the familiar buzzing of bees busy at work. Obviously there are many different kinds of bees and some are more friendly (and helpful) than others. While not everyone is overly excited to come across these buzzing insects, believe it or not many bees do more good than harm — especially for your flowers and garden.

Garden Bee

There are over 25,000 different species of bees with around 4,000 of those found in the United States. Let's take a look at some of the most common species.

Common Bees in the US

Honey Bee

Recognized by a golden brown color with black abdominal stripes, honey bees are the top pollinating bee and play a vital role in our ecosystem. It's rare to find a wild colony and most honeybees live in artificial hives provided by beekeepers. It's not likely to be stung by a honey bee, especially considering they die upon stinging.

Bumble Bee

Larger and hairier than a honey bee, bumble bees have a black body with black and yellow hair. Bumble bees also play a key role in pollination and can be found living in colonies mostly found in the ground. It's very rare for a bumble bee to sting.

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees look like a larger, hairier version of a bumble bee. They are known to be destructive as they drill holes in wood (ie. your home, deck, fence, etc.) to make their nest. While they can be destructive their great pollinating ability outweighs their other unfavorable habits. While male carpenter bees can often appear aggressive, they can't even sting — the females rarely sting unless provoked.

Common US Bees

Mason Bee

Small and metallic in color, mason bees like to make their homes in pre-made holes and use mud to seal any cavities. They are great for pollinating fruit and nut trees. It's very rare for a female mason bee to sting and she will only do so if trapped or under pressure — the males can't sting at all.

Leafcutter Bee

Very similar to mason bees, leafcutter bees are usually a dark color such as black with white hair. They like to make their nests by tunneling into old wood, stumps or structural wood and sealing cavities with leaves. They are avid pollinators of wildflowers along with some fruits and vegetables. It's not likely to be stung but a leafcutter bee unless you try to handle them.

Sweat Bee

Sweat bees are very small and usually black/brown, or a shade of blue/green. True to their name they are attracted to human and animal perspiration and like to build their nests underground. They are great pollinators for a wide array of plants. It's very difficult to be stung by a sweat bee because they are so small and not aggressive.

Wasps Commonly Mistaken for Bees

Because there are so many different flying bugs you could easily mistake some of the following as bees but it's helpful to know the difference.

Common US Wasps


Much larger in size than other bees or wasps, the hornet can be identified by it's yellow head, brown body and yellow stripes toward the end of it's body. They live in colonies in paper-like nests usually found in trees. They provide some pollination as they hunt other bugs on plants and flowers. Because of their size and willingness to deploy the entire colony to defend their nest they can be aggressive and dangerous.

Yellow jacket

About the same size as a honey bee, yellow jackets have a thin waist and are yellow and black. They are carnivorous and build their nests in the ground. While they do some very light pollinating it is simply a side effect of landing on plants/flowers to eat other bugs. Yellow jackets are very aggressive and can sting as many times as it pleases making a nest dangerous to stumble upon.

Paper wasp

As one of the most common wasps, paper wasps usually have brown bodies with black wings and a thin waist. Their name comes from the nests they build using plant materials and their saliva resulting in a paper-like nest. As a byproduct of collecting bugs to feed their young and drinking nectar, they contribute to light pollinating. They can become aggressive and will sting if their nest is nearby.

Potter wasp

Often confused with a yellow jacket, potter wasps are mostly black or brown with a few thin yellow lines. Their name comes from the pot-like nests they construct out of mud. They do pollinate, but very lightly. It's rare for a paper wasp to be aggressive toward a human.

What bees sting?

Friend or Foe?

While yes, not all flying bugs are awesome — some are and you should welcome them with open arms into your yard and garden. Not only will you have healthier plants, the greater ecosystem will benefit from the pollination that many bees provide. So next time you hear that familiar "buzz" try to identify (from a safe distance) what type of bee has made it's way into your yard. Happy buzzing!

Bee infographic — Friend or Foe?

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