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10 Amazing Facts About Bees & Wasps

Updated January 13, 2021 75.6k views10 items

Everyone has an opinion about bees and wasps, ranging from wild, hysterical arm waving to wild, hysterical body contortions. You see black and yellow out of the corner of your eye, hear that droning sound, and immediately start flailing. Sting! It's gonna sting me! Most people don't care if its a bee, wasp or hornet, they just don't want to get stung. But the suborder of Apocrita (which contains all bees, wasps and hornets) is an amazing, talented group - and not just the branch of the family that gives us honey.

Wasps also perform a vital service controlling pest populations at a scale you probably haven't considered. Sure, they can all sting... but, important note: they don't give a crap about stinging you in the first place. And if they do sting you - guess why? Because of all that flailing around you're doing. What are facts about bees and wasps? Take a look at this list and you'll find out. Maybe these 10 amazing facts about bees and wasps will even make you feel a whole new respect for those buzzing little insects.

If you enjoy this list you may want to check out my other lists of facts about spiders and ant facts.

  • Which came first, the bee or the flower?

    Photo: Hectarea / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Around 100 million years ago, in the middle of the Cretaceous period, plants called angiosperms began to develop. Before this period, many plants reproduced the way today's conifers do. They released seeds and pollen using cones. Angiosperms, on the other hand, began to rely on insects and other animals to reproduce.

    Also around that time, bees began to evolve from their wasp-like ancestors. Prehistoric wasps were carnivores that laid their eggs in the bodies of their prey. But bees started eating pollen and nectar from the new angiosperms, pollinating flowers as they went.

    This doesn't necessarily mean that bees evolved from wasps. It's more likely that bees and wasps both evolved from a mutual, wasp-like ancestor.

    The possibility has been theorized that pollinating behaviors like those of bees helped develop these new kinds of plants and that we have flowering plants today because of insects like bees... and that we have bees because of angiosperms.
  • Skinny & Shiny vs. Fat & Fluffy

    Photo: Flickr / Flickr

    The first thing you will notice, if you're paying any sort of attention beyond cringing and running, are the physical differences between bees and wasps.

    Bees are fluffy. They are fat and fluffy. Their hairy bodies and flat legs are ideal for holding on to the pollen as they carry it from one area to another.

    Wasps, while they still feed on nectar and pollen, are predators. They hunt insects, arthropods, flies and even caterpillars to feed to their young. Their bodies are sleeker and more streamlined for hunting.

    Both bees and wasps have stingers, but only the females. This is because the stinger doubles as an ovipositor... originally evolved specifically to lay eggs. As time passed, the paralyzing venom delivered with the stinger became necessary (in the case of wasps) to incapacitate (but not kill) an unwilling animal that might, for SOME reason, have a problem with having eggs laid inside their body.

    When you look at all the different kinds of bees and wasps, something you will note (or, well, probably you won't) is that many species exhibit similar behaviors to many ant species. Ants (and sawflies) are in the same Order as Bees and Wasps, Hymenoptera.
  • Shake That Booty

    Video: YouTube

    The behavior of these two types of insect is both similar and completely different. Both have species that are social and solitary, both have species that build nests and live in the ground. Both are ambivalent about humans and both will attack humans when they or their community is threatened.

    It is true that they both forage for their food, but the wasp is a predator - always seeking live prey or other proteins to deliver to its young. The adult wasp tends to eat flower nectar and other sugary things (like your glass of coke), but scours the environment for insects and spiders to entomb alive in its nest so that the babies have something to eat when they hatch.

    Bees, on the other hand, feed only on flower pollen. Both the social and the solitary types are dependent on their ability to find food and deliver it to their young. They have an amazing sense of smell, and they can remember and recognize patterns, such as the patterns of colors that are likely to be near good food. They can also recognize symmetry, a trait that scientists tend to associate with intelligence. Some social bees mark a trail to a food source with aromatic flower oils or by guiding their hive mates part of the way.

    Honeybees in particular tell their sisters how to find food, water, resin and new nest sites by dancing.

    The round dance tells her sisters that food is nearby by traveling in loops in alternating directions.

    With the waggle dance, the scout runs in a straight line while waggling her abdomen, and then returns to the starting point by running in a curve to the left or right of the line. The straight line indicates the direction of the food in relation to the sun. If the bee runs straight up the hive wall, then the others can find the food by flying toward the sun. If she runs straight down the wall, then the foragers can find the food by flying away from the sun. The speed of the loops even lets the other bees know about the quality of the food source.

  • Cribs: Paper or Wax or Resin?

    Both bees and wasps need a safe place to allow their young to mature.

    There are several different ways that wasps live. The kind most people are familiar with are Mud Daubers and Yellowjackets, which build papery nests in trees and roof eaves. Only social wasps tend to build these paper nests.

    Not all bees build hives, and only the Honeybee builds the structure that most people think of when they think of beehives. Honeybees are social bees.

    Solitary bees may use cerumen, a type of wax secreted from their bodies, or propolis, a glue bees make from tree resins. Many bees add other materials to these substances. Carpenter bees bore holes in unpainted, unfinished wood (some people mistake carpenter bees for bumblebees - those cool big black ones). Plasterer bees dig holes and tunnels, lining them with what is essentially plaster they make themselves. Leafcutter bees use their mouth parts to cut pieces of leaves, which they use to line their nests. Mason bees, which are in the same family as leafcutter bees, use their saliva and secretions from their maxillary glands to glue sand and pebbles together. Carder bees collect the furry or woolly parts of plants to line their nests.

    Other bees take advantage of existing materials when they build their nests. Some use empty termite hills or wasp nests. A few species lay their eggs in empty snail shells, either dividing the cell into chambers using glandular secretions or laying one egg in each shell. A few bees, known as cuckoo bees, are parasitic (like wasps) - they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. Some cuckoo bees don't have any structures for collecting pollen, since they rely on other bees' pollen to feed their young.