Types of Wasps and Bees in the Garden
One hundred thousand plus species of ants, bees, sawflies and wasps constitute the order Hymenoptera, the second largest order of insects next to beetles. Hymenoptera taxonomy constantly changes to reflect scientific consensus regarding the proper way to categorize such a large group of insects.
Home and garden interests, along with enthusiasm for the natural biological control work wasps provide on a global basis explains much of the wasp's popularity. Disdussions about different types of wasps often begin by defining them as all Hymenoptera that are not ants, bees or sawflies.
Entomologists differentiate between wasps that are related to bees and those wasps that evolved separately from bees. Formal groupings for the bee related wasps remains a topic of discussion. However, today, many entomologists recognize two different wasp families, Sphecidae and Crabronidae, as being related to bees.
Sometimes the phrase sphecid wasps versus vespid wasps acts to differentiate between the wasps related to bees and the wasps in the superfamily Vespoidea, which are related to ants.
Within the superfamily Vespoidae, perhaps the Vespid wasps (family Vespidae) pose the greatest concern to humans because of their habit of building nests in residential areas. Of specific concern is the fact that Vespid species tend to sting (multiple times) as a defensive mechanism, when their nests are threatened.
The slide show presents examples of the types of most common vespids found around residential areas and gardens. The video at the top of the page shows a pollen wasp (Masarinae), so named because of their practice of feeding their young pollen, rather than insects or spiders, the traditional young wasp diet.
Most homeowner tend to associate members of the subfamily Polistinae, paper wasps, with vespid wasps. Three genera represent the subfamily, but for all intent and purposes, paper wasps and the Polistes genus usually represent the group.
Their appetite for caterpillars and other garden pests often translates into their being welcome guests in many back yards, with some limits. Paper wasps, stinging insects that defend their nests, explains homeowner concerns about their presence around the doorways. At the same time, their appetite for caterpillars and other garden pests often translates into their being welcome guests in many back yards.
The standard Polistes story posits them as semi-eusocial insects, whose nests are built on a annual basis and tended by a queen and workers.
Approximately twenty native poliste species, most regionally based, inhabit residential areas, fields and forest across North America. A quick yard check during the warmer moths of the year provides a good opportunity for identifying local poliste species.
Most people recognize yellow jackets (Paravespula) as the uninvited guests at many picnics.
They are all social wasps that build, and vigorously defend, ground nests. As the colony grows over the course of a summer, the need for food expands. The presence of a sweet tooth partially explains their scavenging ways at picnics and barbecues.
Many homeowners opt to remove them when they nest around the home because their sting is painful.
Over one dozen different Vespula species live in the United States. Most of them share the bright yellow body of the species in the picture.
Potter and Mason Wasps (Eumeninae), the most diverse of the five vespid subfamilies (family Vespidae), receive their name based on their pot shaped mud nests. The approximately twenty in North America species get described as solitary, predator wasps and beneficial insects because of their use of caterpillars and other insect larvae as their principle larvae hosts.
Potter wasp appearance varies slightly from genera to genera. Pachodynerus erynnis in the picture is a small, colorful potter wasp species with a range limited mostly to the South East and Gulf Coast states. They have a habit of nest building in wood structures such as benches, fences and sides of houses.
Baldfaced hornets, named for their white face, are large paper nest making insects. Despite the name, they are more closely related to yellow jackets than to hornets.
Most people become familiar with them when they build a large oval paper nest on a tree in their yard. They are social insects, with the annually constructed nests consisting of a queen, workers and drones.
While they are not characterized as aggressive bees, they do sting when defending their nest. Nests located in close proximity to high traffic locations around the house and yard often need to be removed.
In the other wasp category, superfamily Pompiloidea, sixteen Mutillidae genera, better known as Velvet Ants, live on North American soil, especially sandy soils. Population levels peak during the summer season and female nest building. Dasymutilla, the largest genus, with some fifty species, can be tough to identify. The top picture might show dasymutilla lepeletierii.
The red body signals danger, and the sting of many species is described as one of the most painful stings in the wasp family.
Speaking of stings, the Cow Killer perhaps the most recognized velvet ant, often makes the wasp legend list.
Sometimes the name Cow Killer is used loosely to apply to any one of the fifty or so native Dasymutilla species. Used in a stricter sense, the Cow Killer refers to a single species, Dasymutilla occidentalis, and the name come from the story that the sting of the wingless female is so severe that it could kill a cow.
Spider wasps (family Pompilidae), predate on spiders, using their bodies as larval hosts. North American species numbers approach the 150 mark, divided into a dozen and one half genera.
Agriculture specialists have always invested time trying to understand and leverage their utility as natural biological control agents.
Types of Bees in the Garden
The types of bees in the garden helping with pollination chores, a popular topic of conversation among gardeners, usually starts and ends with the family Apidae.
Potentially the conversation can last for days because North American hosts approximately one thousand different Apidae species, including its most familiar members, honey bees and bumblebees, along with less familiar names such as Cuckoo Bees, Carpenter Bees and Digger Bees.
All Apidae bees rank as star pollinators of backyard gardens and large scale agricultural enterprises. Because they tend to be general pollinators, honeybees hold a special place in the commercial agricultural sector. Recent research entitled, Pollination of tomatoes by the stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata and the honey bee Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera, Apidae) (Genetics and Molecular Research 8 (2): 751-757 (2009) decided to compare the pollination abilities of the two bees in a controlled experiment and concluded,
The largest number of fruits (1414 tomatoes) and the heaviest and largest tomatoes, and the ones with the most seeds were collected from the greenhouse with the stingless bees.... The stingless bee, M. quadrifasciata, was significantly more efficient than honey bees in pollinating greenhouse tomatoes.
Many kinds of bees tend to be either specialist pollinators or general pollinators. Squash bees, for example, are always a welcome visitors to gardens that plant any member of the cucurbit family. Specialist native bees not only help in the garden, they also help by contributing to native flora diversity.
The article presents a quick look at the different types of bees in the Apidae family, along with providing a close up video presentation of a couple of bee species.
Like honeybees, native bumblebee (genus Bombus) populations continue to experience population stress, to one degree or another. Franklin's Bumblebee (Bombus franklini), a native species of Southern Oregon and Northern California, for example, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Population declines of other native species are also being recorded around the world.
Researchers hypothesize that the introduction of non-native species into the commercial market solely for pollination, also introduced the diseases associated with the commercial bumblebees. As the commercial bumblebees escaped into the wild, the mites and viruses associated with them began afflicting native bumblebee populations. Increased pesticide use and habitat alteration which reduces the number of native flowering plants associated with native bumblebee species also contributes to bumblebee population stress.
Currently experts count some 46 different types of bumblebee species present in North America.
The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) looks like an over sized version of a bumblebee without a hairy abdomen. Its range extends through most of the eastern half of the United States. Like bumblebees, they are social insects that spend their day pollinating flowers.
Experts from Texas A&M University describe Carpenter Bees as follows.
As pollinators, carpenter bees are generalists in our gardens and landscapes—they may be found foraging on a number of different species. Like their close cousins, the bumblebees, carpenter bees are early morning foragers. Carpenter bees are excellent pollinators of eggplant, tomato and other vegetables and many types of flowers.
As the name suggests they build their nest in wood, which occasionally causes problems in residential areas. A circular hole on the surface of untreated wood, along with a trail of sawdust, are typical indications of carpenter bee activity.
The best way to deal with carpenter bee problems in the home is to discourage them by insuring exterior wood areas such as siding and fences, are either painted or treated with a wood preservative.
Hairless and small in size, Cuckoo Bees family resemble wasps more than they resemble bees, making them among the least known of the family (Apidae).
The common name cuckoo refers to the bee's practice of brood parasitism, like it's namesake in the bird world, the Cuckoo bird. Adults lay their eggs in ground nests of other bee species, and then let the young fend for themselves.
Their practice of building nests in soil explains the common name for a large groups of bees in the family Apidae. The picture shows a blue-eyed Digger Bee.
Generally speaking, digger bees are not known to be aggressive bees, thereby reducing the need to remove any nesting sites that may appear in the backyard or near the garden.
© 2005-2014 Patricia A. Michaels