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.

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.

© 2005-2014 Patricia A. Michaels

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