If it looks like a bee, it’s a wasp

A few of us got together last night for coffee to discuss something about the United Beekeepers of Alberta. After that, one of the folks mentioned that she was preparing to meet a group in a couple of weeks to discuss public panic about bees. She had a great display which really woke me to the reason people confuse wasps with honey bees. Such confusion can create a serious problem for beekeepers. Honey bees rarely cause mischief away from their nest. They are too busy finding flowers and can’t be bothered to bother us. But wasps are meat eaters, a bit more aggressive, pack a nasty sting, and often enjoy picnics, bar-b-ques, and the faces of guests on our backyard decks.

I used to think that everyone could distinguish a honey bee from a wasp. Honey bees, we learn from a very early age, look like this:

Maybe we didn’t eat Cheerios breakfast cereal and stare at its famous cartoon bee every morning of our childhood. Nevertheless, we probably had an overly-friendly grade school teacher who emboldened our first compositions with black and yellow and black and yellow bee stamps that featured bees doing math or saying pithy things such as Bee Good or Bee Happy. Like this:

So, we get this image in our young minds of a honey bee. Bright and shiny, black and yellow. And then we see one.

So, that’s what a honey bee looks like. If they are all over our deck, it’s time to call the neighbourhood beekeeper and tell her to come and get her pesky honey bees. She tells us those are wasps, then returns with a couple of photos that look like this:

Well, surely she’s made some big mistake, hasn’t she? Those don’t look anything like the cartoon honey bees we’ve grown to love.

Sometimes it’s hard to re-educate people. But my friend with these pictures had a good way of teaching the difference. I don’t know if my friend’s infographic, below, is her own original idea. It doesn’t matter. It’s a great tool. I’ll probably make a similar one to help people distinguish gentle honey-making bugs from wasps and yellow jackets.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Outreach and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to If it looks like a bee, it’s a wasp

  1. mijoka says:

    Very good point , I on e met a guy in the advertising agency biz some 40 years ago , looking at some drawing and photos , as I pointed the mistake and preconceived idea these were wasp not honey bee , he replied no one want to see a black insect that look like a bee on they cereals , we would not sell the product ,…Oh well I tried , sadly it is a global idea.


    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t get it, really; never have. How is it that people can confuse a honey bee (or any sort of bee for that matter) with a wasp – and even then – if it’s actions are overtly aggressive – more likely to be a (nasty b…tard:/) Yellow Jacket than any of the other wonderful, beautiful, useful (and friendly even!) types of wasp in our world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Goodbye, 2019 | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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