Who’s That Pollinator: Wasp or Bee?

flower garden poppies love in a mist sweet peas

An Amazing Spring: Everything you see here self-seeded thanks to gentle, frequent rain. The Love in a Mist are now blooming, along with California poppies and sweet peas which appear to have swallowed the trellis

Late afternoon is a happy time in the garden. With spring in full bloom, bees and possibly wasps are doing what they do best: pollinating.

One of the many joys of blogging is learning new things. Though humbling, it’s also interesting when a long-held belief is knocked off its center.

For starters, take a look at this all-black bee.

Xylocopa tabaniformis

Xylocopa tabaniformis visiting the sweet peas

Someone told me years ago that these were carpenter bees. I took that at face value, having no reason to contradict it. They love traveling between my pumpkins and sunflowers. They’re frequent and welcome visitors in my garden, moving quickly from bloom to bloom. I’m always enamored with the yellow coating after they’ve dipped into the center of a flower. They’re docile as well, a nice quality when you’re up close taking pictures.

I was also told they would eat wood, including your house and that they were “bad” bees. I’ve since read that some carpenter bees are more problematic than others, but that overall they should not be viewed as pests but as beneficial pollinators. Are you as confused as I am?

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta gathering pollen on a love in a mist

I spotted this beauty today touching down on the love in a mist. Research tells me it’s also a carpenter bee, though the golden color is quite distinct from its shiny black cousin. Varipuncta looks like it’s wearing a golden fur coat, making it hard to distinguish between the bee and the pollen it gathers.

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta alternate view

Rounding out the collection is a pollinator formerly known by yours truly as “A bee”, a nondescript, generic term I use for any sort of flying, pollinating “bee” in my garden. Now I’ve been forced to reconsider this description as well, allowing for the possibility that this is a wasp or a hover-fly. Any guesses?

bee or waspEvery year I find a paper wasp’s nest under the eaves, but they’ve never been aggressive. Today I read that yellow jackets and hornets are aggressive, but like most bees, paper wasps are gentle.

Why We Need Bees:

If you’re as fascinated as I am, here are a few links:

24 thoughts on “Who’s That Pollinator: Wasp or Bee?

  1. I have never seen that fur coated golden bee. Wowsers. And I can’t get over the way your love in a mist, sweet peas, and poppies all grow together in a mass without the sweet peas climbing up something! It’s gorgeous.

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  2. Isn’t it fascinating when we discover what we didn’t know we didn’t know!! It happens to me all the time 😀 I’ve never seen carpenter bees before – not your little black fellow nor the one wearing the tip of Orlando’s tail!! I recognise wasps as being nipped waisted and bees have no waist. The hover flies I know of here are bigger and darker than wasps – but there could well be other varieties. Thank heavens for google and wikipedia – they make getting initial information so much easier!

    Your garden is looking spectacular – I am so amused that it is now these lovely flowers decide to show themselves – Murphy’s Law in reverse! Love that the sweet peas have eaten the trellis 😀

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  3. I am hopeless with identification. If it hovers or buzzes about my flowers and isn’t aggressive I’ll take it whatever it’s called! What a happy garden you have. 🙂

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  4. What a perverse sense of humor your garden has! I know almost nothing about bees–I just like seeing them in my flowers. We do have an issue with wasp nests and aggressive clouds of them . . . i don’t like them much!

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  5. I’ve never seen a carpenter bee – or even knew they existed for that matter – so this was an interesting post! I’m highly allergic to stings so I’ve always wondered how to tell the difference between bees and wasps. I found this post with a great picture that helps differentiate between the two, however given my allergy I would never hang around long enough to find out 🙂 http://www.hullternative.co.uk/wasps-vs-bees-what-is-the-difference/

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  6. You really have a magical green thumb ! Woozier, that’s one big ol’ wave of happiness at the corner of your drive. Be-you-tiful !
    I never imagined there were so many varieties of Bee’s. I have seen the fluffy furry one out at the lake once. I thought at the time it was a mutant moth and had no idea it was a bee. I’ve yet to see any bumble-bee’s in the garden, but nothing here is blooming yet and I haven’t garden pots planted quite yet. Although the weather seems more like mid summer than spring. Some people love this weather but it only worsens my worry for the planet. I filled a gravy boat with water the other day to leave under a tree for the squirrels. There’s just no moisture around.
    I’m pretty familiar with wasps. This is the hot, dry weather they love. Ours are normally aggressive and will actually chase after you if you swat at them…I’m not even kidding. I’ve fallen over garden tools, pots and rakes trying to flee. I’m sure it’s rather comical for anyone watching. Gardening season is around the corner here, I’ll most likely hit the greenhouse next week. Hooray! xoxo

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  7. I have never seen the golden bee and hope I don’t. I have seen the fat bees. black When the bees are out, I’m in. Wasps always chase me so I avoid them. I know we need them but not on the front porch. Shoo, shoo. I need to get up those steps, please. Paper wasps and mud daubers are different kinds of wasps I’m sure, but I like them anywhere but where I have to go to get in or out. Your garden looks so wonderful. I pulled a thousand weeds yesterday. Almost filled the whole green waste can. I hope it dries out some before the kid has to pull it down of the hill. More to go. I need to find something that will fill in faster than what I’ve tried. Nature abhors a vacuum. Have a great day. I’m waiting for the temps to get high enough to paint. It’s only 53 still. 🙂

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    • Marlene, I hope you aren’t allergic to bees or wasps. That would be so scary. I think most people are adverse to wasps. They have a bad reputation for aggression and multiple stings. When I was a girl and my hair was brighter, bees would often land on my head. I guess I got used to it. I have been stung a few times, but once because I stepped on one, and another time I kicked one walking through a grassy field. It stung my big toe!

      Congratulations on filling your green waste bucket with weeds. Now that it’s dryer, the weed growth is slowing down. It’s also harder to just pull them out by the roots. I’m missing that damp soil already.

      Is your back garden on a hill or do you have a hill down to the trash collection area?

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      • The back garden is on the terraced hill. I only take the green waste container up and the kid will get it down. I’ll leave it open for a few days to dry out and then it will be lighter. It’s bigger than my trash can! I’ve been stung by bees on the foot too. So I rarely go without shoes now. Wasps, I’ve been lucky not to be stung but know not to wear bright yellow when working in the yard. 🙂 I wear something the color of dirt. 🙂 I’m looking for ground cover to go under those tall trees up there because if I don’t plant something, the weeds can take over again. Lots of work to do. BTW, I’m not allergic to anything.:) Yay!

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  8. That pale bee is fascinating. I also get terribly confused. We have bee flies too – flies that like to look like a bee for protection, but aren’t! I tried identifying some bumble bees last year, but gave up pretty quickly. We also have a leaf-cutter bee. It cuts holes out of my peony leaves, apparently to build a ‘nest’!
    Your garden is looking gorgeous with all those self-seeded flowers. Enjoy!

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    • Cathy, I didn’t used to see those golden bees. They’re new to me in the past two years. It makes you wonder. Sorry to hear about the leaf-cutter bee. I guess you can’t really do much about the bad ones without discouraging or harming the good ones.

      I’m having so much fun with my self-seeded garden. Thank you for your kind words.

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  9. Thank you for the education and the fascinating photos of bees in their golden pollen cloaks. We celebrate all bees at the Smith house. One day I will have my pollinator garden set up and enjoy the sites like you have.

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  10. What a joy your flowers are! You must smile each time you walk by.
    Thank goodness for some rain.
    Your bee photography is great! I was trying to capture of few shots on Friday. The bees just love rhododendron and you can hear them buzzing from many feet away. Sadly, my photos didn’t turn out. But I can see those bees in my mind 🙂

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    • Thank you, Laura! That is such a compliment coming from you. Every single shot you publish is fabulous. The bees move quickly from flower to flower, and don’t always stay long either. Sometimes they light and immediately go, other times they’re there longer. Perhaps it has to do with how much pollen remains if they weren’t there first. I’m intrigued by the variety of bees attracted to the flowers. And you are right: I adore this wonderful garden, on loan from the rain goddess. It fills me with joy daily.

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  11. What a lovely post, Alys. I don’t know how I missed it…

    I did my own bit of research into bees and wasps last year after I had seen a wasp rolling about pumpkin pollen. Anyway, I’ll amazed by your golden bee. I guess you are bound to get different varieties from the ones we have in the UK.

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