All About Pollinators: A Bee or Not a Bee?

By Mary Brennan, HF&G Volunteer and Ohio Volunteer Pollinator Specialist

Greetings to all!

Now that we know a little of what pollination is,  I thought it might be helpful to be able to pick out just what is flying around the flowers. Not knowing could mean we are tempted to swat at almost anything – or run away! But what if it’s one of the good guys –here are some pointers on what to look for.

Bees are all about gathering food and supplies – for themselves and their offspring. To that end, they are vegetarian, eating nectar and gathering pollen from flowers. They have sucking mouth parts to drink and pollen-carrying hairs and special areas on their bodies (look for bees that look like they have saddle bags on their legs, under their arms or on their abdomens). A few bees are “social” and live in communities called “hives” whereas most are solitary and make their nests in the ground or cavities – like between rocks or old stems. Bees have four wings, five eyes and long antennae that gather information about touch, vibration, taste , smell, and temperature.Only female bees have the capability of stinging, and unless threatened or if you step on their nest in the grass, they are non-aggressive and are pretty much just about doing their job!

Wasps are also about getting food and reproducing, but their food sources are very different.  Wasps are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants (fruit juices and fruit nectar), other insects and yes, human food like your hamburger! Because of that they have chewing mouth parts and since they don’t need pollen, they are smooth– usually with little or no hair and have skinny waists and slender bodies.  They can be either social but their hives are made from “paper” (you may see one in a tree or under the eave of your house), or solitary with ground nests.  Like bees they have four wings, five eyes and long antennae. Because some are parasitic (they live off others) they can be of benefit by getting rid of pests. They tend to be aggressive and will sting sometimes with little provocation, so be alert!

Finally there are flies. Flies are highly varied, can eat fruit/plants but many eat dead, rotting or decomposing material. For this reason their mouths have sucking parts. They are solitary, do not live in nests or hives and lay their eggs wherever there is food for the emerging larvae. The most distinct clue is that flies have only two wings, their large eyes are very close on their head and the antennae are short and even stubby, and they do not have stingers.

When you are out and about this week, take a look to see what is on that flower or what’s making that buzz-buzz-buzz and see if you can answer the question – “A Bee or Not a Bee”

Knowing what to notice makes it much more fun!