Where I grew up, the word “wasp” was uttered with derision and hate. A wasp was something to fear, to avoid, to kill. It was so bad, I can almost relate to the following incident.
Recently, a visitor to this site wrote to ask if I could identify a bee she saw in her garden. She was very excited, claiming it was the most beautiful bee she had even seen. She had managed to get a photo and asked if would post it along with the identification.
When I received the photo, I saw a wasp, although I didn’t know what kind. It was indeed beautiful and I asked her if I could send it on to Bugguide.net for identification.
A wasp is not a bee
She said, yes, I could send the photo of her bee on to Bugguide. In the meantime, I wrote back and explained why I believed it was a wasp.
She replied, more insistently than ever, that her “bee” was a bee. By now, I was wondering why she was calling on my help if she already knew everything. I let it go and waited for Bugguide. Their reply came a day later, confirming the creature was a wasp and naming both a genus and species.
When I sent the info and links along to her, she promptly withdrew the photo and permission to post it. It was her bee and she didn’t want to share.
Strange as it may seem, similar things have happened before. My site attracts bee lovers, and bee lovers want spectacular creatures that look like bees to be bees. They don’t want them to be wasps, and some, like this reader, refuse to believe it could happen.
Bees and wasps are closely related
Bees and wasps are not all that different. In fact, bees are wasps that opted for the vegetarian lifestyle. The only real difference between the two is that, over time, bees have developed specialized body parts that allow them to collect pollen and carry it back home.
Now, the wasps are a large and variable group of insects, and bees are thought to have evolved from just one branch of it, along with the spheciform wasps. But if you watch bees and wasps—particularly the solitary ones—it is hard to see much difference. They look alike, they act the same, they build homes in similar places, they live the same length of time, they raise young in a similar manner, and the adults sip nectar for energy. About the only difference is their choice of infant formula: the bees choose pollen and the wasps choose meat.
What I will do about it
Earlier in the year, after I posted a photo of a solitary wasp building a home in a bamboo tube, several people asked me what I was going to do about it. Do about it? Well, next spring I will watch the wasps emerge and, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get a photo.
As bee lovers, we know that not all bees are honey bees, but it’s time we recognize that not all wasps are yellowjackets. Spend a few minutes on learning to recognize at least one type of wasp. You will soon get hooked on these fascinating and valuable creatures.