One of the highlights of a walk among the flowers in Eliza Howell Park these summer days (like the public nature walk scheduled for August 25 at 11:00 a.m.) is the presence of insects, often seen flying around the plants and, at times, sipping nectar from the flowers.
Some are butterflies, but many of the insects attracted to the wildflowers are bees and wasps. These are similar enough that they can easily be confused. There are, however, important behavioral differences.
Perhaps most important, bees eat pollen and wasps eat other insects. Both visit flowers to drink nectar. Bees collect pollen for their young; wasps take insects to their young. These behavioral differences relate to some differences in appearance.
Bees are usually furry or hairy (pollen sticks to hair and that aids in collecting) and thick-bodied. They have stout legs. Wasps, on the other hand, tend to be hairless, thin-bodied (the thin waist can often be noted clearly), with longer and thinner legs.
Up-close pictures, like this one of a bee in a Chicory flower, can often reveal how much a bee gets covered with pollen.
Wasps are cleaner.
The “bees” that come uninvited to picnics in late summer are usually Yellow Jackets, a type of wasp, not a bee. It is also the wasp Yellow Jacket that builds nests in the ground, sometimes near human homes. The Bald-faced Hornets that build the nests in trees are also wasps, not bees. (See my December 19, 2017, post for more on these nests in the park.)
The next picture is of a bee (note the hairy body and short legs), while the one after that is of a wasp (lack of hair and longer legs).
Since there are in North America literally thousands of different species of bees (including dozens of different Bumblebee species) and thousands of different species of wasps, I do not normally attempt to identify the particular species that I see. I do find it helpful, though, to be able to recognize something as a bee or as a wasp. This is a first step in understanding its behavior and its role in the bigger picture of the natural processes occurring in the park.
Note: All of the pictures are from Eliza Howell Park