This is a common question, and yes, bees and wasps are related. It might even be said that a bee is a hairy wasp!
Both bees and wasps belong to the insect order Hymenoptera, and also to the suborder, Apocrita. The suborder Apocrita includes wasp-waisted insects that also have grub-like larvae that develop within a host species, gall or nest.
In fact, the consensus is that bees evolved from wasps.
(including hornets and yellow jackets) and bees are close relatives, sharing in
common a grandmother 100 million “greats” ago.” – Wilson & Messinger Carril,
authors of Bees In Your Backyard.
author of Field Guide to Bees of Great Britain and Ireland also states:
little doubt that within the Apoidea, the hunting wasps came first and provided
an ancestor that gave rise to bees” .
notes that bees (and also ants) are actually specialized wasps, and interestingly,
certain hunting wasps are more closely related to bees than they are to other types
of wasps. These are wasps of the Crabonidae
(e.g. digger wasps) and Sphecidae (sand wasps).
that many people have of a bee is actually stereotypical of just one type: the bumble
bee (Bombus). However, there are many
different types of bees and appearance is diverse – for example, some bees are
bright green and quite different from Bombus.
Given the diversity in appearance, and that bees and wasps are related, it’s no surprise then, that misidentification between the two can occur, especially when the image that so many people have of a bee is limited to one type.
non-scientists, confusion can easily arise with fairly common species.
Below is a species of nomad bee (Nomada) - the Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodeniana.
Nomad bees are very wasp-like in appearance. They are cleptoparasitic bees that target other bee species (the host) - i.e. cleptoparasites are organisms that take over the nest or nest cell of the target host species.
In doing so, the
cleptoparasite's offspring feed off the food supplies intended for that of the
host. Nomad bees typically lurk outside bee nests (often Andrena
– mining species), enter and lay an egg inside a nest cell. The emerging nomad bee grub kills the host’s
offspring and snaffles the food intended for it.
contrast, this hunting wasp (below) of the Crabonidae family, Argogorytes
mystaceus (commonly known as the Field Digger Wasp) is not a cleptoparasite, but may be host
species to other parasitic wasps species, such as the
cleptoparasitic nyssonine wasp, Nysson spinosus.
You'll note that whereas this wasp is black with yellow stripes, the bee above is yellow with black stripes. They are about the same size as each other, and for those unfamiliar with these species of bee and wasp, the nomad bee could be mistaken for a wasp.
Like Andrena (mining) bee species, the Field Digger Wasp burrows a tunnel into soil and creates nest cells in
which it lays an egg, then provisions the cell with food for emerging grubs.
A key difference however, is that whereas most bees provide food for their young in the form of nectar and pollen, wasps – including the Field Digger Wasp, provide food for their grubs in the form of other small invertebrates, such as bug nymphs. Although there are exceptions on both sides. Some bees eat meat, and recently, it has even been argued that bees are not vegetarian at all, but are omnivores). Additionally, there are wasps that feed pollen to their offspring.
Field Digger Wasp:
Gooden's Nomad Bee:
Interestingly, the Field Digger Wasp is more closely related to bees than to social wasps (Vespidae).
Another type of bee that can be mistaken for a wasp include wool carders that have more yellow on their bodies.
The similarity between wasps and bees can even sometimes result in misidentification for experienced scientists. A bee called Neolarra was originally thought to be a wasp when it was first discovered by scientists.
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