In this article, we will explore the differences between bumblebees and honeybees. People who are interested in apiology, or the study of honeybees, will be fascinated to know how to differentiate these often-confused creatures. With this information in your back pocket, you will be better prepared to identify, approach, and domesticate bees of your own. You will also grow a larger appreciation for the stinging insects we see all around us.
When it comes to taxonomy, or the science of classification, both bumblebees and honeybees belong to the Apidae family. However, bumblebees belong to the Bombus genus, while honeybees belong to the Apis.
At first glance, it may be difficult to tell the two creatures apart. With enough training and awareness, though, anyone can pick up on the subtle differences between a bumblebee and a honeybee. First, bumblebees are fuzzy and round. Honeybees, meanwhile, are thinner and smaller, and they are often mistaken for wasps.
There is a clear distinction between a honeybee’s head and abdomen. For bumblebees, the distinction is not so similar. They might seem to be all in one piece. Honeybees also have a set of larger wings in the front and a smaller set in the back.
The habitat is where we see the strongest dissimilarities between bumblebees and honeybees. Honeybees are hyper-social. They live with tens of thousands of other bees in hive colonies. In those hives, as their name would suggest, they produce honey. The hives are domesticated in boxes by beekeepers or found in high places.
They prefer spaces above ground, like hollowed trees, caves, or roofs. This height advantage makes it more difficult for prowlers to steal their honey. For instance, the honeybees of Nepal create nests on cliffs, forcing would-be honey hunters to climb more than 1,000 feet if they wish to acquire the honey.
Bumblebees are social animals as well, though not at all to the same extent. Honeybees build hives with thousands of others. Meanwhile, bumblebees create nests with only a few hundred other bees. They cannot be domesticated, and so their nests are found in holes in the ground. The bumblebee queen hibernates underground.
Between the two, bumblebees are the superior pollinators. There are practical reasons for this. Simply put, there are more species of bumblebees. With that comes a greater variety of tongue lengths, and therefore, more flowers from which to feed. Because of their large bodies and intense work ethics, they can carry large loads.
Bumblebees have a talent for learning how to extract pollen from a variety of flowers. They can even specialize in extraction from certain species. With this flexibility comes a greater adeptness for cross-pollination. They are also more weather-resistant. They can survive through the cold, limited light, and rain.
When it comes to pollination tactics, an advantage honeybees have over bumblebees is their communication. Honeybees can perform a communicative dance to tell other workers where they can find pollen. Although this allows honeybees to quickly pounce on areas with lots of pollen, it may also work to their detriment. Honeybees mine specific places for pollen, but bumblebees have to explore areas carefully until they find several sources for their pollen. Through that process, honeybees potentially find more pollen than they otherwise would.
Honeybees and bumblebees both make honey, but the amount they produce differs between the two. Bumblebees only make honey in small amounts because they know that only a few members will survive the winter. When it gets colder, bumblebees go out and fend for themselves.
Honeybees need to store a lot of honey so that the worker bees in the hive can survive through the winter months. Being social, interdependent animals, they need the collective work of the entire hive to keep everything together.
Both honeybees and bumblebees can sting, of course. However, one of the differences between bumblebees and honeybees is how many times they can sting in a lifetime. Bumblebees can sting multiple times in their lives. Honeybees, on the other hand, can only sting once before dying.
You can host both species in your backyard if you take some common sense precautions. Do not let the fear of stinging stop you from attracting bees by planting wildflowers.
Other Stinging Insects
Aside from bumblebees and honeybees, there are a number of other stinging insects that are easily confused with each other. Here is a list of a few of these insects:
Although they look like bumblebees and honeybees, wasps stand out from that crowd based on their long bodies and aggressive nature. Honeybees and bumblebees rarely sting, but wasps are often ready for a fight. While some species build their nests at ground level, most make their homes in barns, buildings, or the eaves of homes.
Hornets are a member of the wasp family. They are the biggest kind of common wasp. In fact, they are so big that some varieties can grow to be two inches in length. They are known to be aggressive when they guard their nests.
Yellowjackets are also part of the wasp family. Yellowjackets are often mistaken for bees due to their striped yellow and black markings. A major differentiator, however, is that yellowjackets are smooth, and not fuzzy like bees. Their stripes also tend to be shinier and brighter.
Yellowjackets typically live in the ground, preferring old rodent burrows. Colonies can have thousands of yellowjackets, which makes them a severe danger for people or pets who disrupt their security.
We have explored the primary differences between bumblebees and honeybees. You now hopefully have a better idea of how to spot these two creatures in the wild, and how to respond to them appropriately. Honeybees and bumblebees are not inherently aggressive or dangerous, but both should be treated with caution and respect, or their behavior may be erratic and unpredictable.
Regardless, one thing that will always stay the same is the sweet taste of raw honeycomb honey. You do not need to be an expert in insects to know that honey is an excellent sweetener. Order honey from Crystal’s Honey Inc today.