Identifying Bees and Wasps

Reviewed by Heather Holm, 12/2021

Bees and wasps can either be social or solitary. Social bees and wasps have a division of labor (queen, worker, drone) and oftentimes resulting in a large colony in the nest. It’s important to note that most bees, social or solitary, are not aggressive. Bumble bees, for example, are social, yet docile. However, we can safely say that the majority of social wasp species we encounter can be aggressive (i.e., yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets). Continue reading to learn how to identify bees and wasps.

1. Family Colletidae (common name: cellophane or polyester bee)

Colletes spp. Black and white banding on abdomen Size: Small - medium, 7- 15 mm (0.3 - 0.6 in) Head: Hairy head and thorax, heart shaped face (strongly converging eyes) Tongue: Short, 1 - 3 mm (0.4 - 0.12 in), two lobed Flight distance: 150 m (500 ft) Nest: Ground, often near water, dense aggregations in sandy, loamy soil, loam, clay loam with nest lining of Dufour's gland secretion of cellophane, brushed on with glossa Pollen collection: Scopae, upper hind legs and thorax

Colletes
Colletes spp. (Steve Scott, BugGuide)
Colletes
Colletes spp. carrying pollen (Aaron Schusteff, BugGuide)
Colletes
Colletes spp. ground nest (Aaron Schusteff, BugGuide)

2. Family Colletidae (common name: yellow-faced bee)

Hylaeus spp. Black with yellow markings Size: Small, 5 - 7 mm (0.2 – 0.3 in) Tongue: Short, 1 - 2 mm (0.04 - 0.07 in) hairless, bi-lobed Nest: Preexisting cavities: stems or twigs with cellophane-like material, brushed on with glossa Pollen collection: Crop, no pollen-collecting scopae

Hylaeus
Hylaeus spp. (Kurt Hennige, BugGuide)
Hylaeus
Hylaeus spp. twig nest (George Cordiner, BugGuide)
Hylaeus
Hylaeus spp. collecting pollen (Heather Holm)
andrena
Andrena spp. carrying pollen (iNaturalist)
andrena
Andrena spp. ground nest (Libby & Rick Avis)
tawny mining bee
Milwaukee mining bee (Laurie schneider)
Calliopsis
Calliopsis spp. (Paul Scharf, BugGuide)
Calliopsis
Calliopsis spp. carrying pollen (Hartmut Wisch, BugGuide)
Call
Calliopsis spp., note green eye (Odophile/iNaturalist)
halicirus.jpg
Halictus spp. (Sarah Christopherson, BugGuide)
halictus_pollen_h_ligatus.jpg
Halictus spp. carrying pollen (Molly Jacobson, BugGuide)
halictus_nest_h_rubicundus.jpg
Halictus spp. ground nest, J. Gibbs, BugGuide
Lasioglossum
Lasioglossum spp. (Gary McDonald, BugGuide)
Lasioglossum
Lasioglossum spp. (Melissa Schreiner, Colorado State University, Bugwood)
Lasioglossum
Lasioglossum spp. coming out of a nest in a log (Heather Holm)
agapostemon
Agapostemon spp. (Peter Bryant, BugGuide)
agapostemon
Agapostemon spp. carrying pollen (Betsy Betros, BugGuide)
agapostemon
Agapostemon ground nest (Diane Wilson, BugGuide)
Sphecodes
Sphecodes spp. male (Heather Holm)
Sphecodes
Sphecodes spp. female (Heather Holm)
Sphecodes
Sphecodes spp. female investigating Halictus rubicundus nests (Heather Holm)
bee
Augochlora spp. female (Heather Holm)
bee
Augochlora spp. nest in log (Heather Holm)
bee
Augochlora spp. female covered in pollen (Heather Holm)
Augochlorella
Augochlorella spp. female feeding on nectar (Heather Holm)
Augochlorella female with scopae covered in pollen, photo: Heather Holm
Augochlorella spp. female with scopae covered in pollen (Heather Holm)
Augochlorella
Augochlorella spp. female (Heather Holm)
Osmia
Osmia spp. (Joseph Berger, Bugwood)
Osmia
Osmia spp. entering a bee house (Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood)
Osmia
Osmia spp. carrying pollen (Diane Wilson, BugGuide)
bee
Megachile spp. female (Heather Holm)
bee
Megachile spp. in stem nest (Heather Holm)
bee
Megachile spp. leaf nest closure (Heather Holm)
Heriades
Heriades spp. male (Heather Holm)
Heriades
Heriades spp. female (Heather Holm)
Heriades
Heriades spp. nest in drilled wood (Paul Heiple, BugGuide)

14. Family Megachilidae (common name: mason bee)

Hoplitis spp. Black or metallic (western species), slender, robust, hairy face Size: Small to medium 5 - 15 mm (0. - 0.6 in) Nest: Preexisting cavities (pithy stems, wood, old nests in soil or mud nests with nest) Pollen collection: Abdominal scopae

Hoplitis
Hoplitis spp. (Dave Beaudette, BugGuide)
Hoplitis
Hoplitis spp. female (Heather Holm)
Hoplitis
Hoplitis spp. male (Chelsey Ritner, Bugwood)
coelioxys
Coelioxys spp. female (Heather Holm)
coelioxys
Coelioxys spp. female (Heather Holm)
coelioxys
Male and female Coelioxys spp. (Heather Holm)
Anthidium
Anthidium spp. (T. Stone, BugGuide)
Anthidium
Anthidium spp. carrying pollen (Rich Schilk, BugGuide)
Anthidium
Anthidium spp. nest (Don Patterson, BugGuide)
bee
Bombus spp. worker (Heather Holm)
bee
Bombus spp. queen (Heather Holm)
bee
Bombus spp. nest in a log (Heather Holm)
Anthophora
Anthophora spp. (Diane Wilson, BugGuide)
Anthophora
Anthophora spp. (David Cappaert, Bugwood)
Anthophora
Anthophora spp. nest (Loren Padelford, BugGuide)
bee
Nomada spp. male (Heather Holm)
bee
Nomada spp. female emerging from an Andrena nest (Heather Holm)
bee
Nomada spp. female near Andrena nest (Heather Holm)

20. Family Apidae (common name: cuckoo bee)

Triepeolus spp. Black with yellow or white markings, very short hair, appearing hairless Size: Medium, 3 - 15 mm (0.1 - 0.2 in) Tongue: Medium, 4 - 5 mm (0.1 – 0.2 in) Nest: Cleptoparasite of digger bees and Andrenids (lays eggs in other bees' nests) Pollen Collection: None

Triepeolus
Triepeolus spp. male (Alan Smith-Pardo, Bugwood)
Triepeolus
Triepeolus spp. female (Alan Smith-Pardo, Bugwood)
Triepeolus
Triepeolus spp. (Heather Holm)

21. Family Apidae (common name: small carpenter bee)

Ceratina spp. Blue, black, green, metallic with cylindrical abdomen, sparsely haired, shiny, often white (or yellow) patch on face Size: Small - medium, 3 - 15 mm (0.1 - 0.6 in) Tongue: Medium, 5 - 9 mm (0.2 - 0.35 in) Nest: Pithy stems, wood in vertical or angled nest orientation with nest divisions of pith and saliva Flight Distance 180 m (200 yd) Pollen Collection: Scopae hind legs

ceratina
Ceratina spp. (H. Go, BugGuide)
ceratina
Ceratina spp. nest in wood (Pam Phillips. BugGuide)
ceratina
Ceratina spp. feeding on nectar (L. Schneider)

22. Family Apidae (common name: long-horned bee)

Melissodes spp. Robust and hairy, often bands on abdomen in the middle of the abdominal segments Size: Small - medium, 7 - 18 mm (0.3 - 0.7 in) Males: long antennae Tongue: Medium - long Nest: Ground nest with lining of wax-like substance Pollen Collection: long scopae on hind legs

bee
Melissodes spp. males (Heather Holm)
bee
Melissodes spp. female (Heather Holm)
bee
Melissodes spp. female with pollen (Heather Holm)

23. Family Apidae (common name: large carpenter bee)

Xylocopa spp. Black with yellow hairs, bumble bee-like with robust, hairy thorax, shiny black abdomen Size: Large 13 - 30 mm (0.5 - 1.25 in) Tongue: Medium - long Nest: Excavated with mandibles in wood and plant stems and nest lining of sawdust (plant stems) Flight Distance: 1.6 km (1 mi) Pollen Collection: Scopae on hind legs

Xylocopa
Xylocopa spp. (JoAnn Poe-McGavin, BugGuide)
Xylocopa
Xylocopa spp. nest in wood (T. Gilliam, BugGuide)
Xylocopa
Xylocopa spp. male (Heather Holm)

24. Family Apidae (common name: honey bee)

Apis mellifera Black with golden hairs and moderately hairy, long abdomen with black or gold stripes, hairy eyes Size: Medium, 10 - 15 mm (0.4 - 0.6 in) Tongue (worker): 5 - 8 mm (0.2 - 0.3 in) Nest: Social, colony mostly in man-made managed wood equipment; some feral hives in tree cavities Nest materials: Wax hexagonal cells Flight Distance 3.2 km (2 mi) Pollen Collection: Pollen baskets hind legs (corbiculae)

Apis
Apis mellifera (David Cappaert, Bugwood)
bee
Apis mellifera with pollen (Dennis Riggs, Bugwood)
bee
Honey bee swarm (David Cappeart, Bugwood)

Wasp Identification by Family

1. Family Scoliidae

Dielis trifasciata Black with three yellow bands Size: Medium, 10 - 15 mm (0.4 - 0.6 in) Nest: Solitary, burrows in ground

Dielis
Dielis trifasciata (Heather Holm)
Dielis
Dielis trifasciata (Z. Gill, Bugguide)
Dielis
Dielis trifasciata (Felipe V., Bugguide)

2. Family Sphecidae

Thread waisted wasps All species have a very narrow stalk-like anterior portion of their abdomen Size: Large, 15 - 35 mm (0.59 - 1.3 in) Nest: Solitary, burrows in ground or cavities of branches

Isodontia
Mexican grass-carrying wasp, Isodontia mexicana (Heather Holm). Adults build their nests in hollowed out branches, and provision their nest with small katydids and tree crickets.
Sphex pensylvanicus
Great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus (Heather Holm). Large wasp. Adults provision their nests with parasitized grasshoppers and katydids.
Sphex ichneumoneus
Great golden sand digger, Sphex ichneumoneus (Heather Holm). Smaller than S. pensylvanicus, but similar as she provisions her nest with grasshoppers and katydids. 

3. Family Crabronidae

Square-headed wasps and sand wasps are solitary hunting wasps Nest: Solitary, made in ground or soil is used to create nests on buildings; provisioned with various insect prey Size: Large, 25 - 50 mm (1 - 2 in)

cicada killer
Cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus, with a captured cicada that she is bringing back to her nest (Ronald F. Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service, Bugwood)
Mud dauber
Black and yellow mud dauber, Sceliphron caementarium, build nests out of mud for their offspring. They mostly prey on small spiders around homes (Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State Univ., Bugwood)
organ pipe mud dauber
Organ pipe mud dauber, Trypoxylon politum, creates a long, skinny tube-like nest that resembles organ pipes (Miles Buddy, BugGuide).

4. Family Mutillidae

Velvet ants are ectoparasitoids (egg laid on outside of prey, larvae feeds on host) Females: Flightless, very hairy, and may look like large ants but have no node (bump) on "waist" between abdomen and thorax Males: Have wings and are less hairy Nest: None as larvae live on the outside of the host Size: Small, 6 - 30 mm (0.2 - 1 in)

velvet ant
Velvet ant, Dasymutilla sp., female (Eugene E. Nelson, Bugwood)
Male velvet ant
Velvet ant, Dasymutilla sp., male (Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State Univ., Bugwood)
velvet ant
Velvet ant, Dasymutilla sp., female (BugLady, UW Milwaukee)

5. Vespidae

Yellowjackets, hornets, paper wasps, and potter wasps make up a very large family that has both social and solitary wasps Yellowjacket/hornet/paper wasp nest: Paper, nests can be in the ground or rotting wood, also attached to structures, can be very large (yellowjackets),  multigenerational; Paper wasp nest: Paper, small, suspended from a surface by a petiole Potter wasp nest: Female makes a pot of clay as a nest and attaches it to vines and twigs as well exterior surfaces of building including Food: Larvae are fed premasticated insect prey Size: Medium/large, 12 - 32 mm (0.5 - 1.25 in) 

Yellowjacket
Yellowjacket, Vespula sp. (Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org)
Yellowjacket nest
Yellowjacket, Vespula sp., in-ground nest (Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood)
Yellowjacket on a soda can
Yellowjackets are attracted to sugary foods, like this soda can, especially in the fall (Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood)
Baldfaced hornet
Baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata (Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood)
Baldfaced hornet
A large baldfaced hornet nest, Dolichovespula maculata (David Stephens, Bugwood)
Giant hornet
Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, on right, next to a baldfaced hornet for size comparison, has only been found in the Pacific Northwest (Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Bugwood)
Polistes adult
Paper wasp, Polistes sp. (Russ Ottens, University of Georgia, Bugwood)
Polistes
A nest of European paper wasp, Polistes dominula (Joseph Berger, Bugwood)
Potter wasp
Potter wasp, Eumenes fraternus, bringing a caterpillar to its nest (Jon Yuschock, Bugwood)

6. Family Braconidae

Braconidae wasps are solitary parasitoids and make up the second largest family within Hymenoptera Nest: None; females lay eggs on top or inside of host insect (usually caterpillars, some aphids Size: Small, 5 -15 mm (0.2 - 0.5 in)

Cotesia
Multiple cocoons of Cotesia glomerata on tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata (Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood)
Braconid wasp
Aphidius ervi ovipositing eggs in an aphid (Melissa Schreiner, Colorado State University, Bugwood)
Braconid wasp
Newly emerged Braconid wasp (David Cappaert, Bugwood)

7. Family Tiphiidae

Tiphiid wasps are large, solitary, parasitoids of various beetle larvae, including Japanese beetle Nest: None; female lays a single egg on top of beetle larva Size: Medium/large, 11 - 18 mm (0.43 - 0.7 in) 

Tiphia vernalis
Tiphia vernalis wasp, an important parasitoid of Japanese beetle (Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood)
Tiphid larva
Tiphia vernalis larva on Japanese beetle grub (David Shetlar, Ohio State University)
Tiphid wasp
Myzinum maculata, a parasitoid of white grubs (Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood)

8. Family Ichneumonidae

The Ichneumonid family is the largest family of wasps, many of which are parasitoids of econimically important pests Nest: None, female lays egg inside of larval host Size: Medium/Large, 10 - 40 mm (0.4 - 2 in), ovipositor as long or longer than body 

Megarhyssa
Megarhyssa macrurus, long-tailed giant ichneumonid wasp, is a parasitoid of wood-boring beetle larvae. The female's ovipositor is over 1 1/2 times as big as her body (Jim Occi, Bugwood)
Itoplectes
Itoplectis conquisitor is a parasitoid of numerous Lepidopteran larvae, including European corn borer, a pest of sweet corn (Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood)
Eriborus terebrans
Larvae of Eriborus terebrans, another parasitoid of European corn borer (Jim Kalisch and Tom Clark, University of Nebraska - Lincoln)

9. Family Pompilidae

Spider wasps are slender with long spiny legs Nest: Solitary, made in soil, rotten wood, or among rocks, nest is provisioned with a single spider Size: Large, 12 mm (0.5 in)

spider wasp
Spider wasp (Anoplius spp.) with spider prey (David Cappaert, Bugwood).
spider wasp
Spider wasp (Sericopompilus neotropicalis) on trumpet creeper (Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood).
spider wasp
Spider wasp (Psorthaspis sanguinea) visiting a flower (Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood).