Don’t judge a bee by it’s buzz: How to tell the difference between bees and wasps in Alaska

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 5:23 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Honey bees often get a bad reputation due to a resemblance to their far more aggressive lookalike, the wasp. Killing a honey bee because of this misunderstanding is especially unfortunate due to the important ecological benefits honey bees provide. Lisa Hay, beekeeper and owner of Happy Creek Farm explained the danger a lack of honeybees would bring to our food supply.

“Honey Bees are pollinators along with butterflies, mosquitos, ants, and wasps. But honey bees make up the biggest group of pollinators. Without honey bees we would not have the food availability that we have now,” said Hay.

Honeybee workers and drones trending to their combed hive.
Honeybee workers and drones trending to their combed hive.(Ryan Osborne)

Honey bees are only capable of stinging once and doing so is fatal to them. As such they avoid it, only stinging invaders to their hives as a last resort. The same cannot be said for the wasp species that reside in Alaska’s Interior.

“We have the wasps all around Fairbanks, we have the bald faced hornets, which are highly aggressive, they’re black and while, and they are large, about half an inch to an inch. We have the yellowjackets and they’ll fly right at you. And those two make nests bald faced hornets make nests up in trees, and then we have wasps that make ground nests, and those guys are aggressive, they will chase you they can sting repetitively,” said Hay.

Honey bees are not native to Alaska and do not make nests in the wild the way wasps do, if you see a honey bee it’s likely not traveled far from its hive, otherwise known as an apiary.

“Bees will fly up to three miles away from their apiary to look for pollinated nectar sources, so you might see honey bees straggling around looking for pollen and nectar trying to take it back to the hive,” said Hay.

Risks to the survival of honey bees are predators including wasps, pesticides, and environmental loss. Death by humans is a risk we can all do our part to avoid.

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