Do you have a child who is deathly afraid of bees? Do you yourself get a bit nervous when you hear that buzz next to your ear? Understanding the behavioral differences between wasps and bees can go a long way towards alleviating fears and allow for a relaxing time in the garden. Both bees and wasps are highly beneficial to your garden, and planting flowers that will attract them has been shown to greatly improve crop yields.
Bee and wasp “irritability” often has a lot to do with how social a species is. For example, the European honeybee has a hive and Queen to protect, so they are much more likely to sting than a bumblebee, which is less social and generally very docile. However, even honeybees will usually mind their own business unless you are close to a hive or actively bothering them.
Social wasps can be aggressive but there are also many non-aggressive wasps that provide benefits to your garden such as eating/parasitizing “bad bugs” including cabbage loopers and aphids. While identification is beyond the scope of this newsletter, we recommend checking out a book, talking to a knowledgeable gardener, taking a cooperative extension course, or at least doing a Google search to get a feel for feisty versus friendly species.
Beyond identifying aggressive species, to avoid being stung by a bee or wasp when in an area with many pollinator-attracting flowers, don’t grasp blossoms directly in your hand. Often, bees will rest/hide between the petals or hang on the underside of the blossom, making them difficult to see from above. Try to grasp the stem of the flower instead, and look before you touch so you can avoid bothering any by mistake. Avoid flailing or swatting at stinging insects as this can aggravate them. Finally, as funny as it may sound, try not to look or smell like a flower (from a bees perspective). Wear neutral colors and don’t apply fragrant scents before entering your garden.