Do You Know Your Bees & Bee Look-A-Likes?

There are over 4,000 species of bees native to North America. There are many different types of bees and many insects that look like bees, but do you know the difference?

Not everything in the garden is a bee. Can you tell the difference?
Not everything in the garden is a bee. Can you tell the difference?


Bumble Bee
Bombus spp.

Bumblebees are one of the most commonly known bees. There are 50 species native to North America and are best known for pollinating tomato plants. They are large, furry, and mostly black with yellow, white, and sometimes even bright orange stripes. Bumblebees are ground nesters and often make their nests in abandoned mouse nests. They do form colonies with one queen and workers, but they do not get as big as honeybee colonies.


Honey Bee
Apis mellifer

Honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought over by the European settlers so that the bees could form colonies to produce honey and pollinate European crops that the bees were familiar with. It took over 200 years for honey bees to make it to the west coast and the Native Americans called them the “White Man’s fly.”

Honeybees are hairy, but not as hairy as bumblebees. They have brown-black heads with a golden brown body to black body. They have yellow bands on their abdomen and clear wings. Honey bees do not nest in the ground but in cavities in trees and buildings.

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter Bee
Xylocopa spp.

Carpenter bees are large and mostly black with the upper abdomen being almost hairless. After mating, female carpenter bees will tunnel into wood to make their nests. Bare, unpainted, or weathered softwoods are preferred for nestings, such as redwood, cedar, cypress, and pine. Females have stingers, males do not. Males will defend mating territories and chase off other males, but due to a lack of stinger, they pose no harm to humans. If a female carpenter bee cannot get into a flower to get its nectar, it will actually cut a slit in the flower to get to the nectar. They are fast flyers and often fly around erratically like hummingbirds.


Mason Bees

Red Mason Bee
Osmia spp.

Mason bees nest in pre-existing holes made by beetles and other insects. These bees are the ones that most commonly occupy bee hotels. They often collect mud to line their nests.

They are black and covered with pale hairs. There are some that are metallic green-blue with some hair. They are very gentle bees and very effective pollinators.

Cuckoo Bees

Cuckoo Bee
Triepeolus spp.

Cuckoo bees are parasitic bees that wait for bees in the Andrenidae family to leave their nest so that they can lay their own eggs in the other bee’s nest. Sometimes they will kill the other larvae in the nest but the fast-growing offspring of the cuckoo bee will often eat the other bees living in the nest. They look like wasps and are almost completely hairless. They only visit flowers for nectar when they need energy as they do not care for their own larvae.

Bee Look-A-Likes

Yellow Jacket

Yellow Jacket
Dolichovespula spp.

Yellow jackets are black and yellow and small in size. They have elongated wings that are the length of their body. They are thin and are not very hairy.

Yellow jackets live in colonies of thousands of workers that live in a paper-like nest. They are both ground and aerial nesters. They can sting multiple times, unlike bees. They are pollinators but will also consume meat and sugary substances.

Flower Flies

Syrphidae spp.

Flower flies, or hoverflies, look like bees but are, in fact, flies. They do spend time around flowers and because they look like bees, it helps protect them from predators.

They have large eyes, short antennae, small legs, and they do not sting.


There are many different types of bees and bee look-a-likes. It’s important to know to difference and how we can coexist with them. How many of these insects have you seen before?

Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees
Honey Bees Across America
Carpenter Bees
Yellow Jackets