Tell the difference between honey bees and bumble bees

A reader has pointed out that the bee I photographed in Golden Gate Park was probably a bumble bee, not a honey bee.  I posted the photo last week in a blog about Golden Gate Park honey.   That started me wondering how many varieties of bees there actually are in the park?!  In any case, here’s an article to clear up the bumble/honey confusion, thanks to another, much more insect-knowledgeable blogger and photographer (Alex Wild).  I hope I will recognize a bumble bee next time I see one in GG Park!

via How to tell the difference between honey bees and bumble bees – MYRMECOS – Insect Photography – Insect Pictures.

Honey bee on the left; bumble bee on the right.

“If one taxonomic error is repeated in the media more than any other, it is the inability to distinguish between honey bees, Apis mellifera, and bumble bees, about 250 species in the genus Bombus. Such errors are frustratingly common for insects that should be easy to recognize. Here, for example, is a recent story that mistakes a bumble bee for a honey bee http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/5754656/Keepers-keen-to-keep-close-tabs-on-bees, and here is one that does the opposite http://westranchbeacon.com/2011/08/the-flight-of-the-bumble-bee-why-are-they-disappearing/. Even the New York Times has stepped in this equivocation.

Both honey bees and bumble bees are among the most abundant flower-visiting insects in the northern hemisphere. How do we tell the difference? I’ve made a chart:

Bumble bees vary greatly in size, but they tend to be furry and relatively pudgy. These two bees are sisters from the same nest.

Honey bees are slender and more wasp-like in appearance, bearing a stronger, more obvious pattern of stripes.”

Honey bees

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About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in urban ecology, wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tell the difference between honey bees and bumble bees

  1. Thanks! Great post. I didn’t realize bumble bees could be small, too.

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