Is This a Bee or Wasp?

One of the best ways to determine if you’re looking at a bee or a wasp is if it’s hairy. All bees, not just bumblebees, are pretty fuzzy, especially on their legs where they collect pollen. Wasp bodies are usually shiny and notably segmented.

The insect pictured here was on yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’) in my front yard. In fact, there were half a dozen of them eating together, spending ample time roaming the flat flower heads (video). I thought they were wasps.

Luckily, I borrowed The Bees in Your Backyard from the Miller Library just the other day. It is one of the best bee books I’ve ever seen. Some bee identification books are so dense they cease being practical. This one is readable without forgoing helpful scientific details, has hundreds of excellent images, and is useful for a normal person in their garden.

Okay, great. So bee or wasp? It’s a bee. But where are the hairs? The pollen baskets? It doesn’t have them because it’s pollen thief. Often called a cuckoo bee, like a cuckoo bird, or cleptoparasite, which is a cooler name.

As far as I can tell, this is from the tribe Nomada. Pollen thieves lay their eggs in other bees’ nests. Their young hatch before the other bee does, then eats it up, and continues to feed on the pollen stores. Some call this behavior lazy, it’s definitely rude. I respect the game.