If you’ve ever seen a bee buzzing by, you may have naturally assumed it was a honey bee or a bumblebee. But have you ever stopped to think about what sets these two types of bees apart from each other? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between bumblebees and honeybees and share some tips for how to tell them apart.
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Is a Bumblebee the Same as a Honey Bee?
Honey bees and bumblebees are often confused because, well, they’re both bees; and on the surface, they may appear like the same kind of insect.
The truth is, these two bees are similar, but they are not interchangeable terms for the same creature. They are in the same scientific family, but they belong to different genera.
“Bumblebee” is a blanket term used to describe a group of various bee species; on the other hand, honey bees belong to a single species–in other words, they are one specific type of bee, while bumblebees are a group of closely related bees.
What’s more, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that bumblebees and honey bees look slightly different from each other. More than that, they have slightly different purposes and functions.
Check out this video to learn more about how they compare against each other.
Bumblebee Vs. Honey Bee: Similarities and Differences
Though they are both bees, they have many differences. They also have some similarities that cause people to confuse them.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these similarities and differences so you can learn to correctly identify the type of bee you just saw visiting your flowers.
- Both yellow and black: Both bees can have similar coloring; they are generally various shades of yellow and black. That said, the exact colors can vary by bumblebee species, while honey bees tend to be more honey-colored (dark yellow to amber).
- Pollination baskets: Both bees have what is called pollination buckets, or corbicula, on their legs. These pollination baskets are used to collect and disperse pollen from the various flowers they visit.
- Populations declining: Both kinds of bees have seen reductions in their overall numbers in recent years. This population decline is thought to be caused by habitat loss for bumblebees and by mites and diseases for honey bees.
- Scientific name: Both types of bees are in the family Apidae, but they belong to different species within that family. Bumblebees belong to several species in the Bombus genus, while honey bees are a single species within the Apis genus.
- Overall appearance: These bees have several physical differences; for example, most bumblebees are about twice as large as honey bees, and they are generally more black than yellow in color. Honey bees are more slender and smooth-looking, while bumblebees are fuzzy and more round in shape.
- Colony size: Bumblebees have relatively small colonies compared with honey bees. While bumblebee colonies may number up to 400 bees, honey bee colonies can contain as many as 60,000 bees.
- Stinging abilities: honey bees can only sting once, as their stinger is barbed and sticks in the skin of the one being stung; when the bee tries to pull away, the stinger is ripped free and the bee sustains lethal internal damage. On the other hand, bumblebees have smooth stingers and can sting repeatedly without ever sustaining harm or injury; that said, like the honey bee, the bumblebee only stings when threatened.
- Honey production: honey bees are known for producing lots and lots of honey; they produce much more than they need to feed their colonies, and the excess can be harvested by beekeepers or other animals in the wild. Bumblebees don’t produce honey; they take small amounts of nectar to create a substance similar to honey, but they only make enough to feed their colony.
- Pollination style: Bumblebees are actually better pollinators than honey bees. While honey bees collect and disperse small amounts of pollen through their pollen baskets, bumblebees can distribute much larger amounts; in addition to their pollen baskets, they use an action called “buzz pollination” in which they shake the flowers and coat their bodies in pollen which can then be more easily spread to other flowers.
How to Tell Bumblebees and Honey bees Apart?
So, now that you know some basic similarities and differences between these two types of bees, how can you apply this knowledge practically? What are some ways to tell them apart from each other?
Again, it all goes back to appearance. Though these two bees may look similar at first glance, a closer look will reveal a number of differences.
Bumblebees are generally larger and fuzzier than honey bees; they are covered in what may appear to be thick fur. Honey bees also have some hair on their bodies, but it is short and thin and easy to miss.
Honey bees appear to have smooth bodies, which is in stark contrast to the furry appearance of most bumblebees.
Bumblebees may have more black than yellow on their bodies; many species are predominantly black with light yellow markings around their head and thorax. Honey bees are generally honey-yellow to dark amber in color, and they have a distinctive striped pattern across their back.
All honey bees look mostly alike because they belong to the same species. On the other hand, different species of bumblebee may look different from each other; some have more yellow, some have brighter shades of yellow, some are almost brownish black.
Most bumblebees have darker wings than honey bees.
If you are close enough to notice, you may spot a difference in head shape; honey bees have heart-shaped heads, while the heads of bumblebees are more round and fuzzy, like the rest of their bodies.
Bumblebees also have longer tongues than honey bees, so they may be more likely to pollinate large, deep flowers that honey bees tend to avoid.
Though both bees belong to the same scientific family, they are quite different from each other. Though they have many differences, perhaps the most notable is that honey bees make honey, while bumblebees do not; on the other hand, bumblebees are better pollinators than honey bees, so both types of bees have essential roles to play in their respective ecosystems.