You’ve probably noticed a variety of insects flying around a patch of flowers in the summertime. You may have also noticed that some of these insects look remarkably similar to each other. How can you tell them apart? Today, we’re going to look specifically at insects that look like bumble bees and how to distinguish them.
What You'll Learn Today
Insects That Look Like Bumble Bees
1. Honey Bees
Most people are familiar with the striped, fuzzy, honey-colored appearance of the honey bee. These extremely common bees comprise eight distinct species, over 40 subspecies, and can be found throughout the world.
Because honey bees and bumble bees belong to the same family of insects, they have some similar physical characteristics.
Both honey bees and bumble bees have fuzzy bodies, and depending on the species, may share similar colors. Their bodies are also similar in shape, their flight patterns appear similar, and they can both be seen buzzing around many different kinds of flowers.
That said, honey bees are generally smaller than bumble bees. They are also much more common and widespread, and they create much larger colonies.
Most bumble bees are darker in color, and they often have much larger pollen baskets on their legs than honey bees do. Bumble bees can also sting multiple times, whereas honey bees will die after using their stinger just once.
2. Carpenter Bees
There are many subspecies of carpenter bees, and all of them are named for their tendency to burrow into wood. Despite the variety of species, most carpenter bees look very similar to each other.
Carpenter bees look remarkably like bumble bees due to their large size, their black bodies, and their dark-colored wings. Some of them may also have white or yellow markings on their bodies that are very similar to some species of bumble bee.
That said, the best way to tell them apart is that bumble bees are typically quite hairy, while carpenter bees have smooth, mostly hairless bodies.
What’s more, bumble bees usually nest in burrows in the ground, while carpenter bees, as mentioned, burrow into wood such as trees, fences, and siding.
Check out this video to learn more about how to distinguish carpenter bees from bumble bees:
3. Squash Bees
Squash bees consist of about 20 distinct species, most of which look very similar to bumble bees. These bees are named for their preference for pollinating plants in the squash family.
Squash bees are about the same size as bumble bees, and like bumble bees, their bodies are typically quite round in appearance. Some of them are mostly black, while others also have some yellow markings.
Some squash bees are fuzzy, while others have smooth, mostly hairless abdomens.
One thing that sets squash bees apart from bumble bees is their tendency to be active at dawn and dusk. In fact, some species even seem to prefer flying and gathering nectar throughout the night, while bumble bees and most other bee species are sleeping.
4. Miner Bees
There are many species of miner bee, or chimney bee, found throughout the world, and not all of them look the same. That said, some species, such as they eastern chimney bee, appear almost identical to bumble bees.
Both miner bees and bumble bees have black, fuzzy bodies. Many bumble bees also have a yellow thorax, and this characteristic is shared by the eastern chimney bee.
Both miner bees and bumble bees tend to burrow and create nests in the soil, but miner bees are much more solitary than bumble bees. Miner bees typically create tunnels, or “chimneys”, in the soil for laying their eggs, while bumble bees will create clusters of hive-like structures in which to deposit their eggs.
5. Pantaloon Bees
The pantaloon bee is found primarily in Europe and Asia, and it can easily be mistaken for a bumble bee thanks to its distinctive hairy legs.
That said, pantaloon bees have many characteristics that set them apart from bumble bees.
For one thing, they are somewhat smaller than most bumble bees. They are also more colorful: pantaloon bees have fuzzy, amber-brown heads and white or grayish bands around their black abdomens.
6. Clearwing Moths
Clearwing moths are found throughout much of North and South America as well as parts of Europe. There are about 23 species of this moth, each with slightly varying appearances.
These moths are unique because, unlike other moths, they are usually most active during the day. While nectaring, they will hover over the flower like hummingbirds or bees, which is why they are often mistaken for a bumble bee.
If you were to see a clearwing moth at rest, you might also be struck by the similarity of appearance between the moth and a bumble bee. The moth has a large, rounded, furry body that is often black and yellow in color.
The most noticeable difference between clearwing moths and bumble bees is the wings. Clearwing moths have large, triangular-shaped wings that extend outward from their bodies when they are at rest.
The wings of bumble bees are smaller and darker, and the bees typically fold the wings over their bodies while at rest.
7. Bee Flies
There are over 4,500 species of bee fly throughout the world, and they vary greatly in size and appearance. Some are quite small, but the largest ones can sometimes be confused with bumble bees due to their hairy appearance.
These larger bee flies are typically black, brown, or amber in color, and their large, hairy, rounded abdomens can look quite similar to those of bumble bees. They feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, collecting pollen as they go, so their behavior is also similar to the behavior of bumble bees.
Bee flies can be distinguished by a couple of features.
First, even the largest ones are generally smaller than bumble bees. What’s more, their wings are triangular and held out to the side when they are at rest, and most bee flies have clear wings as opposed to the dark translucent wings of bumble bees.
8. Hover Flies
There are around 6,000 species of hover fly, and they vary quite a bit in appearance. That said, some of them look remarkably similar to bumble bees.
Hover flies are known for their tendency to hover over flowers while nectaring, much as bumble bees do. Some of them have smooth bodies, while others are hairy and colored very similarly to bumble bees.
Most hoverflies are a bit smaller than bumble bees, however. And even those that look very similar have only one set of wings, compared with the two sets that bumble bees have.
Yellowjackets can sometimes be confused for bumble bees thanks to their flight pattern, size, and coloring. However, if you are able to get a decent look at them, you will see that they have many differences from bumble bees.
To begin with, their body shape is much different. Bumble bees are round and stout-looking, while yellowjackets have a longer, more streamlined appearance.
Furthermore, yellowjackets are smooth and hairless, while bumble bees are covered in hair.
The yellow and black coloring of yellowjackets can make them look similar to bumble bees, and both insects share their stinging capabilities. But that is where the similarity ends.
10. Bald-Faced Hornets
Bald-faced hornets look a bit more like bumble bees than yellowjackets do; their bodies are mostly black, and the lighter markings are a pale yellow to white in color.
Bald-faced hornets are also a bit more stocky-looking than yellowjackets, bringing their appearance a bit closer to that of the bumble bee.
Again though, bald-faced hornets have smooth, hairless bodies, and their long abdomens are still noticeably more streamlined than bumble bees can boast.
As you can see, there are many bees as well as other insects that look similar to bumble bees. Some of these insects include carpenter bees, clearwing moths, hover flies, and yellowjackets.