Several times a week we respond to questions similar to this one from Woody Dionne, Physical Plant Director at Johnson State College. He writes:
"Over the past few years we have been experiencing more and more aggressive and invasive bees around the school. Is this something new or am I just getting more complaints? Yesterday I noticed that about four swarmed around me and I was walking in a parking lot....African bee's ?"
Good question and a good opportunity for VBA members to help educate the public about the differences between honey bees and other insects often mistaken for honey bees (Apis mellifera).
This time of year people seem to notice an uptick in the numbers of yellow jackets and wasps found around their homes and places of work. Many of the calls we receive are for assistance removing honey bees "nesting in the ground". That almost always is an indicator the visitors are yellow jackets (actually, members of the wasp family) since honey bees don't live in the ground. For the record, Woody's problem children turned out to be yellow jackets.
So what's the difference? Well, honey bees, by their nature, are gentle unless sorely provoked and generally have no interest in people or "people food" - they are vegetarians. Yellow jackets, on the other hand, tend to be agressive and are carnivores. They like all those picnic-type foods we enjoy during the summer. That's why they hang around the grill and cooler during these August afternoons. They have a "sweet tooth" and go after the sugar found in soft drinks. (Remind your kids to check inside those soda cans if they've been left on the picnic table for any period of time!)
Obviously, there is a physical difference between honey bees, yellow jackets, wasps and hornets but even the novice can quickly learn to identify them! For a quick reference, please print this sheet from the University of Oregon that shows the differences between honey bees, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps.
Finally, if you do identify honey bees on your property please don't spray them! Instead, feel free to contact the nearest Vermont Beekeepers Association member listed on our Swarm Removal page for assistance!