Insects That Look Like Bees

hornet feeding
Instects often mimic bees in order to get close to the bee hive without being attacked by the worker bees

Bees are characterized by their yellow striped colour. However, there are insect species that look like bees but are not. There are 20,000 bee species and many more insects, which can make it difficult to differentiate. The bee look-alikes don’t operate the same way as bees and contribute to the ecosystem in alternative ways. 

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    Which Insects Look Like Bees?

    There are a few identifiable insects that look like and mimic bees include:

    Hoverflies Bee Flies
    Bee Beetle Wasp
    Cicada Killer Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

    Classifying these creatures can help you understand which reside in your space and how to handle them.

    What Are Hoverflies?

    Hoverflies are part of the Syrphidae family. They have yellow and black striped abdomens and one pair of wings. Their abdomens are slim and pointed, which makes them look like smaller wasps. Vein patterns distinguish them from bees.

    Flower flies and syrphid flies are additional names for hoverflies.

    Hoverfly larvae are born and grow on plant leaves. These larvae are green maggots that eat aphids, tiny bugs that chew through plants. Many gardeners work to attract hoverflies to rid their garden of aphids. 

    Do Hoverflies Sting?

    Hoverflies do not sting, nor do they bite. They have no method of defending themselves and are harmless to humans. They land on humans and lick them to lap up water and salt from sweat. This is similar behaviour to sweat bees, but hoverflies won’t hurt the people they land on. 

    Do Hoverflies Pollinate?

    Hoverflies collect nectar and pollinate. They are attracted to plants such as oregano or carrot, as well as flowers like sweet alyssum. 

    These plants will also be where hoverflies lay their eggs. 

    hoverfly on coneflower
    Hoverfly on yellow coneflower

    What Are Bee Flies?

    Bee flies are parasitic insects that resemble bumblebees. Bee flies have round, fuzzy, and yellow bodies with a single pair of wings and extremely long tongues. Their legs are thin and long. 

    They target bees and rampage bee nests. 

    There are species of bee flies that are black and others that are grey. 

    Do Bee Flies Sting?

    Bee flies don’t bite or sting and are otherwise uninterested in humans or mammals. The bee fly targets bee nests for their larvae to survive. Once a bee fly finds a bee nest, usually in the ground, she will shoot out eggs from her ovipositor. This ovipositor is a tube that eggs go through, and bee flies release their eggs by shaking their abdomen towards the nest. 

    Bee flies can land their eggs into bee nests quickly before flying away. The bee fly larvae then feed on pollen within the bee nest. Eventually, they start eating the bee larvae before reaching adulthood. 

    Do Bee Flies Pollinate?

    Bee flies pollinate while collecting nectar. Their tongues are longer than bees’, and they are able to reach far into flowers. They go through primroses as well as violet, blue, and white flowers. Their tongue and mouthparts become covered in pollen. 

    Bee flies will also feed off of flowers without pollinating them. They will go under a flower and stick their long tongues to the base of the flower. They don’t pollinate flowers this way since they never land on them or are above them. 

    bee fly
    Bee Fly

    What Are Wasps?

    There are 30,000 species of wasps, all of which contribute to the ecosystem through pollinating and parasitism. They’re often confused with bees for their yellow colour and stinging abilities. Additionally, they build hives like bees. 

    Scientists have speculated that bees evolved from wasps. Both groups belong to the insect suborder Apocrita and are therefore closely related. 

    Wasps can be yellow like bees, and others can be brightly coloured or dark. The group has a large range of colours. 

    Their abdomens are more narrow than bees’ and are longer. Wasps lack hair and dangle their legs as they fly. 

    Do Wasps Sting? 

    Wasps are notoriously aggressive and are more likely to sting than bees are. However, they won’t sting for no reason and do so to protect themselves, their hives, or food sources. 

    Wasps have the capability of stinging more than once because of their smooth stingers. This isn’t the only feature of theirs that makes them deadly. Wasps predate on insect pests like greenflies. Their appetite for these other creatures keeps gardens safe from pests. 

    Additionally, some wasps have parasitical abilities. A wasp can paralyze a cockroach and walk it to its nest where it will feed the cockroach to larvae. 

    Do Wasps Pollinate? 

    Wasps are some of the primary pollinators that help ecosystems. They eat other insects and meat, but they also need nectar and pollen. 

    Their best contribution to the world is their ability to control the pest population among crops, which saves food. 


    What Are Bee Beetles?

    Bee beetles are also known as small hive beetles for their predatory nature towards honeybees. They are wide with round abdomens. Bee beetles are hairy and have black stripes across their yellow abdomens. 

    The species originated from Africa, then arrived on other continents.

    Bee beetle larvae are small white maggots that can be found invading honeybee hives. 

    Do Bee Beetles Sting?

    Small bee beetles do not sting. Instead, they are built to be impervious to bee stings. Bee beetles have hard shells and tough wings. Their tough exterior leaves honeybees helpless against their invasion. 

    Bee beetles find honeybee hives through the scent of bees’ alarm pheromones and honey. Their goal is to feed off of the hive’s food sources and lay their eggs within. Some bees may gather together to wall off the bee beetle from entering. Other times, a bee beetle might stroke the bee’s antennae as a way of asking for food. Friendly bees will feed bee beetles. 

    The bee beetle larvae reside in the hive’s cells, where they eat off of the hive and defecate. Their presence slowly destroys the hive from the inside by causing leakages and other damage. The larvae’s waste is made up of yeast that smells like a honeybee’s alarm pheromones. This overwhelming scent will attract other bee beetles to the hive. 

    Do Bee Beetles Pollinate?

    Bee Beetles do not pollinate since they don’t visit flowers. Their food source comes from the hives they invade rather than nectar directly from flowers. 

    bee beetle
    Bee Beetle

    What Are Hornets?

    Hornets are wasps that are related to yellowjackets. They look similar to yellow jackets with their long bodies and yellow and black patterns. They may have a brighter, more orange tint than yellow jackets.

    There are only 20 hornet species. They prey upon other bees and insects.

    Do Hornets Sting? 

    Hornets are dangerous stingers. They will sting when feeling threatened like other stinger species. However, they inject a large amount of venom with a single sting. Hornets produce more venom than other species because of their large size. 

    Hornets prey on bees and will grasp them out of the air in flight. They feed bees and other insects to their young. 

    Do Hornets Pollinate?

    Hornets are important pollinators despite their aggressive reputation. Additionally, they contribute to eradicating and controlling pest populations. They eat insects like spiders and caterpillars. 


    What Are Cicada Killers?

    Cicada killers are large wasps that are also known as the cicada hawk. They are narrow and have yellow and black abdomens. There are three yellow bands or stripes that distinguish them. Their thoraxes tend to be a more orange colour with some dull brown.  

    Cicada killers are solitary, which means that they do not belong to hives or colonies. They dig significant burrows in the dirt to reside in. 

    Do Cicada Killers Sting? 

    Cicada killers will sting but rarely do so to humans. They steer away from people but may be approached by animals. Their venoms can be harmful to pets like cats or dogs. 

    Cicada killers use their stingers to catch prey. Cicadas are a large part of their diet. They sting the other insect with venom to paralyze them; then, they will bring it to its nest to eat. 

    Do Cicada Killers Pollinate?

    Like other wasps, cicada killers pollinate and control the pest population with their appetites. 

    cicada killer
    Cicada Killer

    What Are Hummingbird Clearwing Moths?

    Hummingbird clearwing moths are large insects that resemble hummingbirds. These moths have long, colourful wings and hairy bodies. They come in different colours like olive green, burgundy, yellow, or white. The yellow ones look similar to bees. 

    Their long antennas and tongue distinguish them from hummingbirds and bee species. They can be as large as one and a half inches long. 

    Do Hummingbird Clearwing Moths Sting? 

    Hummingbird clearwing moths are harmless and neither sting nor biteThe species’ caterpillars can be an annoyance as they like to eat tomato plants. 

    Do Hummingbird Clearwing Moths Pollinate? 

    Hummingbird clearwing moths will pollinate as they roam through gardens and meadows. They prefer long-necked flowers such as bee balm and honeysuckle.

    hummingbird clearwing moth
    Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

    Why Do Some Insects Mimic Bees?

    There are a variety of reasons why these look-alike species came to resemble bees. Predatory insects such as the bee beetle pose as another bee to blend in within a hive they invade. The bee flies use their guise to hover around bee nests they don’t belong to. 

    The species that cannot bite or sting, like hoverflies and clearwing moths, use their resemblance to pose like a threatening bee or wasp. This cover can prevent other creatures from targeting them for fear of stinging, even when they have no ability to. 

    Insects That Resemble Bees Vary

    The range of bee look-alikes includes harmless insects and dangerous parasites. However, they all contribute to ecosystems either through pollination, pest control, or both. Although it can be intimidating to be around an insect that looks like it can sting, leaving them alone to the best of your ability will help the species thrive and keep our ecosystems stable.

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