Here is a list of bees and wasps that are commonly encountered in the garden.
Description: Medium-size bee with a golden brown to dark brown abdomen, conspicuously banded.
Gregarious and numerous, honeybees follow cycles of blossoms on trees, shrubs, perennials and herbs, as well as patches of lawn clover.
Threat: Without direct physical contact, the honeybee is a passive insect that stings as a last resort. Wild colonies can nest in cavities found in structures or trees, but most are raised in hives. Avoid approaching colonies, which have guard bees.
Unlike other bees and wasps, the honeybee leaves a venom sac with its stinger and dies in the process. If you are stung, you should scrape the sac, which continues to pump venom through the stinger, away from the skin.
A honeybee swarm consists of thousands of bees and looks menacing, but the bees are simply clustered around their queen as they seek new permanent quarters. Still, a swarm should be given a wide berth. Aggressive, Africanized honeybees are found only in Southern border states.
Description: A large and hairy bee that is mostly black with distinctive lighter bands on the thorax and abdomen, varying by species. Bumblebees can sting but are typically docile as they visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen.
Threat: Bumblebees are inherently gentle, unless you disturb their nests. They live in cavities in the ground, old compost piles and manmade structures. They are protective of their nests.
Description: The carpenter bee is a large black bee that resembles a bumblebee, but its abdomen is smooth, not hairy.
Threat: The male bees are stingless but territorial and will bother people as they approach. It’s all bluster. The female bees, however, can sting, but they are not inherently aggressive. Their greater offense is the need to tunnel into decks, trim and other woodwork.
Description: Sweat bees are represented by many species, but they are all small and agile, essentially harmless to humans. They get their names from their habit of alighting on our skin to sup salty perspiration. Many are gray and drab, but some species are brilliant, though they require close observation to appreciate. Some sweat bees are metallic green.
Threat: Females will sting if pressed or squeezed. You can gently push them away or blow on them without much threat of attack.
Description: There are a number of species, and some build aerial nests while others dwell in the ground. They all are roughly similar in size and appearance, with bright-yellow-and-black abdomens.
Threat: This insect embodies the adjective waspish: It was born irritable, though colonies become markedly more aggressive in mid- to late summer, especially in the vicinity of their ground nests. The yellow jacket seeks nectar for itself and meat for its young, and it is the pest most likely to scavenge at barbecues and picnics and around trash bins.
With their slender waists and long abdomens, paper wasps appear even more menacing than yellow jackets, though they are not as aggressive. They form multi-celled nests from pulp, often building them under eaves or breezeway ceilings.
Threat: Unless nests are close to humans, the wasps pose little risk and are considered beneficial in preying on the larvae of garden pests.
Description: Ground-dwelling wasps whose numbers can build up to an alarming degree, especially on easily excavated sandy soil. They have black abdomens with yellow spots, and an orange tinge to their wings.
Threat: They appear aggressive but pose little sting risk to humans. They are mostly interested in catching cicadas, which they drag underground to feed to their young.
Description: Hornets are big and scary, and with good reason. Two species are relatively common. The European hornet is black and yellow, much like a yellow jacket, and tends to build its paper nests in cavities rather than as free-hanging balls. The other is the native baldfaced hornet, which is technically not a hornet but a giant yellow jacket. It is smaller than the European hornet but more feisty, with a black abdomen but prominent white markings, particularly on its head.
Threat: Both are venomous and dangerous if their nests are disturbed. The lone, foraging European hornet is less aggressive than the baldfaced hornet, which builds the distinctive, football-size gray hanging nests often found in trees.