Bees run the world. They are widely recognized as being integral to biodiversity and food security. Their little lives impact our water cycle, carbon cycle, GDP, architecture, and so much more.
First and foremost, the honeybee is an excellent pollinator, skilled honey maker, and close friend to Haverford’s campus.
Our own beehive hosts thousands of fuzzy, golden-brown bees that help pollinate our produce at the Haverfarm. The honeybees you encounter on campus are most likely female worker bees collecting pollen and nectar from flowers so that they can return back to their nest and create honey. In the early summer, you might see male bees, called drones, which do not sting, collect nectar, or do any work for the hive; their sole purpose is to mate with the queen (and then they die in the mating process).
Honeybees can sting, but only once, and usually only if its life, nest, or queen is threatened. The verdict: Honeybees are friends, and if you see one, let it do its job and don’t provoke it.
The Haverbees club, headed by Charlie Mamlin ‘23, aims to support pollinators in the greater Haverford community. This year, Haverbees plans to work with the Haverford to plant a native pollinator garden around the Haverfarm beehives. “Whether it be through education, action, or raising awareness,” Mamlin says, Haverbees “is working to help the bees in our area so they can continue to help us in return.”
As a community, we cannot ignore that the world’s honeybees are under serious threats. “There are more stresses on our honeybee populations today than there have ever been before,” says Mamlin, adding that “the wide use of pesticides, global pollutants, and diseases and pests within the honeybee population have made it as important as ever to continue to support our bees in any way we can.”
Another common social bee (bees that live together and interact with each other) on campus is the bumblebee. These fuzzy, round bees are also great pollinators — like honeybees, they collect pollen in baskets on their legs. Unlike the honeybee, they do not make honey, which is why we do not domesticate bumblebees.
Although bumblebees can sting more than once, they are extremely docile and will only do so if their lives or nest is in imminent danger. The verdict: Bumblebees are also friends, but remember that they can sting repeatedly, so don’t provoke them.
Carpenter bees look like bumblebees, but they are much bigger and their abdomens are hairless. They are called carpenter bees because they make their nests by burrowing into wood, so they can be a huge pain for homeowners. Some males will mock “divebomb” if you get too close to its nest, but male carpenter bees don’t have stingers (the females do). The verdict: they look big and scary, but they actually can’t do much harm.
Hoverflies look like tiny bees, but they are actually flies and cannot sting. The verdict: They can be annoying but are nothing to worry about.
Wasps aren’t technically bees. The most common types of wasps in Pennsylvania are yellowjackets, hornets, and paper wasps. Paper wasps and hornets build their nests above the ground, and yellowjackets build below the ground (though sometimes they build nests in places that resemble below-ground structures, such as in cracks in stone walls). They can sting repeatedly to protect their nests and hunt prey.
Some wasps are more docile and others are more aggressive, but I personally plan to avoid wasps in general. Yellowjackets love food scraps and sugary drinks, so beware when eating outside or picnicking on Founders! The verdict: do not swat the wasp!
The Asian Giant Hornet, a.k.a. The “Murder Hornet”
The Asian giant hornet is an invasive species whose queens can grow up to two inches. Although their stings can be fatal to those who receive multiple stings or are allergic to its venom, they are no more deadly than regular bees and wasps. Their main threat is not to us, but to our home pollinators — Asian giant hornets are known to decapitate and kill honeybees, ants, and other wasps, and they can even slaughter entire hives.
To date, the Asian giant hornet has not been found in Pennsylvania. If you see a very large wasp, you are most likely looking at a cicada killer wasp or a European hornet. Cicada killer sightings increase as annual cicada populations increase in the early summer. They look huge and scary, but they are certainly not murder hornets and are generally harmless if unprovoked. European hornets, also known as giant hornets, are brown-yellow and like other wasps, they will aggressively defend their nests. The verdict: Unless you plan on poking or prodding its nest, if you leave a wasp alone, it’ll leave you alone.
If a wasp or a bee lands on your food and you want to get it off, don’t swat it or make sudden movements (including getting up really quickly). Try to cover up your food, and if you can, trap the bee/wasp under a cup or a bowl and release it after you’re done eating.
Charlie Mamlin’s message to the Haverford community is that most bees, and honeybees in particular, are actually friendly. “Once they realize you’re not a flower, they generally don’t want much to do with you, so there’s no reason to be afraid of them! Haverford is a home to so many bees, so if you see one on campus, go ahead and say hi and give it a thank you, because that little friend does more to support your life and the things you love than you realize.”
This article was edited by Ashley Schefler and Lydia Guertin.