You have heard the expression “fine as frog’s hair.” Well, frogs don’t have hair but bees do.  The bald stingers are hornets but if you are eye to eye with one, you probably aren’t going to be looking that closely. If one of either species is buzzing around your head, don’t swat at it or wave your arms around, just move slowly away and nobody gets hurt.

This information about bees and wasps comes from an article by Dr. Mary Berebaum, head entomologist at the University of Illinois.

If a bee stings you, the stinger is left in your skin and the bee is disemboweled as she flies away. Only the females have stingers.  A hornet, unlike the vegetarian bee, is carnivorous. They can hang around the garbage can and hit you when you least expect it. They can sting multiple times and fly away to hit you again later.

Did you know that bees can have long tongues, short tongues or even, bilobed tongues depending on what flowers they feed on. They can dig a hole in the ground, in your house (the aptly named carpenter bee) or cut neat circles from your plants, as does the leafcutter bee. So, next time you see a bee give it a hug, (or maybe not) as a third of our diet is the direct result of pollination by bees.

There has been a significant loss of bee populations. If you do see a honey bee in your flower bed, thank the local beekeeper as disease has killed many of our local wild honey bees. Habitat reduction, invasive species of parasites and predators and the overuse of pesticides by farmers and gardeners has increased the loss of native bees.

Gardeners can help reverse this trend quite simply. Encourage Japanese horn-faced bees and mason bees by hanging bee houses and cardboard bee houses. The local man’s toy store has them available. Know what bug you are attempting to kill and be sure the chemical doesn’t kill bees too. Or just pick the offending bug off the plant and drown it. Leave white clover and at least a few dandelions in the lawn for them to feed on. Plant blue, yellow and purple flowers for the native bees. They like bachelor’s buttons, black-eyed Susan's, cosmos, forget me not, foxglove, goldenrod, hollyhock, larkspur, monarda, also called beebalm, catmint, mustard, sedum, tansy, snapdragon, and yarrow.  do not plant the wild beebalm, golden rod, catmint, mustard or yarrow in a regular flowerbed or that choking sound you hear is all your other flowers being strangled by them. Beebalm is a mint and like all other mints is extremely invasive. There is a new variety out that is shorter and is not supposed to have the bad habits of its wild cousin.

There are even trees that attract bees as anyone with a basswood tree in bloom can attest to. They also like apple, cherry, mountain ash and plum trees and raspberry bushes. Planting flowering native trees and shrubs like chokecherry, chokeberry (aronia), the large native cranberry shrub and other flowering trees and shrubs will also attract bees.

Next time you are tempted to swat or spray that bee, restrain yourself.  Remember your tomatoes. Even though a disturbed bumblebee can sting, they are the best tomato and rose pollinators in the garden. 

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