Bee visiting Sienna. Photo by Donna L. Long

Bee or Fly?

Bee visiting Sienna. Photo by Donna L. Long
Bee visiting Sienna. Photo by Donna L. Long

There is a colony of ground-nesting bees in my community garden plot. The entrance to the nest is in a little spot of sparse vegetation. Sunflowers tower overhead.

Once the Sun climbs high in the sky (about 9:30 a.m.) there is a steady line of bees entering and exiting the hole in the ground.

These bees are all over my garden plot. Crawling into cucumber blossoms and ravaging tomato flowers. They are unpaid workers, working for the next generation of bees.

Flies are there too, collecting pollen. Pollen is an important source of protein, containing between 2.5 an 61 percent protein. Pollen also contains, starches, fats, vitamins, and minerals. This is great food for an adult insect or a growing larva.

Female bees collect pollen and combine it with nectar to make bee bread. The female bee lays a single egg on a lump of bee bread. The hatched bee larva eats the nutrient-rich bee bread as it grows.

Flies are the most frequent visitors to flowers. and they are often mistaken for bees. Flies that look like bees are avoided by birds and other predators that will eat a fly but leave bees alone.

In practicing how to tell a fly from a bee, I have learned to focus on the head. The antennae and eyes are key for me.

How can you tell a fly from a bee?

This chart will list the main differences between the two. After a while, you’ll be able to tell bees from flies at a glance.

 

Bee visiting Sienna. Photo by Donna L. Long
Bee visiting Sienna. Photo by Donna L. Long
Fly on green leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long
Fly on green leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long

Comparing Bees to Flies

Insect Bee Fly
antennae long antennae short, stubby antennae
antennae antennae, uniform in thickness bristle, thickness varies
pollen sacs yes, pollen sacs no pollen sacs; some flies have markings that mimic pollen sacs
body hair generally more hairy than flies generally less hairy than bees
eyes eyes are off the side of the head large eyes near the front of their heads, nearly meeting at the top of the head

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