To Bee or not to Bee

Hello, fellow campers, food enthusiasts, and friends!
Gourmet Girl Denise here filling in for Gourmet Girl Gail while she hits the road to promote our amazing little cookbook, The Gourmet Girls Go Camping. Camping season is here, so don’t forget to get your copy before your next trip!

Today I would like to talk about the difference between honey bees, bumble bees, and yellow jackets. I cringe when I hear folks call yellow jackets bees. There is a big difference between them. I’ll explain along with the help of Wikipedia.

There are many varieties of bees but I will only bee discussing three familiar ones.

This is our friend the Italian Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

They are harmless unless you step on them or mess with their hive. Of course, as a beekeeper, I have done exactly that, and they really are very reluctant to sting. When they do, they die, so they try to avoid it as any sensible being would. We get honey from the honey bee, and wax to make candles and many other useful items. These are not the creatures that come to your picnic table whenever you sit down to a meal. They are docile and are responsible for pollinating many of our food crops and, sadly, have been declining in great numbers, mostly due to our use of pesticides. Colony collapse disorder has decimated these poor creatures, and we must do everything in our power to end our dependence on chemicals for their sake as well as our own.

This is a Bumble Bee (Bombus genus-there are many species)

These are my favorites! These big, bumbling, fuzzy friends are always solitary and again, harmless unless you step on one. They don’t hive together like honey bees so you will usually see them buzzing loudly near the ground looking for flowers. Here in the Loire River Valley in France they have just come out with the warm weather, announcing the beginning of spring. They come in many different colors; rusty orange, yellow and black, and black, plus combinations of all three colors. The all black ones can be the variety that bores into wood, usually the eaves of a house, to lay their eggs. While this is a bother to we humans, they are otherwise harmless. I think it is their size that scares most people, and their loud buzz. They can be curious little guys, coming right up to you to look you in the eyes, but do not fear. Just say hello and they will fly along their merry way.

This is a Yellow Jacket (Vespula squamosa)

Every camper knows how miserable it can be to sit down at your picnic table at your campsite, ready to enjoy that perfectly cooked steak, hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich only to be invaded by pesky yellow jackets. Yes, they love meat and other proteins, and they will be relentless in their search for a bite of your lunch. They can also sting over and over again, unlike the honey bee. How do they know just when to come around? And how come once one finds your meal another twenty suddenly appear? Well, they are great communicators so the word gets around quickly. I have learned that you can not fight these creatures and that the only way to be able to eat in peace is to set out a bait station. I take a small piece of meat and place it on a surface nearby. Usually, the yellow jackets will go to the bait and leave you alone. You will still get a few buzzing around but I have had good success with getting most of them interested. I recently heard that cucumber slices will also lead them away. Try it! I haven’t yet but intend to on my next camping trip.

So I’ll end here with what I hope was a small education about the difference between bees and yellow jackets. Go fearlessly forward towards your next camping adventure! And don’t forget to leave us a comment here:
Denise, Gail, and Lindsey

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