|Bees, Wasps and Ants of North America|
Order Hymenoptera is a vast assemblage of insects second only to the beetles in the number of described species. Many hymenopterans form social colonies with worker and royalty castes.
Insects | Hymenoptera Index | Beetles Index | Butterflies | Spiders Index | Bugs Index
The Order Hymenoptera (Latin for "membrane wing") is a vast assemblage of insects second only to Coleoptera (beetles) in the number of described species. Hymenoptera number some 115,000 species vs. 350,000 in Coleoptera. 18,000 of these species call North America north of Mexico home .
Hymenopterans inhabit a wide variety of habitats, and show an incredible diversity in size, behavior, structure and color. The social colonies formed by bees and ants are among the most complex societies on earth, which may contain millions of individual insects; all programmed with a simple ruleset that describes their every motion through every stage of their lives. Leaderless. Commanded and guided with pheromones and other communicative chemicals generated by her peers and her queen, these little suckers are indeed masters of their environment. They practice sustainable agriculture and only use renewable resources and have for millions of years.
Most hymenopterans are happiest and most active on warm, sunny days, but there are those on the dark side, nocturnal or crepuscular. All adults have chewing mouthparts; bees and some wasps have modified tongue like structures for drinking liquid nectar. Winged species have four membranous wings which can be hooked together in pairs during flight.
Family Halictidae Agapostemon splendens
Aculeata - Bees, Ants and Stinging Wasps
Aculeata, from Latin aculeus, sting, needle. The evolutionary modification of the ovipositor (egg-layer) into a stinger (and venom-delivery system in some species) unites this taxon. Not all aculeates can sting, and some aculeates have ovipositors instead of stingers. Go figure.
Some families represented in our collection:
Cicada Killer Wasp
Symphyta - Sawflies, Horntails and Wood Wasps are considered the most primitive of the Hymenoptera. Adults are often mistaken for wasps, but a crucial difference is the lack of the narrow "waist" found in the bees, wasps and ants.
Sawflies get their name from the saw-like (crosscut, not radial) ovipositor they use to cuts slits in vegetation into which they place eggs. Sawfly larvae usually feed on the outside of plants, many prefer grasses, but some do serious damage in the timber industry as woodborers and leaf miners.
Horntails, or wood wasps are so-called for their spike-like ovipositor, which they use to pierce tree bark and wood wherein they lay eggs. The resulting larvae, living within the wood are in turn prey for their sister hymenopterans in the parasitic Apocrita, esp. Ichneumonidae, which use famous wood-penetrating ovipositors of their own to lay eggs on the unfortunate host.
Sawfly - Dolerus unicolor
Parasitica - Parasitic Apocrita
This artificial grouping contains all the taxa not included in those other artificial groupings, Symphyta and Aculeata. Here are the wonderful parasitoids, including the Ichneumonidae, the Braconidae, Gasteruptiidae, Chalcid wasps; Family Agaonidae, the fig wasps; Cynipidae, gall wasps, and many others. Bugguide.net has a good listing of the relevant families and superfamilies: "Parasitica."
Represented in our collection are superfamilies Chalcidoidea, Evanioidea, and Ichneumonoidea.
Ovipositors are usually well developed and modified into a stinger in the Aculeata, commonly considered the highest form of the Order. All social wasps use their stinger to defend the colony. The sting consists of a venom reservoir and three "needles": two barbed lancets and a stylet, linked together to form a hollow tube through which venom can be pumped. The stylet makes the initial penetration, and then the two lancets, which slide on "rails" alongside the stylet come forward to deepen the wound.
Wasps and bumblebees can withdraw the stinger and reuse it, but honey bees have multiple large barbs on their sting; they cannot be withdrawn and the bee sacrifices herself for the colony: when she withdraws, the venom sacs are pulled from her abdomen, resulting in death. The venom apparatus continues to function, however, pumping more poison into the wound long after the bee has decamped. 
Many humans are allergic to bee stings, and can suddenly develop anaphylactic shock, a condition which can kill if not treated quickly.
Braconid Wasp Ovipositing - Meteorus sp.
|Helpful: You can hear the pronunciation of many scientific and taxonomic terms at howjsay.com|
North American Insects & Spiders
Explore over 7,000 close-up photos and information on over 700 species commonly found in North America. Live insects & spiders photographed in the wild.
Our tree encyclopedia is world-renowned, with diagnostic photos and information for nearly 500 different species of trees.