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Why are bees black and yellow?

12 April 2022
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Black and yellow stripes on insects often indicate one of two things. Either the insect is equipped with a toxic bite or sting or it will taste particularly unpleasant when consumed by predators.

While not all bees are black and yellow there are several species that display black and yellow stripes to warn potential predators. Some small flies and wasps will mimic the black and yellow stripes across their abdomen to give the illusion of danger to potential threats.

So why do bees have black and yellow stripes?

Bees display black and yellow stripes as a natural evolution. Honeybees are well aware that their sting is the last form of defence and stripes are a much better preventative measure.

Bee and insect predators will quickly learn the hard way that black and yellow stripes often mean a meal is not worth the effort or pain involved.

This simple evolutionary trait has meant that honey bees are much safer while gathering resources like pollen and nectar.

Do all bees have black and yellow stripes?

No, not all bees display black and yellow stripes on their abdomen. Even within honey bee colonies, you will find a considerable variety of different coloured bees.

This is primarily due to the drones that the Queen bee chooses to mate with. The brood produced by the queen after her mating flight will show characteristics of the drones she has mated with.

This means if one of the drones she made was more of a brown than yellow colour this characteristic will be present in the young bees after they hatch and begin to mature.

Queen honey bees will normally mate with between 15 to 20 drones during a mating flight.

This is also beneficial for the continued health of the hive or nest. By mating with lots of different bees the Queen is ensuring a variety of genetics and reducing the risks caused by inbreeding.

Other insects that display black and yellow stripes

Bees aren't the only insects sporting black and yellow stripes. Several others opt to display these warning colours to ward off any unwanted visitors. Other insects that use black and yellow stripes to warn potential predators are:

  • Wasps
  • Mimic Flys
  • Hornets
  • Beetles

In the case of wasps and hornets, it has been theorised that the black and yellow stripes can act as a form of camouflage. This allows them to predate on bees without being noticed due to their similarity to the bees they are ambushing.

Check out our guide on when do wasps disappear and what happens to their old nests.

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