bee with black and yellow stripes

Why Are Bees Black and Yellow?

Last updated on January 10th, 2024 at 01:34 pm

Black and yellow stripes on bees indicate one of two things to potential predators. Either it’s equipped with a toxic bite or sting or it tastes particularly unpleasant when consumed.

Not all bees are black and yellow several species display 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.

why do bees have stripes?

A black bee with yellow stripes is a natural evolution. Honeybees know that their sting is the last form of defence and stripes are a much better measure to ward away bee predators.

These animals will quickly learn the hard way that a black and yellow striped bee often means 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 Yellow & Black 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 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 the characteristics of the drones she has mated with.

This means if one of the drones she made was browner this characteristic will be present in the young bees after they hatch and begin to mature.

Queen honey bees normally mate with 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 reduces the risks caused by inbreeding.

Other yellow and black bee species with stripes include:

  1. Bumblebees (Bombus spp.): Known for their fuzzy appearance and black and yellow stripes. Various species within the Bombus genus exhibit this colouration.
  2. Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp.): Often have a shiny black abdomen with yellow or white markings.
  3. Sweat Bees (Halictidae family): Some display black and yellow striped patterns on their abdomen including bees from the genus Agapostemon.
  4. Mining Bees (Andrenidae family): Mining bees, such as Andrena spp., can exhibit black and yellow abdominal stripes.
  5. Mason Bees (Osmia spp.): Some mason bee species, like Osmia lignaria (blue orchard bee), can have black and yellow markings.
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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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