Which are friends, and which are foes? Read on to find out

  

The “murder hornet,” better known as the Asian Giant Hornet, made its debut in the public eye earlier this year, sparking fear and suspicion of anything striped in the outdoors.

Neighbours assured me their friend had been chased by one while out on a hike. Family and friends sent me panicked messages and photos from their gardens.

As a beekeeper, I’m confident that the media-coined “murder hornet” is not known to be spreading across North America yet. One nest and a few stragglers have been found, most already dead. Besides multiple scientists and organizations monitoring the situation, as of now there is no evidence the Asian Giant Hornet is established here.

Second, not all striped insects are evil. Most bees and wasps—including the Asian Giant Hornet—are not out to sting and will generally only attack when disturbed.

photoSylvia Dekker - Hoverfly

Besides, some of the bees or wasps you encounter on the trail might be flies, and what you think is a fly might be a bee or wasp. The hoverfly has yellow and black stripes, likes to hang out near flowers and may helicopter around you as you eat salty snacks, but it isn’t a bee or wasp. It’s a harmless, good-guy fly. Hoverflies—with their small flattened bodies and large eyes—provide pest control and pollination for the array of plants you find on the trail. After wild bees, hoverflies are considered the second most important group of pollinators, earning them their stripes.

Like hoverflies, many bees and some wasps are stingless. Striped and stingless or not, bees, wasps and flies belong in the habitats you visit on hikes and camping trips, and a diverse population of these insects are essential to your outdoor experience.

photoSylvia Dekker - Bumblebee

Most people associate stripes with the most well-known type of bee: our beloved honey bee. But the world is home to over 16,000 different species of wild bees including the noisy bumble bees way up in the alpine that fumble between heather and wild blueberry flowers and the ground-nesting sweat bees that quietly appear in an array of exquisite colours. Most bees do not live in a colony with thousands of other bees, but carve out an existence collecting tiny amounts of nectar and pollen from wildflowers for their own offspring. While doing so, they pollinate.

photoSylvia Dekker - Gound-nesting sweat bee

Many wasps and hornets live in colonies, but like bees, there are solitary wasps as well. Especially thanks to the sensationalized “murder hornet,” the word wasp often conjures up frightening, angry images. Wasps range in shape, colour and size—from a millimeter to Asian Giant Hornet proportions. While wasps also provide pollination, their workshop isn’t limited to flowers. They are excellent at cleaning up dead insects, meat scraps and providing pest control. Some are predators and some parasites, and they keep plant-sucking insects like aphids and chewing caterpillar levels low. And while you are out enjoying nature, wasps are out eating ticks and flies for you!

Wild bees, flies and wasps are an essential part of the ecosystems you hike through, camp in and enjoy. The variety of these insects existing in the environment ensures many of the gorgeous wildflowers and other plants you enjoy in the great outdoors reproduce and grow healthily year after year.