New Jersey Homeowner's Guide to Bees

Friday, June 26th, 2015 by Bill Cowley

New Jersey Homeowner\'s Guide to Bees - Image 1

Bees have six legs, antennae, and, of course, the ability to fly. Bees are often confused with wasps, and although they have some similarities, they have developed different food sources, which make them look and behave differently.

Physical Characteristics of Bees in New Jersey

There are three main species of bees in New Jersey: honeybees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees. These species of bees are valuable pollinators, and play an essential role in the production of food crops. Let’s take a look at each:


Honey bees are predominantly golden yellow with brown bands. They have a thin oval-shaped body about a half-inch long, which is covered with small hairs. Honey bees live in hives and are the only social insect whose colony can survive many years.

Bumble bees are black with yellow stripes. Like honeybees, they are oval and have small hairs covering their bodies. They are approximately one-inch long. Bumblebees frequently make their nests in the ground; however, they sometimes nest above ground around patios or decks, occasionally building their nests in soffits of attics.

Carpenter bees look similar to typical bumblebees, but often lack yellow stripes. They are usually more robust in shape than the other bees, and range from a quarter-inch to an inch long. This bee is named from its practice of making holes in wood in order to nest.


Bees are relatively proficient reproducers. A queen may lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. The eggs take 16 to 24 days to complete metamorphosis, depending on gender. After a bee reaches maturity, its lifespan ranges from a few weeks for males, to up to 5 years for a queen bee.


Honeybees and bumblebees are social insects, living in colonies consisting of a fertile queen, sterile female workers, and males called “drones.” These bees produce and store honey. Most other bees are solitary and don’t form hives. Each female builds her nest in a hole found in dead wood, a hollow tree, or under rocks. Instead of producing honey, solitary bees make a food called “beebread” by mixing pollen and nectar. Females fill their pollen baskets and carry the pollen back to the nest to make batches of beebread for their offspring.

Benefits of Bees

Bees are an important part of the ecosystem because they help to pollinate plants, including most food crops. In addition, honeybees also produce honey used for eating, and the beeswax, the wax secreted to make honeycombs, is used to make candles and other products. Honeybees are considered "cultivated bees” because people not only benefit from their pollination of plants, but also because they actually use the wax and honey that the bees make. It is estimated that up to 70% of U.S. commercial crops, including a great variety of fruits, vegetables, and even nuts, depend on honeybee pollination. In addition to honeybees, there are approximately 4,000 species of "native bees" just in the United States. Native bees, like carpenter bees and the bumblebees, have always lived in an area, and are able to survive without human help. These bees don’t make honey or beeswax, but do pollinate many of our plants and food crops.

Honey Bee Identification

It is important to be able to identify the difference between the varieties of bees and wasps in New Jersey. Unlike other bees and wasps, honeybees are protected in many states, including New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, except for colonies residing within indoor structures, it is illegal to kill honeybee colonies without approval from the appropriate agencies. If there is any question about the identification of a bee, consult with either a pest control professional well -versed in bees or a professional beekeeper.

Bees versus Wasps

In general, bees have a rounder, thicker body and more hair than wasps. Bees typically have shorter and thicker legs, drink nectar, and collect balls of pollen on their legs. Wasps may be found near flowers but they do not collect pollen. Since many wasps are scavengers, you are likely to find them near open trashcans or at places where people have food, like picnic areas.

There are four common species of wasps in New Jersey:  yellow jackets, paper wasps, cicada killers, and bald-face wasps. 

Yellow Jackets are usually black and yellow with a band pattern on their abdomens. They range from three eighths to five-eighths of an inch long. Yellow jackets live in nests or colonies with up to 4,000 workers. These nests are usually found in the ground or in hollow areas such as eaves and attics.

Paper Wasps usually have brown bodies with yellow markings; however, some have reddish markings. They range from five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch long, and are known for their long legs that extend out from their oval bodies. Paper wasps live in small colonies. In the fall, females will seek a place to spend the winter, which is the most likely time for them to enter your home.

Cicada Killers are black, yellow, and red wasps. They are larger than many other wasps in New Jersey, often up to one and three-quarters of an inch. They are solitary wasps that usually make tunnel nests in bare soil. These wasps rarely sting people.

Bald-Faced Wasps are black with white markings on their face and abdomen that usually grow to approximately three-quarters of an inch. They can be particularly troublesome because they are strong insects, capable of stinging through a layer of thick clothing.

Bee Colony Removal

Trained pest professions should remove bee colonies for various reasons, including:

1. Depending on its location, if you destroy a honeybee nest, you could be subject to significant fines from the state.  

2. The sprays sold at home improvement or hardware stores are filled with chemicals that can be harmful to humans and pets if not used properly. If they are not administered directly into the nest (which are often times located in areas that are difficult to access), the spray won’t kill the whole colony immediately. This puts you at risk for multiple stings. If you are working on a ladder without proper protective gear, the danger increases greatly.  

3.  Even normally docile bees will sting if they are provoked by a disruption of their nest. Bee and wasp stings can be painful, and in some instances, cause very dangerous reactions.

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