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Geek Speak to explain difference between bee and the BHSU mascot Yellow Jacket

Author: BHSU Communications/Wednesday, February 13, 2019/Categories: Events, Community, Events, Faculty

Are you able to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp? To the untrained eye these insects can look very similar, but to an entomologist, the differences are great.

Dr. Holly Downing, professor of biology at Black Hills State University, will take the audience of the next Geek Speak through the differences Thursday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall 110. The lecture is free to the public.

On campus it is not unusual to hear someone call the BHSU mascot a bee rather than what it actually is, Downing says. In over 20 years working with BHSU, she often jokes in passing with others trying to spread awareness of the difference.

“Both bees and wasps are beneficial insects,” Downing says, noting that each play their own essential role in the environment.

Downing explains, “Bees are important because they are pollinators and they produce wax and honey. Wasps, even though they’re not quite as economically important, are beneficial insects because they kill a lot of the insects that are pests.”

Wasps become a great way of controlling these pests in gardens rather than having to rely on chemical sprays and spreads, said Downing.

Confirming the ferocity of the BHSU mascot, Downing says stingers are unique to only the females of each species, and whereas a bee loses its barbed stinger after one use, a wasp can continue to sting after each use. Take that, School of Mines!

“You can actually handle these males in your bare hands and impress people because they look like their sisters,” Downing jokes.

Downing will also take the audience through the natural history of the yellow jacket and cover how the yellow jacket wasp is a native insect and the honeybee is actually an invasive insect from European decent.

Wasps have always been a point of interest for Downing. Specializing in wasp behavior, Downing began her research as a graduate student. Currently, she is studying and comparing nest architecture between invasive and native wasp species.
About the BHSU Biology Program

The Black Hills State University biology program has an outstanding curriculum and faculty, along with state-of-the-art facilities where students can experience great hands-on learning. With the Sanford Underground Research Facility only 20 miles from campus, students and faculty have the opportunity for collaborative projects in the sciences. Earning a degree in biology can open the door to a variety of engaging careers. A biology graduate may pursue a career as a physician, physical therapist, pharmacist, marine biologist, forensic scientist, and more.
For more information visit or contact Cynthia Anderson, associate director of CCBR and associate professor of biology at or 605-642-6519.

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