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Bee Types

Worldwide, there are over 20,000 bee species in seven Families. Some commonly encountered and recognizable genera in eastern North America are described below.

Family Colletidae—Plasterer and Masked Bees

Colletes inaequalis Photo by: E. Johnson

Plasterer bees (genus Colletes)

Medium-sized bees (usually 1.0-1.5 cm long). Several species nest in loose soil and are often observed in early spring.
Yellow-faced Bee (Hylaeus sp.) Photo by: S. Nanz

Masked bees (genus Hylaeus)

Very small (<0.8 cm). Not hairy like other bees; carry pollen internally instead of on hairs. Nest in cavities in hollow or pith-filled plant stems. Distinguished by white/yellow “mask” on face, but note that males have more white/yellow than females, and this can vary by species.

Family Halictidae—Sweat Bees

Lasioglossum sp. Photo by: S. Nanz

Small sweat bees (genus Lasioglossum)

Very small (<0.8 cm). Head and thorax brassy-green with very small hairs on tip of abdomen. Most are greenish but some are bluish. Nest in the ground. Some are social.
Augochlorella sp.  Photo by: J. Ascher

Green metallic bees (genera Agapostemon, Augochlora, and Augochlorella)

Medium-sized (~1 cm). Species in the genera Augochlora and Augochlorella are entirely brilliant green. Agapostemonspecies have a brilliant green thorax but black abdomen. Augochlora species nest in rotting wood while Agapostemon and Augochlorella nest in soil.
Sphecodes sp. Photo by: Tom Murray

Sphecodes cuckoo bees (genus Sphecodes)

Small- to medium-sized, sparsely haired, and shiny. Females are often dark red. Parasitize nests of Agapostemon, Halictus, and Lasioglossum.

Family Andrenidae—Miner Bees

Claytonia bee (Andrena eringinae) Photo by: J. AscherMiner bees (genus Andrena): A highly diverse but sometimes difficult to observe group. Most are solitary nesters that build their nests in the soil and emerge only in early spring. Can be small to medium in size and exhibit a variety of colorations. 

Family Melittidae—Melittid Bees

Macropis sp. Photo by J. AscherMacropis oil-collecting bees (genus Macropis): Small (< 0.8 cm). Males have entirely yellow face. In addition to gathering pollen, these bees also collect floral oils from yellow loosestrife flowers. These oils are mixed with the pollen as food for their developing larvae and are used to line their brood cells to provide a protective layer. These bees are of regional conservation concern. They construct nests in the ground, often near wet habitats.

Family Megachilidae—Leaf-cutter Bees, Mason Bees, and Allies

Megachile brevis Photo by: K. Matteson

Leaf-cutter bees (genus Megachile)

Medium-sized (0.8-1.0 cm), with brown, black, or white bands on abdomen and hairs on the underside of abdomen. Build nests in cavities, including building walls and hollow plant stems such as rose, lilac, and Virginia creeper.
Coelioxys sayi Photo by: J. Ascher

Leaf-cutter cuckoo bees (genus Coelioxys)

Medium-sized with tapering triangular abdomen. Parasites of leaf-cutter bees.
Osmia bucephala Photo by: J. Ascher

Mason bees (genus Osmia)

Rotund, medium-sized bees, at times with brilliant metallic green, blue, or purple coloration. Similar to Megachile species, they carry pollen on underside of abdomen.
Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) Photo by: E. Johnson

Wool carder bees (genus Anthidium)

Rotund, medium-sized bees with distinctive yellow and black coloration. The common name is due to the behavior of the females, who scrape hairs off of leaves to create a soft nest where they lay their eggs. Often observed on the garden plants lamb’s ear (Stachys lanata byzantina) and foxgloves (Digitalis species).

Family Apidae—Bumble, Honey, Cuckoo, Long-horned, and Carpenter Bees

Bombus fervidus Photo by: K. Matteson

Bumble bees (genus Bombus)

Large (>1 cm) hairy bees. Hives are often constructed in tree cavities or abandoned rodent burrows. A colony includes a queen and up to 100 workers.
Honey bee  Photo by: P. Ersts

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

The common honey bee, medium-sized with golden/brown coloration. Exist in many urban landscapes both as managed hives and feral colonies in parks, cemeteries, and other green spaces.
Nomada articulata Photo by J. Ascher

Nomada cuckoo bees (genus Nomada)

With yellow striations on abdomen, may appear wasp-like. Primarily parasitize miner bees (genus Andrena) but also other genera. Rare.

Melissodes sp. Photo by: S. Nanz

Long-horned bees (genus Melissodes)

Medium-sized. Named for the long antennae found on males. Several species are very fast flyers.
Ceratina sp.  Photo by: S. Nanz

Small carpenter bees (genus Ceratina)

Very small (<0.8 cm) and bluish black. Males have a little white/yellow on face (not as much as Hylaeus species).
Large Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) Photo by: E. Johnson

Large carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica)

Males have white/yellow on face and more hair on abdomen, which may appear bumble bee-like. Females have no white/yellow on face and a shiny black, hairless abdomen. Build nests in lumber, including park benches, porches, etc.