About the Bees

Two different species of bees on Rosa rugosa 'Henry Hudson,'
a very popular flower with the bees in my backyard.


(Dec. 1, 2018) Aeon magazine has a wonderful essay about scientific research into the intelligence of bees and other tiny creatures. It's fascinating, and it includes a short video of a bumblebee trained to maneuver a tiny ball into a goal, whence it is rewarded with a dollop of sweet nectar. Go here to read it and watch the video.

Calendar bees

The 2016 edition of my calendar, The Useful Calendar, featured 12 wild bees from around the world. I then made a zine, The Flower Lovers (click here to buy it), to share the illustrations I made for that, along with information and anecdotes. 

This page provides some of that information and lots of swell links, including links to some videos of bees in action, plus new photos of bees in my gardenAll photos and illustrations are my own. 


There are some 20,000 species of bees in the world, many of which don’t look like bees as we tend to think of them, and don’t form social hives. They are all important pollinators, and some are even more effective on certain plants than the over-worked Western (European) honeybee, Apis mellifera, whose troubles are well known. Trucking honeybees around to large agrichemical operations not only stresses the bees and adds to their problems, but also may, in some instances, spread diseases to local wild bees. And it’s often unnecessary. There are many wild bees that will gladly pollinate crops if only farmers would make them welcome.
Apis mellifera worker bee
Some crops are better pollinated by other bees anyway. For example, the blossoms of tomatoes, peppers, and blueberries contain their pollen within a kind of cage, and honeybees can’t reach it. But some wild bees, including bumblebees, shake the pollen loose with a loud buzz, called sonication or buzz pollination.
   Bumblebees are such effective pollinators of tomatoes that large farming operations will rent bumblebee hives to perform this service, just as they rent honeybee hives for other crops. But wherever nonative bees are introduced, even for greenhouses, a few wander off and become feral invasives, spreading diseases and parasites to native bees, and competing with them for resources. Local bumblebees will happily pollinate tomatoes if farms accommodate them; and in Australia, where there are no native bumblebees, the native blue-banded bees (Amegilla spp.) can also buzz pollinate.
   Farmers can entice local wild bees to pollinate their crops by adopting sustainable practices, such asplanting hedgerows with native flowers and shrubs, using no-till methods (because many wild bees nest and hibernate in the ground), leaving plant stubble over the winter (because others use hollow plant stems), and reducing or eliminating pesticides.

   You can help the bees by doing a few simple things: Buy your honey from local beekeepers who don't transport their hives; buy sustainably grown food when you can; use pollinator-friendly practices in your own garden; and get to know your local wild bees.

Tiny bee, possibly Ceratina spp., on chamomile. 

A few resources about wild bees 

General bee (and other insect) resources
Aussie Bee provides a wealth of information, images and videos about native bees of Australia.
Bug Guide,  from the Iowa State University Department of Entomology, has very straightforward scientific information and lots of photos to help you identify specific bees and learn more about them. (Although the link I've provided is just to their bee page, they do, as their name suggests, have information about other insects as well.)

 Clay Bolt's Beautiful Bees has some wonderful photos and information about North American bees.

The East African Network for Taxonomy has a great deal of information about bees in that region on  BioNet-EAFRINET: Fact sheets on bees of East Africa.   

The Great Sunflower Project is about all kinds of pollinators, with tips on how to help them.

Science Live: About Bees is a project of the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder. Its mission is to connect field sciences with the public, and its pages are very accessible to the nonscientist.

Univ. of Minnesota's ID Native Bees page has photos and descriptions of common native bees in Minnesota. You can also do an online search for "native bees" and your state or country name to find similar resources relevant to you.

The Xerces Society promotes conservation of all invertebrates, and has several pages about wild bees, as well as some books to help anyone adopt pollinator friendly practices in their gardens and farms.

Twelve Wild Bees

The following list of bees is alphabetized by scientific name, followed by one or two links to more information about that bee. It is by no means comprehensive.

A. virescens on echinacea
Agapostemon virescens / green sweat bee
You'll find some excellent photos and an interesting thread on Dave's Garden of comments from people who have encountered this bee and decided it was OK to have it in their gardens.  The Great Sunflower Project  has a page with a bit more information and a map showing their distribution, which is almost exclusively in the Americas. The blog Standing Out in My Field has some delightful photos and commentary.

I wrote a blog post about rethinking mulch because of the needs of ground-nesting bees like these, you can read it here.

Amegilla / Blue banded bees
These bees are native to Australia and may be threatened by imported bumblebees, which are not native there. Lots of information can be found at Aussie Bee, which also has some terrific videos of male blue-banded (Amegilla) bees settling in to roost for the night in their rather comical manner.

Andrena bee in Rosa rugosa 'Henry Hudson'
Andrena / mining bees, digger bees

Here's an article on the Xerces Society website about the "tickle bees" of Sabin elementary school in Portland, Oregon. And here's the school's web page about them.

Apis florea / red dwarf honeybee

The Wikipedia page about these Asian honeybees has a good deal of information that is confirmed by the many other sources I consulted, and is a bit more accessible for the nonscientist. Find lots of photos at Bees Unlimited's page about them.

Bumblebee on Henry Hudson rose
Bombus / Bumblebees

Bumblebee.org is the go-to site for all things bombus all over the world.

If you've heard the stories that scientists can't explain how bumblebees are able to fly, you really must have a look at this article, which not only does explain it, but also provides some context for that particular myth.

Ceratina / small carpenter bees

These tiny bees are found over much of the world, this page on Beautiful Bees has a nice amount of information and photos.

Euglossa / orchid bees

This excellent mini documentary about orchid bees gives an overview of the interdependence of these bees and the orchid species of Central and South America. It includes some interesting notes from Charles Darwin, who studied orchids extensively and was stumped by how exactly the bees pollinated them. It's only about 9 minutes long and very enjoyable to watch.

Masked bee (Hyleaus spp.) on echinacea
Hyleaus / masked bees, yellow-masked bees

In October 2016, 12 species of Hylaeus bees native to Hawaii were added to the US Endangered species act, becoming the first bees to be listed. This article on NPR has more about that.

Different species of Hyleaus bees are found in many parts of the world, including Minnesota, where I live. The species that are listed in Hawaii are unique to the islands.

This article in Scientific American explains concerns about the species of masked bees that are native to Hawaii.

The Bishop Museum of Hawaii also has some great information about these bees, as does the University of Hawaii.

Melipona beecheii / xunan kab, stingless honeybees of the Yucatan

Here's the Wikipedia page on the general category of stingless bees, the tribe Meliponini.

This article by Diana Cohn is an excellent and thorough look at xunan kab in particular, and the practice of stingless beekeeping in the Yucatan today.

For a broad look at the practice in historical context, see this article by Dylan M. Imre, and this one by Rogel Villaneuva.

Osmia lignaria / blue orchard mason bee

"How to raise orchard mason bees for the home garden," by entomologist Steve Bambara comes with a caution that its information and advice is specific to North Carolina, but it's still worth a read even if you live elsewhere.

Peponapis pruinosa / eastern cucurbit bee, squash bee

There are actually two genera of wild bees known as squash bees, the Peponapis that I featured in the zine, and Xenoglossa. This article from the USDA explains very nicely their importance as pollinator specialists.  And this one from Penn State Extension describes research about these bees versus honeybees for pollinating pumpkins.

Svastra obliqua / sunflower bee

This article at the UC Berkeley website nicely summarizes the research done by Sarah Greenleaf and Claire Kremen about how these bees make honeybees better pollinators of sunflowers.

1 comment:

  1. We have been blessed by a wee colony of apple tree bumblebees who've chosen to raise their new queens under the kitchen roof. They are smaller and blacker than the usual bees we see around here. Bees are fascinating, aren't they?


Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.