Orange-legged Furrow Bee - Halictus rubicundus

Updated: 23rd February 2021

Halictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (female) on knapweed flowerAbove: Halictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (female).

From March onwards, look out for this charming little bee, Halictus rubicundus, (commonly known as the orange-legged furrow bee).  Males (pictured below), can be seen from June (the photographs on this page were taken in July).  

Flowers visited by the Orange-legged furrow bee

Wild verge with knapweed and other wildflowersAbove: This large wild verge is a first class restaurant for bees and other pollinators. At various times of the year, it provides an abundance of knapweed, hemp agrimony, thistles, brambles, various umbellifers, ragwort, burdock, buttercups and clover.

You may spot this species foraging on knapweed and thistles along wildflower banks and verges such as the one featured above.   

Orange-legged furrow bee, (female) - note brownish hair on thorax.Orange-legged furrow bee, (female) - note brownish hair on thorax.

Other flowers favoured by these bees include umbellifers, such as wild parsnip, though various flowering shrubs and trees may also be visited - they are generalists, and as such, they are important pollinators both in the wild and in gardens.  They pollinate onions, sunflowers and some carrot plants.  

For garden flowers, various composites and asters are popular. 

Males and females can be seen through to October if there are sufficient food sources available.

Geographical locations

This species is found across the United States and Canada, Europe, and northern Asia.

Physical characteristics of the orange-legged furrow bee

Halictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (female) side view.Above: Halictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (female) side view.

From the family HALICTIDAE, the orange-legged furrow bee can measure upto 10mm in length. Various Lassioglossum species appear similar from photographs, but are smaller bees than Halictus rubicundus

In the males, the body, is proportionately longer and thinner than is the case with the female Halictus rubicundus and some other solitary bee species.

Halictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (male) on knapweed flower.  He has longer antennae than the female, is slim and dark in colourHalictus rubicundus - Orange-legged furrow bee, (male).

A few things to note:

  • note how different the males are from the females!
  • these bees have quite long antennae, and the males have longer antennae than females
  • the pale 'stripes' on the abdomen of the female especially, are well defined, and contrast with the darker body
  • females do not have pollen baskets, but can carry large amounts of pollen on scopa (adapted long hairs) on the rear legs (tibia).
  • they usually show brown hairs on the thorax (upper body), but male specimens can become rather sun-bleached, with thorax hairs turning a greyish hue.  
  • note the pale legs of the male.

Nesting habits of Halictus rubicundus 

These bees, like bumble bees and honey bees, are eusocial.  Females nest in light soils, often in groups, but sometimes singly. Individual nests are founded by a mated female (or 'queen') in the spring.  She will lay eggs, and raise a colony of workers, who will then forage for nectar and pollen for new males and females (the next colony foundresses, or 'queens').   

In The Bees In Your Backyard, the authors highlight research that suggested nests may have multiple entrance and exit holes.  They also note that a worker can leave a nest and establish a separate colony, and that if a 'queen' dies, any worker can take her place.  Females are maintained in a 'subordinate' worker role by feeding on less pollen, resulting in smaller bees that are also less likely to survive the winter.

Curious fact

Halictus, along with Laslioglossum are sometimes known as 'sweat bees' - in the US at least, because they are known to sometimes sip sweat from humans!   

Bees nectar robbing


Bees nectar robbing