Colletidae Bee Family

This family of bees includes species with a diverse spectrum of physical characteristics, which includes thy fairy bees at one end to larger, more robust species at the other.  

Some are hairy, others are hairless, some have a 'waspish' appearance.

However, all Colletids line their brood cells with a waterproof, cellophane-like substance1,2 and have short, bi-lobed (bifid) tongues1,3.

No cleptoparasitic or eusocial species are found in this bee family3.

Subfamilies Of The Colletidae Bee Family

There is some varied opinion regarding the number of subfamilies in this group.

According to Wilson & Messinger Carril - The Bees In Your Backyard, there are five subfamilies worldwide in the Colletidae family , yet Packer (author of Bees of The World: A Guide To Every Family1), there are nine.

Bees Of The World by Laurence Packer book cover featuring coloured images of bees

Here are the nine subfamilies described by Packer:

The smallest colletid subfamily (as currently understood) with one genus and eight species1.  Packer states that it has been suggested this subfamily be united with another subfamily, the Diphaglossinae.

Mostly large, very hairy bees.

Some fly in dim light conditions, whilst others are truly nocturnal (see: Do Bees Fly At Night?).

Comprises nearly 450 ground-nesting bees.

Endemic in Australia, this is a small subfamily.

Consists of four genera and consisting of relatively hairy bees.  Species are found everywhere except Australasia.  

Consists of one diverse genus with almost 70 species, mostly restricted to southern Africa.

Most bees in this group are relatively hairless and are small.  This group carries pollen back to their nest cells inside their digestive system.  Found abundantly in Australasia, especially where eucalypts are in flower. More than 400 species have been described.

Small bees with little hair found in Central and South America and the Lesser Antilles.

The 'masked bees', this groups consists of seven genera, all but one of which is restricted to Australasia.  Some Australasian species are metallic.

Example genera in Colletidae Bee Family

Hylaeus - Yellow-face bees
Small bees with distinctive yellow markings on their faces.

Hylaeus communis common yellow-face bee yellow masked beeHylaeus communis - Common yellow-face bee

Colletes - Plasterer bees
Colletes species are medium-sized bees.  This is a diverse genus with 518 valid species distributed in all biogeographic realms, except Australasia and Antarctica4.

They include species such as the Ivy bee - Colletes hederae  and the Vernal mining bee - Colletes cunicularius.

Vernal mining bee - Colletes cunicularius taking off from sandy groundColletes cunicularius - Vernal mining bee


1. Bees of The World: A Guide To Every Family, Laurence Packer.  Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2023; ISBN: 798-0-691-22662-0.

2. Wilson & Messinger-Carril; The Bees In Your BackyardPrinceton University Press 2016

3. Field Guide to Bees Of Great Britain And Ireland by Steven Falk, Bloomsbury 2015.

4. Rafael R. Ferrari, Thomas M. Onuferko, Spencer K. Monckton, Laurence Packer, The evolutionary history of the cellophane bee genus Colletes Latreille (Hymenoptera: Colletidae): Molecular phylogeny, biogeography and implications for a global infrageneric classification, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 146, 2020, 106750, ISSN 1055-7903,

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leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees