About The Nomad Bee

Updated: 28th February 2021

A waspish looking yellow and black Nomada marshamella female resting on groundMarsham's Nomad Bee - Nomada marshamella female

An Introduction To Nomad Bees

Nomad bees (Nomada sp.) can easily be mistaken for small wasps.  Most feature yellow and black waspish markings, or have brick-red/brown-red and black bodies and heads.  They are a 'cleptoparasite' (cuckoo) species.  

Cleptoparasites are organisms that take over the nest or nest cell of the target host species.  The cleptoparasite's offspring then feed off the food supplies intended for that of the host.  

Nomada lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, especially Andrena (mining) species.  Some species have very specific hosts, whilst others have several target host species.

Gooden's nomad bee just leaving the host nest.Gooden's nomad bee just leaving the host nest.

Firstly, a female nomad species locates a suitable host nests, and lands nearby, facing the entrance of the nest.  At some point, she enters
the host nest where she lays an egg in a cell wall, then leaves. 

The host bee will continue to provision the nest cell with food and then seal up the cell.  The larvae that hatch from the egg of Nomada have large mandibles (jaws), which they use to destroy the grub of the host bee, and eat the food supplied by its parent.

I know from experience that some readers may take an instant and understandable dislike to this species, it being a cleptoparasite, but at the very least I am cheered to think that its very existence depends upon a healthy population of the host species.  

Keeping a look out for nomad bees

Firstly, nomad bees have a slow, almost gliding flight, with legs splayed outward to the sides.

Panzer's NomadBee - Nomada panzerei female in flight.Panzer's NomadBee - Nomada panzerei female in flight.

They are quite easy to spot, lurking around the nests of host species, which will often be a tunnel in dry mud, sandy or grassy bank, or around crevices in logs, tree stumps, walls and rocks - i.e. the locations of solitary bee nests.  They might also be found foraging on patches of flowers nearby.

Flavous Nomad Bee - Nomada flava - female, lurks outside the nest of a potential target host.Flavous Nomad Bee - Nomada flava - female, lurks outside the nest of a potential target host.

Upon identifying a target host nest, the females nomad bee lands and waits, typically facing the entrance of a potential host.  This provides an opportunity to have a good look at the particular species of nomad bee, although they are easily disturbed and may fly off.

Nomada worldwide

The Nomada, genus is one of the largest in the entire Apidae bee family, and the largest genus of cleptoparasitic "cuckoo bees."

Some authors assert the number of species is more than 700 species worldwide (Wilson & Messinger Carril), whilst others state that there area about 850 described species (Falk).  From them we can glean that:

  • Nearly 300 can be found in the US, fewer than 40 in Canada  (Wilson & Messinger Carril)
  • There are 34 known Nomada species in the British Isles (Falk).

Not to be confused with wasps!

A number of wasps - especially solitary wasps such as the field digger wasp below, are similar in appearance to nomad bee species.  Indeed, bees are related to wasps.  You can read more about this subject here.

Field digger wasp foraging on knapweed.Field digger wasp foraging on knapweed.

Read about Nomad Bee Species

Go back to Home page