Types of Bees

Updated: 29th January 2021

Question:
How many types of bees are there in the world?

Answer:
There are over 4,000 genera (types of bees) and around 25,000 individual recorded species, but there are probably more species to be discovered.

Exploring the different types of bees


All bees belong to the insect or Super-family 'Apoidea'. Apoidea also includes 'sphecoid wasps', from which bees are believed to be descended.  You can read more about this on my link: are bees and wasps related?

Bees are further grouped into:

  • 9 'families'
  • over 4000 genera (i.e. types of bees). 

Further more, there are:

  • about 4000 species of bee in the US, and 
  • over 250 species in Britain. 

Most bees are solitary.  First let's look at 'bee families'.

Chocolate mining bees mating on my finger!  The male and female are adjoined at the tip of their tales.Chocolate mining bees mating

The Bee Families 

There are currently 7 recognized bee families worldwide, but note, this can change, members of one family can be removed and added to a different group.  Entomologist, Steven Falk in notes:

"The classification of bees is not particularly stable.

Super-family: Apoidea
Family Notes
Apidae Large group of around 6000 species. Includes social and solitary species. Some cleptoparasite bee species belong in this group.
Megachilidae Around 3,000 species. Includes the world's largest known species, Megachile pluto. Some members of this family are cleptoparasties.
Andrenidae A large family of bees, with around 2,700 species. There are no cleptoparasite species in this family.
Colletidae Believed to consist of around 2,000 species. Bees belonging in this group line their nests with a waterproof cellophane-like substance.
Halictidae A group of around 3,500 species. Some are metallic in appearance. Some tropical species may be called 'sweat bees' due to the attraction to sweat. Some cleptoparasite species are included in this group.
Melittidae A small family of bees with around 160 species.
Stenotritidae Small bee family with around 21 species. Found in Australia. Originally part of the 'Colletidae' family.



Below are some of the types of bees you may be familiar with and would like to read about, such as honey bees, bumble bees and leafcutters.  In addition, you'll find links to information about less well known species, such as wool carders, long-horned bees, flower bees, nomad bees and more.  

A Honey bee, one of the most well known types of bees.  This one is foraging on knapweed - side view.

Honey bees (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Apis

Honey bees are classed as ‘social’ bees, as they live in colonies usually consisting of around 50,000 – 60,000 workers.  The European Honey Bee, Apis Mellifera is commonly kept by beekeepers in the West, who then harvest their honey.  In the wild, they nest in tree trunks and natural caves and large crevices.  They may sometimes make use of man-made structures, such as chimneys.

Honey bees are used extensively in crop pollination too, and along with other bees, they help to put food on our plates.  They are able to forage in cool temperatures when other bees are absent, and are very important for pollinating certain crops, such as almonds.


White-tailed bumble bee - Bombus lucorum foraging in a pink hollyhock flower.

Bumble bees (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Bombus

Most bumble bee colonies are fairly small, from 50 to 400 workers, but usually around 120 to 200. Most species are ‘social', but there are also parasite species, known as 'cuckoo bumble bees'. These parasitic bumble bees inhabit the nests of other bumble bee hosts.

Bumble bees are excellent pollinators of many kinds of flowers, and are a welcome and familiar site in gardens. Their efficiency as pollinators is partially down to their furry body, but also because they have the ability to 'buzz pollinate'. 


Coastal Leafcutter Bee female - foraging on pink restharrow flower growing from sandy soil

Leafcutter bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Megachile

Leafcutter bees cut neat segments of leaf or petal with their jaws.  They return this to the site of their nest, and use it for constructing their egg cells.  Some species are opportunists, and will take advantage of man-made crevices, and hollows, making them a welcome visitor for bee houses in gardens. 

Pictured above left is the Coastal Leafcutter bee, Megachile maritima.
 

Mason bee, a small, reddish brown bee with a dark head and long black antennae.  this one is sitting on the ground.

Mason bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Osmia

Mason bees  like to make nests in crevices, sometimes in old mortar, or even empty snail shells.  Belonging to the genus Osmia, the name means 'odor', referring to the scent they use to mark their nest entrances.  Around 500 species of Osmia have been identified around the world.

Pictured above left is the red mason bee - Osmia bicornis.

Tawny mining bee - Andrena fulva

Mining bees (Family: Andrenidae)
Genus - Andrena

Mining bees belong to one of the largest families of bee genera, with around 1400 known species.  Andrena comes from the Greek for 'buzzing insect'. Mining bees are solitary, although females usually build nests quite close to each other.  Andrena species are important for pollination of some key crops, such as blueberries, apples and cranberries.  

From the name, you probably guessed that mining bees excavate tunnels and cells under-ground. If you're lucky, you may see evidence of them in your garden: little mounds of earth in lawns, borders, or even in pots that look a bit like worm casts. In general, they seem to prefer sandy soil.

Pictured above is the Tawny Mining Bee – Andrena fulva, a species found in Europe.

Violet Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa violacea foraging on pink sweatpea flowers.  This large dark bee has a metallic blue-purple sheen to its body.

Large carpenter bees (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Xylocopa

More than 500 Xylocopa species are known worldwide. Xylocopa is Greek for 'wood worker', referring to the nest making habits of this species by chewing tunnels into wood.  The species pictured above left is called a 'Violet Carpenter Bee' - Xylocopa violacea.

plasterer bee on white daisy

Plasterer bees  (Family: Colletidae)
Genus - Colletes

Also known as '
cellophane bees', and sometimes even 'polyester bees'.  They are known for creating and lining their nests with a waterproof substance.

wool carder bee on lamb's ear

Wool Carders (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Anthidium

The gorgeous wool carder gathers hairs from plants, rolls them into a ball, and uses them to create its nest.  Some of these species can be mistaken for wasps because of their yellow and black body markings. There are around 160 known species worldwide.


hairy footed flower bee female foraging on pulmonaria

Flower bees  (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Anthophora

The word Anthophora means 'flower bearer'.  There are around 400 known species worldwide. These bees are able to buzz pollinate, and some will emerge in the cool weather to forage in early spring.  Above is a hairy footed flower bee - Anthophora plumipes feeding on a very useful source of early spring food for bees - Pulmonaria.

nomad bee by a nest burrow

Nomad bees  (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Nomada

Nomad bees could easily be mistaken for small wasps. They are cleptoparasites, often attacking the nests of bees from the Andrena genus, but sometimes the nests of Colletes, Lasioglossum and Eucera, among others. There are around 700 known species worldwide.

long horned bee on blue flower

Long-horned bees  (Family: Apidae)
Genus - Eucera

Beautiful bees!
Eucera means 'well-horned' in Greek.  The 'horns' refer to the long antennae present in the males.  Around 400 species are known worldwide.

orange legged furrow bee on knapweed flower

Furrow bees  (Family: Halictidae)
Genus - Halictus

The Greek word 
Halictus is believed to originate from the Greek term for gathering or collecting. These bees tend to have a distinctive striped appearance.  In terms of foraging, they are generalists.  
Look out for these charming bees foraging on wild flowers such as knapweed and thistles, or look to flowers from the Asteraceae family (daisy type flowers) in your garden.  Pictured above left is an orange-legged furrow bee.

Identification can at times, be difficult, and more than once I have observed bee experts debate the identification of species when presented with a photograph.  

If you want to know where bees fit into the grand scheme of things, then take a look at this fun link about the insect order 'Hymenoptera', which actually includes other types of insects, including ants. I hope you like the drawings! 



References




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