Types of Bees

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

Below you'll find photos of 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, but also less well-known bee species, such as those that look a little like small flies (like the small resin bees) and those that might be mistaken for wasps (for example, nomad bees and wool carders).  If you'd like to go straight to that information, scroll down the page, or continue reading for a little background information.

Bee families and genera

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:

  • Families, subfamilies and tribes, genera
  • There are over 4,000 genera (i.e. types of bees). 

Furthermore, there are:

  • about 4,000 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 

When I first wrote this page, I listed 9 bee families from Michener's 'The Bees Of The World'.  I then read that there were currently 7 recognized bee families worldwide.  
Entomologist, Steven Falk  notes:

"The classification of bees is not particularly stable." He  further states, "At one extreme, all bees are placed in one family (Apidae), whilst at the other, up to nine separate families are recognized".

As of 2022, I am changing the number listed on this site back to 9 bee families:

Super-family: Apoidea
FamilyNotes
ApidaeLarge group of around 6,000 species. Includes social and solitary species. Some cleptoparasite bee species belong in this group.
MegachilidaeAround 3,000 species. Includes the world's largest known species, Megachile pluto. Some members of this family are cleptoparasties.
AndrenidaeA large family of bees, with around 2,700 species. There are no cleptoparasite species in this family.
ColletidaeBelieved to consist of around 2,000 species. Bees belonging in this group line their nests with a waterproof cellophane-like substance.
HalictidaeA 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.
MelittidaeA small family of bees with around 160 species.
StenotritidaeSmall bee family with around 21 species. Found in Australia. Originally part of the 'Colletidae' family.
MeganomiidaeSmall bee family of about 10 species in 4 genera. Found in Africa.
DasypodaidaeOriginally called 'dasypodidae'. Small bee family found in Africa, with more than 100 species in 8 genera.


Here are 15 types of bee species for you to look out for in your garden and local environment.  

1. Honey bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Apis

Honey bees, one of the most well known types of bees.  Here are two foraging on knapweed.

Honey bees are ‘social’ bees, and live in large colonies often consisting of around 50,000 – 60,000 workers.  The Western or European Honey Bee, Apis Mellifera is one of the best known species and is commonly kept by beekeepers, 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.

2. Bumble bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Bombus

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

Bumble bee colonies are usually 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 are some of the bees able to 'buzz pollinate'. 

3. Leafcutter bees (Family: Megachilidae) 
Genus - Megachile

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

If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of leafcutter bees snipping neat segments of leaf from a plant or bush, or perhaps making a nest in your bee hotel.  You can watch videos of this activity on my page about leafcutter bees

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 in existing crevices and hollow plant stems. Leafcutter bees are common in gardens, but look out for them in other environments too!

Pictured above is the Coastal Leafcutter bee, Megachile maritima.
 

4. Mason bees (Family: Megachilidae) Genus - Osmia

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

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 is the red mason bee - Osmia bicornis.

5. Mining bees (Family: Andrenidae) Genus - Andrena

Painted Mining Bee – Andrena fucata on pink wild rose flower

Mining bees belong to one of the largest families of bees, 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 underground. If you're lucky, you may see evidence of them in your garden: little mounds of earth in lawns, borders, that look a bit like worm casts. In general, they seem to prefer sandy soil.

Pictured above is the Painted Mining Bee – Andrena fucata.

6. Large carpenter bees (Family: Apidae) 
Genus - Xylocopa

Eastern Carpenter Bee - foraging on pale lilac flower cluster.  This large bee has a dark abdomen and pale ginger thorax.

Carpenter bees are large, burly bees.  More than 500 Xylocopa species are known worldwide.  Species are found in tropical regions, in the USA, Canada, and Europe.  They are known to buzz pollinate.

Xylocopa is Greek for 'wood worker', referring to the nest making habits of this species by chewing tunnels into wood. 

The species pictured above is called an Eastern carpenter bee - Xylocopa virginica which is sometimes mistaken for a bumble bee when seen in gardens.

7. Plasterer bees (Family: Colletidae) 
Genus - Colletes

Ivy Bee - Colletes hedera on ivy, side view

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


Pictured above is the 
Ivy Bee - Colletes hedera.

8. Wool Carders (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Anthidium

Wool carder bee on lamb's ear


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. 

Pictured above is a Wool Carder Bee, Anthidium manicatum

9. Flower bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Anthophora

A black, furry female Hairy-Footed Flower Bee - Anthophora plumipes foraging on pinkish purple pulmonaria flowers.

The word Anthophora means 'flower bearer'.  There are around 400 known flower bee 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.

Pictured above is the 
Hairy-Footed Flower Bee - Anthophora plumipes.

10. Nomad bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Nomada

Gooden's nomad bee by a nest burrow

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.  They are especially easy to spot when they are flying low around nest burrows of ground nesting bee species.

There are around 700 known species worldwide.

Pictured above is the 
Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodeniana.

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

long horned bee on blue flower

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

12. Furrow bees  (Family: Halictidae)
Genus - Halictus

orange legged furrow bee on knapweed flower

Over 300 species  of furrow bee have been described worldwide.  In some regions, various Halictus species are known to sip sweat from humans, and as a result, may be known as ‘sweat bees’ (along with species from the Lassioglossum genus, which also belong to the Halictidae family).

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 is an orange-legged furrow bee.

13. Yellow-faced bees (Family: Colletidae) 
Genus Hyleaus  

Yellow-faced bee, front view showing yellow markings on the face

Yellow-faced bees are small, enchanting bees, and this is the only bee genera native to Hawaii.  They are found around the world, with approximately 50 species on mainland North America, and 12 species in the UK.

These bees line their nests with a silk-like substance, and you can watch them in action on my page about Yellow-faced bees.

14. Resin Bees (Family: Megachilidae) 
Genus Heriades 

female resin bee side view

These small, blackish bees can easily be mistaken for little black flies.  Look out for the hairy pollen brush on the abdomen (only present on the female) and the slight curve to the tip of the abdomen. This species can be found in a variety of habitats across Europe, North and Central America, Japan, Asia, India parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. They collect resins from trees - often pines, which are then used to construct nest cells.

Read about the foraging and nesting habits of Resin Bees.

15. Pantaloon bees (Family: Melittidae) 
Genus Dasypoda

Female Pantaloon bee, Dasypoda hirtipes leaving her sandy nest burrow

The females of these gorgeous bees have especially long pollen-collecting hairs on their rear legs. They nest in sandy ground and may bee seen foraging on thistles, knapweeds and yellow composite flowers.  Entomologist, Steven Falk notes that 30 species have been described, all from the Old World.

Above is the Pantaloon Bee, Dasypoda hirtipes.

Identifying Bees

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.  

My bee identification tips may help you distinguish a bee from a fly or wasp.

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

Michener, Charles D. (2000). The Bees of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 19–25

- Danforth, B. N.; Sipes, S.; Fang, J.; Brady, S. G. (October 2006). "The history of early bee diversification based on five genes plus morphology". PNAS. 103 (41): 15118–15123.

- Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk.

The Bees In Your Backyard - A Guide To North America's bees by Joseph S Wilson and Olivia Messenger Carril.




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