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 is an introduction to 25 types (genera) of bees that you can look out for, depending on your local environment, including some you'll be familiar with, such as honey bees, bumble bees and leafcutters.  

But before we read about the 25, here's a short introduction to 15 less well-known types of bee, all of which are covered on this page.

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, though some are social or eusocial. 
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 9 bee families listed in Michener's 'The Bees Of The World'.  

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".

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.


25 Types Of Bee To Look Out For

Here are 25 types of bee (genera) for you to look out for in your garden and local environment.  

Note that the appearance of individual species within each genus will vary.

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 in hives, 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 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 BeeXylocopa 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 BeeColletes hedera.

8. Wool Carder Bees (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.

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. End-banded 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.

16. Sharp-tail Bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus Coelioxys

Side view of female of the short sharp-tail bee Coelioxys afra, a pale greyish bee with black markings and brownish grey eyes, black antennae

Like honey bees, these species have hairy eyes, but unlike honey bees, Coelioxys are cleptoparasites.  The females lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees, and their young eat the food stores intended for the offspring of the host.

Above is the female of the Short Sharp-tail Bee, Coelioxys afra.  Read about Coelioxys - sharp-tail bees.

17. Scissor Bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Chelostoma

Large Scissor Bee - Chelostoma florisomne - side view.  This slender bee is dark with pale, yellowish hair under the abdomen, and yellowish hairs on the legs.

Falk notes there are 60 Chelostoma species worldwide.

These small to medium size bees are slender, and make their nests in pre-existing holes and cavities that might be found in hollow plant stems, or empty beetle holes and crevices in wood and walls.  

Most scissor bees forage on very limited range of flowers.

Above is the Large Scissor Bee - Chelostoma florisomne.

18. Dark Bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Stelis

Little Dark Bee, Stelis breviuscula, foraging on a fellow flower.  Side view.

Stelis are small to medium-sized, cleptoparasitic bees.  They target a range of bee species, including the scissor bees, mason, and resin bees among others.

Pictured above is a female Little Dark Bee, Stelis breviuscula.

19. Small Carpenter Bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Ceratina

little blue carpenter bee Ceratina cyanea

These small to medium-sized bees are found on every continent apart from Antartica, and there are more than 350 Ceratina species worldwide.

They are related to the larger carpenter bees of the genus Xylocopa.  These bees have a metallic sheen on their bodies, which are practically hairless.

They forage on a range of flowers.

Pictured above is the Little Blue Carpenter Bee, Ceratina cyanea.

20. Mourning Bees (Family: Apidae) Genus - Melecta

Common Mourning Bee, Melecta albifrons, a hairy bee with a dark body and conspicuous pale markings and pale underbody.  This one is sitting on a yellow flower, probably dandelion.

Mourning bees are cleptoparasites, and target the nests of the flower bees of the genus Anthophora

There are 5 Melecta species in the United States and Canada, and 2 described species in Falk's Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.

Pictured above is a female Common Mourning Bee, Melecta albifrons.

21. Blood Bees  (Family: Halictidae)
Genus - Sphecodes

Giant Blood Bee, Sphecodes albilabris female inspecting the sandy nest burrow of a possible host species.  This is a dark, slender bee, but the abdomen is a vibrant red.

These cleptoparasitic bees have blood-red abdomens and target nests of ground-nesting species, in particular those of the Halictus, Andrena and Lassioglossum genera.

However, at first glance, they could easily be confused with non-parasitic species with similar red abdomens, such as the females of Andrena marginata, (the Small Scabious Mining Bee), or Andrena labiata (Red-girdled Mining Bee).

Pictured above is the Giant Blood Bee, Sphecodes albilabris.
Read and watch a short video about Blood Bees.

22. Blunthorn Bees (Family: Melittidae
Genus - Melitta

Red Bartsia Bee, Melitta tricincta, foraging on a red bartisa flower.  Side view.  A brownish, medium-sized bee with a paler upper body (thorax).

Around 50 Melitta species are found worldwide, but only 4 species are known in the USA and Canada, and 4 species described in Britain. 

Some species forage on a very limited range of flowers.  The American species, Melitta americana, is a useful pollinator of cranberries, which they are able to buzz pollinate.

Pictures above is a species found in Britain, the Red Bartsia Bee, Melitta tricincta.

23. Oil-collecting Bees (Family: Melittidae
Genus - Macropis

Yellow-loosestrife Bee, Macropis europaea. This female bee is dark with pale, distinctive bushy hairs on the hind legs.  She is foraging on a yellow loosestrife flower.

These bees are associated with Loosestrife (Lysimachia) flowers. 

Macropis collect pollen and floral oils using the specially adapted hairs on the front and hind legs.  The oil is used to waterproof their nests.

Pictured above is the Yellow-loosestrife Bee, Macropis europaea

Learn more about oil-collecting bees, Macropis.

24. Lesser Mason Bees (Family: Megachilidae)
Genus - Hoplitis

Tufted small mason bee, Hoplitis cristatula male, a brownish bee.

Falk notes there are over 350 species around the world.  They are found in most continents except South America and Australasia.

Above is a species found in Europe, the Tufted Small Mason bee, Hoplitis cristatula.

25. Base-banded Furrow Bees  (Family: Halictidae)
Genus - Lasioglossum

Lasioglossum bee species, a slender bee with a long abdomen and long antennae on mauve knapweed flower

Lasioglossum is the world's largest genus of bees, with over 1,700 described species, according to entomologist, Steven Falk

In appearance, they range from tiny, to about the size of a honey bee.  Most species nest underground in the soil.

In some regions of the world, Lasioglossum species are known to collect human sweat, and are given the name 'Sweat Bees'.

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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