Types of Bees

Updated: 29th January 2021

Pictured: Ashy mining bee female - Andrena cineraria foraging on dandelion flower.Ashy mining bee female - Andrena cineraria foraging on dandelion flower.

How many types of bees are there?

There are around 25,000 species of bees worldwide, and specifically:

These 25,000 species can be divided into:

  • over 4000 genera (types of bees) 
  • belonging within 9 groups or 'families', all under the banner - 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?

Further more, there are:

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

    ....and there are probably more species to be discovered!

Below, you'll find information to some of the most well known types of bees (honey bees, bumble bees, leafcutter, mason and carpenter bees), but you can read about some of the less-well known species by scrolling further down the page and exploring the links.

But first.....

Here is a table outlining the types of bees by 'family' or 'taxa', as follows:

Super-family: Apoidea
(Note: This family also includes 'Sphecoid Wasps', not detailed here)
Family Notes
Apidae Includes: honey bees, bumblebees and stingless bees.
Megachilidae Mostly solitary bees, including leafcutter and mason bees.
Andrenidae Mining bees. A large family of bees, with many species. It includes the genera 'Andrena', with other 1300 species alone.
Colletidae Believed to consist of around 2,000 species, and includes plasterer and yellow-faced bees.
Halictidae Often called 'sweat bees', these are smallish bees, mostly dark coloured, but some having green, yellow or red markings.
Melittidae A small family of bees in Africa, with around 60 species belonging to 4 genera.
Meganomiidae Small bee family of about 10 species in 4 genera. Found in Africa.
Dasypodaidae Originally called 'dasypodidae'. Small bee family found in Africa, with more than 100 species in 8 genera.
Stenotritidae Small bee family with around 21 species in 2 genera. Found in Australia. Originally part of the 'Colletidae' family.

Note that some writings do not refer to Meganomiidae or Dasypodaidae as 'higher taxa', where as, APIDAE is split into "APIDAE, Apinae", "APIDAE, Xylocpinae" and "APIDAE, Nomadinae".

As I said, there are about 25,000 types of bees, and I’m not going to pretend I can write about all of them on this site! Instead, I’m going to focus on the types of bees people most commonly have a query about.

The most well known types of bees are probably honey bees, bumble bees, mason, leafcutter and carpenter bees

Honey bees (Family: Apidae)

Honey bee - Apis mellifera flying toward purple loosestrife.Honey bee - Apis mellifera flying toward purple loosestrife.

Honey bees are classed as ‘social’ bees, as they live in colonies usually consisting of around 50,000 – 60,000 workers.

There are 10 types of honey bee world wide, and one hybrid: the Africanized bee. The European Honey Bee Apis Mellifera is commonly kept by beekeepers in the West, who then harvest their honey.

For more information about honey bees, click here.  Honey bees play an important role, along with beekeepers, in conservation. Learn more here.

Honey bees are also used extensively in
crop pollination too, and along with other bees, they help to put food on our plates.

Bumble bees (Family: Apidae)

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

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 'social 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 shape, but also because they have the ability to 'buzz pollinate'. To read more about bumble bees generally, take a look at my section about bumble bees.

Leafcutter and mason bees (Family: Megachilidae)

Coastal Leafcutter Bee female - foraging on pink restharrow flower growing from sandy soilCoastal Leafcutter Bee - Megachile maritima - female - foraging on restharrow.

These types of bees are solitary bees. With solitary bees, usually, a single female mates, then constructs a nest alone, and provides for the egg cells that will become larvae.

However, some solitary bees in one sense, do live in a simple form of society (or social group) in that a few individual bees may nest close to each other, and in some cases, even share nest guarding and foraging duties! 

Mason bees like to make nests in crevices, sometimes in old mortar, where as leaf cutter bees like hollow stems and ready made holes in wood.

Leafcutter bees neatly cut away a pieces of leaf for constructing their egg cells. Note, that leafcutter bees will in no way harm the plant from which it has removed the segment of leaf.

Learn more about leafcutter bees and mason bees .

Solitary bees are increasingly being reared for commercial bee pollination. This is happening with bumble bees too, although I wish they would first sort out the environmental factors linked with bee decline, such as pesticide use. 

Digger bees and carpenter bees (Family: Apidae –originally, they were classified in the family ‘Anthophoridae’)

Violet Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa violacea foraging on small blue bell flowersViolet Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa violacea

These are also solitary bees, and are good pollinators.

Not surprisingly, digger bees usually make their nests in soil. They have hairy bodies, and can be up to 3cm long!

Carpenter bees vary. Some species in the USA, for example, may have a ginger brown, hairy body, or have predominantly black shiny bodies. This picture I took (left), is of a carpenter bee species that is found in Italy and some other southern European countries. It's called a 'Violet Carpenter Bee' - Xylocopa violacea. It likes to nest in old wood. Recently, it has been spotted in the UK, but is a very recent arrival. You can learn more about these kinds of bees on my carpenter bees link.

Mining bees (Family: Andrenidae)

Tawny mining bee - Andrena fulvaTawny mining bee - Andrena fulva

Not to be confused with 'Digger Bees', Mining bees belong to a different family of bees altogether - and it's a huge family of bees, consisting of thousands of types of bees across the world. Mining bees are solitary, although females usually build nests quite close to each other.

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. They will not cause any damage, and indeed, mining bees should be welcomed in the garden, as again, they are not only enchanting little creatures, they are also valuable pollinators of plants and flowers. Pictured above is the Tawny Mining Bee – Andrena fulva,a species found in Europe.

Pictured below is Andrena haemorrhoa -  the Orange-tailed mining bee, or Early mining bee.

To learn more about mining bees click here.

Andrena haemorrhoa - also known as the Orange-tailed mining bee, or Early mining bee foraging on a yellow dandelionAndrena haemorrhoa - also known as the Orange-tailed mining bee, or Early mining bee.

More different types of bees.....

There are many bee species that most people are unfamiliar with: long-horned bees, flower bees, nomad bees and more!  Take a look if you'd like to learn more about them.

plasterer bee on white daisy

Plasterer bees
Also known as 'cellophane bees', and sometimes even 'polyester bees', read about the amazing 'glue' made by these types of bees, and more.

hairy footed flower bee female foraging on pulmonaria

Flower bees
Here you can read about the 'Hairy footed flower bee' and watch it feeding on pulmonaria.

nomad bee by a nest burrow

Nomad bees
Nomad bees could easily be mistaken for small wasps. They are cleptoparasites.

long horned bee on blue flower

Long-horned bees
The 'horns' refer to the long antennae present in the males.

orange legged furrow bee on knapweed flower

Furrow bees
Look out for these charming bees foraging on wild flowers such as knapweeds and thistles.

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! 

Books about bees

There are many books available from which can help you learn all about bees, from bee identification, to beekeeping books.  Please see this link for my recommendations.

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