How to Identify Flower Bees

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picture of a honeybee on lilac.

The story of flower bees extends far beyond the basic honeybee. Approximately four thousand bees inhabit North America, and many households who practice bee friendly gardening get treated with their presence and pollination help. Inviting multiple bee species to the yard relies on two simple tasks. Ecologically bees and native plants evolved together over time, so planting native flora encourages native bees to visit.

White, yellow and blue or UV flowers often attract bees. Additionally the shape of the flower counts. Flat top flowers that allow bees to land and walk, and tubular flowers often do the trick. Some plants do double work. For example, milkweed gets its reputation as the larval food for the monarch butterfly. Less well known is the fact that it also supports the local bumblebee, honeybee, digger bee, Halictid bee, wasp and flower fly populations. The popular and omnipresent Purple Coneflower also works wonders attracting bee flies, Halictid bees, honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees and leaf-cutting bees.

Second, news stories about the harms that pesticide use cause to local bee populations consistently appear in the media. Abstaining from pesticides and promoting healthy plant growth will help keep the local bee populations healthy.

Biodiversity of pollinators is also of extreme importance for maintaining the health of the local ecosystem. Bees don’t tend to set up a tent and remain in the yard. They fly around the neighborhood, and sometimes beyond. The biodiversity they contribute to helps the entire ecosystem more constructively deal with a variety of environmental changes.

Pressing the button leads to detailed information on more of the most common types of bees, honeybees and bumblebees, that visit the garden. This section provides an introductory look at additional bee species that share the garden with them.

Sweat Bees

picture of a scollid wasp, common flower wasps

Counting over five hundred species arranged in eighteen genera, the sweat bees (family halcitidae) dominate the flower scene in gardens across North America. Their large population continues to teach scientists much of what they know about social bees. In fact, depending on circumstances, some are social nesters, and others are solitary ground-nesters. Even the ground-nesters show some nesting diversity. For example, what may at first look like a community of nesting sweat bees turns out to be a group of individual bees that share a common nest entrance and then they go on to construct their ow individual nests.

The Metallic Green Bees in the genus Agapostemon rank among the most colorful flower visitors with their iridescent green thorax and striped abdomens.

picture of a wasp in the Bembicinae genera

As the first two pictures show, abdomens with either yellow and black or white on black stripes are common looks for many of Agapostemn species.

picture of an all green sweat bee

A small, all green sweat bee taking a break from the flowers and consuming some soil nutrients.

picture of a tiffid wasp

Many sweat bee genera display more bland thoracic colors. Using the striped abdomen as a general identification rule of thumb provides a first guestimate that the bee in question is one of many sweat bee species.

Other Bees

picture of a small carpenter bee in the Certina genera

The obvious identification question that comes up in any flower bee discussion deals with differentiating between them and flower wasps. Generally the basic rule of thumb that bees are hairy and wasps not hairy. The picture of the small carpenter bee (certina) shows that the rule of thumb does not always apply.

Small carpenter bees can be found from coast to coast. Fortunately, unlike their larger relatives, they do not pose a problem to residential structures. They build their nests in branches and twigs.

picture of a mason bee

An entire family of Mason bees visit flowers on a regular basis. The story of the Wool Carder Bee introduced some additional excitement to an otherwise familiar story. They are a non-native species, recently introduced from Europe, and they have subsequently extended their range from coast to coast. The name refers to the habit of grabbing hairs from plants in order to cushion their nests.

Wool Carder Bees are very territorial. If you take a few moments to watch them, their aggressiveness becomes very apparent. They tend to instantly attack any bee, wasp or fly that comes their way. Fortunately they are not aggressive toward humans and watching the drama play out in the garden can be an interesting exercise.

picture of a megachile bee

The bee family called Leaf-cutter Bees (Megachile) can sometimes be easily identified by they yellow pollen all over their underside. They lead an interesting life. Their nests are built in the ground and lined with leaves, hence the name. Fortunately they seldom sting.