NATIVE BEES

Not all bees live together in hives and make honey. An astounding bee diversity exists on our planet, with more than 4,000 bee species living in North America alone! Because they’ve evolved with native flowering plants over time, native bees play an essential role in the health of our ecosystems. Without their pollination of numerous flowers and crops, our landscapes would be much less colorful and our dinner plates much less healthy.

FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Bumblebees need areas of bare, undisturbed dirt to make their homes. Availability of early-season food sources is critical to support colony growth, but queens in particular also need late-blooming flowers (like aster and goldenrod) so they can gather food in the fall for stored energy.

BUMBLEBEES

Big, fuzzy and buzzy — bumblebees are the most well-known native bees to visit our gardens. They’re also the only bees native to North America that are truly social, living in a colony of 50-200 that consists of a queen and workers. Bumblebees’ insulating coat of hair helps them tolerate cooler weather, which also explains why they’re often the first bees we see foraging in spring and the last bees we see in fall.

Sadly, more than one quarter of North American bumblebees are facing some degree of extinction risk.[1] In 2017, the rusty patched bumblebee was the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed as endangered. In 2018, conservation groups petitioned for endangered status of four bumblebee species native to California.[2] A recent study also revealed the striking decline of bumblebees in Vermont which may warrant an endangered listing for three species.[3]

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Hefty bodies with yellow on the head, thorax and abdomen; females collect pollen on their hind legs as well as their hairy bodies.

Nesting Habit

Ground-nesting, often in abandoned rodent holes or other existing cavities.

Lifestyle

Social

Floral Diet

Generalist — they’ll forage a variety of plants for pollen and nectar.

Pollination Specialty

Tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, watermelons, potatoes and many wildflowers.

Unique Skill

Buzz pollination — bumblebees can unhinge their wings from their flight muscles and vibrate their bodies. For certain plants, this powerful vibrating action is the most effective way to release tightly-packed pollen.

Buzzworthy Fact

Only the new queens born at the end of the season hibernate underground through winter, after mating. In spring, they emerge to search for a new nest site and start a new colony.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Bumblebees need areas of bare, undisturbed dirt to make their homes. Availability of early-season food sources is critical to support colony growth, but queens in particular also need late-blooming flowers (like aster and goldenrod) so they can gather food in the fall for stored energy.

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FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Mason bees need mud or clay for nesting material, as well as early-blooming sources of food nearby. Good options include flowering fruit trees (ornamental or edible), redbuds, berry shrubs, pussy willow and single-petal rose varieties. Dandelions also provide nutrition when other flowers haven’t yet bloomed.

MASON BEES

The blooming of redbuds and the appearance of mason bees — both exciting signs of springtime! Got fruit trees or berry plants? You’ll definitely want these hard-working pollinators around!

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Round bodies, often with a metallic sheen (blue, purple, green or copper); females carry pollen on their hairy bellies.

Nesting Habit

Cavity-nesting in existing holes in wood or hollow stems.

Lifestyle

Solitary

Floral Diet

Most species are generalists.

Pollination Specialty

Apples, cherries, plums, peaches and almonds.

Unique Skill

Gathering mud with their jaws and using it to sculpt their nests.

Buzzworthy Fact

Their speedy work and pollen-collecting hairs on their belly make mason bees very efficient pollinators, especially when visiting early-blooming fruit trees. The blue orchard bee in particular is known for its superior pollination of orchard crops.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Mason bees need mud or clay for nesting material, as well as early-blooming sources of food nearby. Good options include flowering fruit trees (ornamental or edible), redbuds, berry shrubs, pussy willow and single-petal rose varieties. Dandelions also provide nutrition when other flowers haven’t yet bloomed.

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FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Don’t be alarmed (and don’t spray with pesticides) if you see small round holes in the leaves of your plants. This doesn’t harm the plants and just means gentle leafcutter bees are likely nearby — lucky you!

Leafcutter Bees

Leaf-surfing, fuzzy-bellied and gentle-natured. That’s a leafcutter bee! This productive pollinator emerges in the summertime to visit our flowers and gardens. Megachile actually means “large lipped” and refers to their big jaws which come in handy for cutting out leaf segments for their nests. Let them use some of your leaves, and they’ll pollinate your garden in return.

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Usually dark-colored and furry bodies, with pale stripes on abdomen; females have hairy bellies that collect pollen.

Nesting Habit

Cavity-nesting in existing holes.

Lifestyle

Solitary

Floral Diet

Generalists

Pollination Specialty

Melons, peas, sunflowers, alfalfa, milkweed and other summertime flowers.

Unique Skill

Neatly snipping leaf segments, then carrying the leaves back to line their nests.

Buzzworthy Fact

Leafcutters are bivoltine insects, meaning they can produce multiple generations in the same season. This happens when some of the eggs develop and emerge as adults in the same season they were laid. These second-generation bees will continue to mate and fill nesting holes with next year’s bees.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Don’t be alarmed (and don’t spray with pesticides) if you see small round holes in the leaves of your plants. This doesn’t harm the plants and just means gentle leafcutter bees are likely nearby — lucky you!

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FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Sweat bees have a long active season, foraging as early as April and as late as October. They need a continuous succession of blooming flowers during this time, with easily accessible pollen and nectar.

SWEAT BEES

Small but mighty, sweat bees are some of the most prolific summertime pollinators in our gardens, featuring a diversity of sizes and colors. They’ve earned their common name due to their curious attraction to human perspiration — it’s thought they may benefit from the added moisture and salt content. So if a sweat bee lands on your skin to take a sip, don’t swat! She might just need a little extra salt in her diet.

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Small with slender bodies. Perhaps the most beautiful and easiest to identify is the metallic green sweat bee, Agapostemon.

Nesting Habit

Ground-nesting, or occasionally making their home in rotting wood.

Lifestyle

Some species are solitary, while others display semi-social or communal behaviors.

Floral Diet

Generalists

Pollination Specialty

Wildflowers and vegetable seed crops.

Unique Skill

Tunneling underground to make their nests.

Buzzworthy Fact

For some sweat bee species, the larvae develops into a second generation of adults in the same season.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Sweat bees have a long active season, foraging as early as April and as late as October. They need a continuous succession of blooming flowers during this time, with easily accessible pollen and nectar.

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FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

While the benefits of their pollination outweigh any effects of their industrious excavation skills, not everyone wants carpenter bees as neighbors. If you want to deter them from nesting in wood structures on your property, try painting any unfinished wood or sealing it with polyurethane. A nearby pile of wood or a dead tree may also draw them away. No pesticides or exterminators, please!

CARPENTER BEES

Gentle giants with a commanding presence, the largest native bees in the U.S. don’t go unnoticed thanks to their burly bodies and loud buzzing. Often misunderstood and underappreciated, these beneficial pollinators deserve our respect too!

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Shiny, hairless and usually black abdomens.

Nesting Habit

Cavity-nesting in tree trunks, branches and other soft wood structures.

Lifestyle

Solitary — but unlike other solitary bees, the mothers do meet their offspring. They hibernate in winter as fully formed adults, huddled together inside their tunnels.

Floral Diet

Generalists

Pollination Specialty

Eggplant, tomatoes and other vegetables and native flowers.

Unique Skill

Buzz pollination — they can unhinge their wings from their flight muscles and vibrate their bodies. For certain plants, this powerful vibrating action is the most effective way to release tightly-packed pollen from their anthers.

Buzzworthy Fact

Male carpenter bees often hover near the nest entrance of females to keep other males and flying predators away. This territorial behavior appears intimidating, but males are all buzz and no sting — similar to all male bees, they don’t even have a stinger! Females, while equipped with a stinger, are generally docile unless directly provoked.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

While the benefits of their pollination outweigh any effects of their industrious excavation skills, not everyone wants carpenter bees as neighbors. If you want to deter them from nesting in wood structures on your property, try painting any unfinished wood or sealing it with polyurethane. A nearby pile of wood or a dead tree may also draw them away. No pesticides or exterminators, please!

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FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES
WORLDWIDE

SPECIES IN
NORTH AMERICA

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Many mining bee species emerge early in the spring, so they need early-blooming food sources. Widespread native plants that support specialist foragers include maples, serviceberries, blueberries and willows.

mining BEES

Andrenidae is the largest of all bee families, representing a large diversity of sizes, shapes and colors. Commonly called mining bees, they’re known to take up residence in urban and suburban lawns — so if you see small holes in the ground surrounded by little mounds of dirt, let them be! These gentle pollinators make great neighbors.

BEE BIO

Identifying Features

Most adults are black and fairly hairy, with pale stripes on their abdomen. Females collect pollen high on their hind legs.

Nesting Habit

Ground-nesting

Lifestyle

Solitary, although they often nest in large aggregations.

Floral Diet

Many are specialists, only collecting pollen from certain plants.

Pollination Specialty

Woodland wildflowers and early-flowering native shrubs, as well as some commercial crops.

Unique Skill

Some species can dig tunnels a foot or more below ground.

Buzzworthy Fact

The Perdita minima of the Sonoran Desert is the smallest bee in North America, measuring under 2 millimeters long.

BEESPONSIBLE TIP

Many mining bee species emerge early in the spring, so they need early-blooming food sources. Widespread native plants that support specialist foragers include maples, serviceberries, blueberries and willows.

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