Closely related to ants and wasps, bees are one of the most common flying insects in the world. These flying creatures are known for playing a significant role in pollination – the act of transferring pollen grain from a stamen to the female stigma.
The act of pollination helps make a variety of plants strong and healthy. In addition to pollination, bees are also famous for producing honey (which is widely used as a common food ingredient) and beeswax (a vital ingredient in the making of products like candles, moisturizers, lip balms, ointments etc). These important functions of bees are a testament to the fact that bees are important for our ecosystem.
Research shows that 1/3rd of the food that we consume today depend on pollination by bees. For example, various culinary herbs and seeds such as fennel are all enjoyed by us today because they were pollinated by bees.
While bees are crucial for edible food production via pollination, their benefits go far beyond that. Bees also largely contribute to the overall beauty of gardens and landscapes. In other words, these creatures have a positive impact on the environment generally.
While bees are known for pollinating flowers and various food crops, not many people know that some bees pollinate trees as well. That’s right, trees need bees too! Being the biggest plants on earth, trees are vital as they provide oxygen to living beings and are home to many animals.
Bees support the life of trees by pollinating them which, in turn, help people and animals live a comfortable life. Some of the trees that can’t do without bees include rowans, hazel, cherry, plum, pear, apple, and whitebeam – to name a few.
Most people are aware of one common type of bee – honeybees. But did you know that there is more than just one kind of bee? There is a wide range of bees in this world and in this blog post, we’ll discuss all those types. So, let’s get started!
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Related: All types of insects
Anatomy of a Bee
Bees belong to the super-family – Apoidea which is further divided into sub-families. Here, we have outlined various types of bee families and their significant bee members.
Within the super-family of Apoidea, Apidae is the largest bee family as it consists of approximately 5700 species of bees. Apidae comprises of the most popular types of bees in the world as discussed in detail below:
Honey bees, of all kinds, live on nectar and pollen and are found in all continents except for Antarctica. These social insects live in colonies with one queen that runs the whole hive of worker bees and drone bees. The bees that we commonly see flying around are worker bees. Let’s discuss the designated roles of each type of honey bee.
As mentioned above there is only one queen bee in a hive. In simpler terms, she is considered as the mother of all bees in the hive. Being the only fertile member, queen bees can lay up to 1500 eggs in seasons like spring and summer.
These insects tend to have tiny wings but a long abdomen. After laying eggs, queen bees go out and mate with 15 or so drones for a course of three days and then settle back to their hive and lay more eggs.
Basically, the male bees are known as drone bees. These bees have large, round bodies with large eyes. Their only job is to mate with their queen or other hive members.
These bees die immediately after mating. Otherwise, they can live up to 90 days which is twice more than a worker bee.
The majority of a beehive is made up of worker bees as they share 99% of the colony’s population. These bees are all female and have various roles. Worker bees ought to feed and look after the larvae, tend to the needs of the queen, clean the hive, collect food, build honeycomb, and guard the colony against intruders.
Consisting of over 250 species, bumblebees are large, hairy insects with super short wings. What makes them different from honey bees is the fact that they are bigger and do not produce honey. However, bumblebees are crucial for creating pollination. Without them, food crops wouldn’t reap any result. While generally, bumblebees are large in size, their sizes can still vary. The largest bumblebee is the queen of the Bombus dahlbomii that can grow up to the length of 1.6 inches. According to Scientific American, this is thrice the size of the American bumblebee.
While there are many kinds of animals that pollinate including bats, birds, and butterflies, bumblebees are extremely great at it. These bees are known for buzz pollination in which they beat their wings for 130 times or more per second. These beating occurring through their bodies encourage the flower to vibrate until they release pollen. Research shows that buzz pollination allows plants to grow more fruits than normal pollination.
Given the huge population of bumblebee, it is not surprising that these insects are found all around the world. The largest bumblebee is concentrated in Chile and Argentina while Bombus affinis (Rusty-patched bumble bee) is found in North America.
Sometimes known as stingless honey bees, this large group of bees is closely related to other types of bees such as honey bees, orchid bees, carpenter bees, and bumblebees. As the name gives way, these bees do not sting which is unlike other kinds of bees. When it comes to defending their beehive or themselves, they bite.
Stingless bees are commonly found in tropical and subtropical parts of the world which includes Africa, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. These bees are active in all seasons, except for winters. They build their beehive in tree branches, rock crevices, or hollow trunks.
Like honeybees, stingless bees also produce honey. They store their honey in oval-shaped pots made up of beeswax. Did you know that stingless bees’ honey is considered as a major source of medicine in Africa?
In spring, many people come across large, black bees forging around the outside of their houses. These bees, are generally, carpenter bees. Carpenter bees bear resemblance with bumble bees but they possess hairless and an intense black body. On the other hand, the bumblebee is black and yellow in color and has a fur-covered body.
Their living style is also quite different from bumblebees as these species prefer to live inside the wood, along with their egg(s). They excavate holes in woods so that they can look after their young ones without getting disturbed. Owing to their unique habitat, these bees are named “carpenter bees.”
Since they reside inside the wood, it is likely for them to damage your furniture and wooden floors if they have gotten inside your house. Hence, these bees can be quite destructive and a nuisance to a homeowner. In order to get rid of these bees, homeowners must use insecticides with ingredients like biferthrin, deltamethrin, lambda cyhalothrin, and cyfluthrin.
Orchid bees are found in an astounding array of sizes, shapes, and colors from black and yellow Eulaema to emerald Exaerete to shiny green, blue, red, or gold Euglossa, their kinds are plenty! However, these diverse types of bees are only found in the states of America. You’ll see them heavily populated in regions like Panama and Costa Rica.
Like typical bees, orchid bees like to collect nectar, pollen, along with resin from flowers. To perform this function, these bees travel a long distance as some of them are believed to fly up to 30 miles in one trip.
Besides their amazing flight skills, the male orchid bees are also into collecting different types of scents. While it is not clearly known why they collect perfume, it may have to do with attracting their female counterparts. In order to seek scents of cinnamon, vanilla, or rotting meat, orchid bees cover a long distance.
The second type of sub-family of bees is Megachilidae that mostly consists of solitary bees. Some of these bees are discussed below:
Leafcutter bees are known for being productive pollinators as they pollinate for several kinds of flowers and plants. These bees are solitary in nature which means that every female leafcutter bee is a queen and performs all their chores by themselves.
They carry pollen under their fuzzy abdomen and scrape it with her nesting hole. Since the pollen is moved around dry, it easily falls off on flowers, resulting in the pollination of flowers. This particular trait makes them a better pollinator than honey bees that make the pollen wet. The damped pollen, at times, stays stuck onto their bodies on their way back to the hive.
In addition to being great pollinators, they are the gentlest bees which make them the first choice for beekeepers. They don’t sting either. The only instance where these gentle insects may sting is when they feel threatened. While leafcutter bees are solitary in nature, they like having company. Therefore, these bees tend to build their nests near other bees. Besides that, raising leafcutter bees takes less time, energy, and money. They come in a wide range of affordable prices, making it easier to pick one.
Mason bees are another type of bees that are gentle and great pollinators. Owing to both these traits, these good-natured bees are easy and simple to maintain. You can consider keeping them in your backyard or garden. Out of all the species of mason bees, the blue orchard mason bee is quite a productive pollinator for nut trees, berry plants, and fruit trees/plants. Like leafcutter bees, mason bees also carry the pollen dry which helps in pollinating a wide variety of flowers on their way back to their hive.
Another good reason to maintain mason bees is their solitary nature. They do not prefer living in a hive and build their own nests, where they keep their food and lay their eggs. While many bees may bite or sting, mason bees are too busy to fight. In fact, their venom is their last resort to protect themselves from being destroyed. You can easily watch them hard at work without getting afraid to get stung.
This family is also known by their alternative names like Andrenid bees, mining bees, solitary bees, burrowing bees, ground-nesting bees. It is basically a large family of bees, consisting of almost 1300 species. Let’s talk about this family in detail below:
Mining bees are the largest group of solitary bees ever, with the males being tan or light brown in color and the females being reddish orange in appearance. The males mining bees are smaller than the female ones.
Unlike other common types of bees, mining bees build their nests and lay eggs in sandy ground. Among the several types of mining bees, following are the two popular kinds:
Ashy Mining Bee
Having the scientific name – Andrena cineraria, the ashy mining bees are a gentle and harmless ground-nesting bee. The male Ashy mining bees are slender as compared to the females and exhibit a few grayish hair strands on their abdomen. On the other hand, the female ashy mining bees are slightly heavier and have their abdomen in a shiny blackish blue hue.
While their main habitat is the ground where they also lay their eggs, they are still seen in different kinds of habitats such as gardens, coastal grasslands, open woodlands, and ground fields. These bees are commonly seen in the south of England and Wales. They are also a common occurrence in central Europe.
Grey-Patched Mining Bees
Bees, of all types, love hovering around dandelions. This also includes grey-patched mining bees (also known as Andrena nitida). Apart from dandelions, these bees may also be seen buzzing around gorse, hawthorn, blackthorn, willow, cherries, speedwell, and dead nettles.
These types of bees are commonly seen in Britain during spring, nesting on a turf (both flat and sloppy). Their nests may also be seen in lawns or hillsides. These species are considered “univoltine” which means that they only breed a single generation per year. These species may not be an attacker themselves but pose a great deal of threat from parasites like Gooden’s Nomad Bee (Nomada goodeniana).
Collectively referred to as plasterer bee or polyester bee, colletidae consists of over 2000 species with most of them being solitary bees. Most of these groups have moist or semi-moist pollen on which the larvae grow. However, two of these subfamilies – Euryglossinae and Hylaeinae lack the scope – pollen-transferring apparatus. Owing to this characteristic, these subfamilies fail to pollinate.
Out of all the solitary bees, plasterer bees are the first solitary bees that are seen in the springtime and last to be seen in autumn. Some of these species are bivoltine, having two generations per year. But the majority of these species are univoltine – brooding only one generation per year. These bees are most common in North America whereas ninety-nine of these species are settled in North of Mexico and Southern New England.
The male polyester bee follows the females and is quite aggressive in their approach. The males also have long antennae than their female counterpart. However, they lack scope on each of their hind leg. The males tend to take breaks during their flight as they land on the ground, near a nesting area. On the other hand, females are too busy with their work to pause and land.
Commonly known as Sweat bees, Halictidae are social bees in the truest sense of the word. These species are seen all over the world in their darkish hue with both metallic and not-so metallic appearance. Most of these insects also come in green or red color with yellow markings. The males are distinctive from the females as they possess a yellow face and two pair of transparent wings. Female haliticids carry pollen on their tibia and femur of their hind legs.
Most of these species build their nest underground. They also build their home in rotting wood that may resemble their ground nests. That being said, some of the halictids don’t build nests at all. This specie of bees is divided into the following subfamily:
Each of these subfamilies has distinctive habitat characteristics.
Ever wondered how these bees got their name? That’s because of their attraction to precipitation that led to the naming of “sweat bees”.
This is a small bee family, with only around 200 species in their subfamilies. These species are heavily concentrated in Africa and the northern temperate zone.
Not only they are small in number, but these bees are also small in size. It is often suggested that Melittidae is a sister to all other kinds of bees. However, the lack of investigation in this regard makes it hard to prove the point.
This is the type of bee species that are found only in Africa. Both the male and the female lot come with elaborate yellow or cream markings on their head.
Meganomiinae consists of short and sharp glossa, prominent middle coxa, galeal comb, and pygidial plate.
Dasypodaidae is another small bee family, consisting more than hundred species in eight genera. These species are common in Africa along with the northern temperate zone.
These bees are small to medium in size with unkempt scopae and oligolectic – an organ used during pollination. Every species in this family consists of two submarginal cells in their forewings, which is unlike the taxonomy of honey bees and bumblebees.
Popularly seen in Australia, stenotritidae is the smallest bee family with only twenty-one species. These bees are large, fuzzy, and speedy and prefer to build ground-burrows as for their habitat and laying eggs.
Each of these bee types holds worldwide importance but unfortunately, many of them have become endangered such as honey bees and bumble bees. It’s crucial that we help save the bees and make the world a safer place for them.