Quicklist: Types of Bees
- Honey Bees
- Stingless Bees
- Carpenter Bees
- Orchid Bees
- Leafcutter Bees
- Mason Bees
- Mining Bees
- Ashy Mining Bee
- Grey-Patched Mining Bees
Closely related to ants and wasps, bees are one of the most common flying insects in the world. The flying creatures play 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 such as candles, moisturizers, lip balms and ointments).
These important functions of bees are a testament to the fact that bees are important for our ecosystem. Research shows that one third 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, they 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 of us are aware of a few kinds of bees, such as the bumblebee and the honey bee — the latter happens to be one of the first domesticated insects. But there are more than 16,000 species of bees, in nine biological families, and we dig into some of their fascinating history in this research guide.
Anatomy of a Bee
Bees belong to the superfamily, Apoidea, which is further divided into nine subfamilies. Here, we outline various types of bee families and some of their significant bee members.
Within the superfamily of Apoidea, Apidae is the largest subfamily with more than 5,700 species of bees. Apidae contains of the most well-known types of bees as we discuss below:
Honey bees, of all kinds, live on nectar and pollen and are found on all continents, except for Antarctica. The social insects live in elaborate nest structures with one queen that runs the entire hive of worker bees and drone bees. The bees commonly seen flying around are the workers.
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 1,500 eggs through the spring and summer.
The insects tend to have tiny wings but a long abdomen. After laying eggs, queen bees go out and mate with 15 or so drones over a course of three days, and then settle back in their hive and lay more eggs.
Male bees are known as drone bees. These bees have large, round bodies and their only job is to mate with their queen or other hive members.
The drones die immediately after mating. Otherwise, they can live up to 90 days which is twice as long as a worker bee.
The majority of a beehive is made up of worker bees who are 99% of the colony’s population. These bees are all female and have various roles. Worker bees 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 of more than 250 species, bumblebees are large, hairy insects with short wings. What differentiates them from honey bees is the fact that they are bigger and do not produce honey. However, bumblebees play a crucial role in the pollination process. Without them, food crops wouldn’t reap any result.
While bumblebees are generally large in size, their sizes still vary. The largest bumblebee is the queen of the Bombus dahlbomii that can grow up to a length of 1.6 inches. According to Scientific American, this is three or four times the size of the American bumblebee.
While there are many kinds of animals that pollinate, including bats, birds, and butterflies, bumblebees are extremely good at their job. Tolerant of cooler temperatures and higher elevations, they are particularly important in pollinating wild flowers and agricultural crops.
Bumblebees are known for buzz pollination in which they beat their wings 130 times, or more, per second. The intense vibration, occurring throughout their bodies, works to dislodge pollen from flowers. Research shows that buzz pollination allows plants to grow more fruit than other methods of pollination.
Bombus dahlbomii 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 suggests, 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, including Africa, Australia, Brazil, Mexic, and Southeast Asia.
The bees are active in all seasons, except for winter. They build their hives 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. Stingless bees’ honey is 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 usually carpenter bees. Carpenter bees bear a resemblance to bumblebees but they are hairless and a black body.
Their lifestyle is also quite different from bumblebees as they prefer to live inside wood, along with their eggs. They excavate holes in wood so that they can look after their young without disturbance. Due to their unique habitat, the bees have been named “carpenter bees.”
Orchid bees are found in many different shapes, sizes and colors, from black and yellow Eulaema to emerald Exaerete to shiny green, blue, red, or gold Euglossa.
Like typical bees, orchid bees like to collect nectar, pollen, along with resin from flowers. To perform this function, the bees travel a long distance and some of them fly up to 30 miles in one trip.
Besides their amazing flight skills, male orchid bees also collect different types of scents. While it is not clearly known why they collect perfume, it may have to do with attracting their female counterparts.
The Megachilidae subfamily mainly consists of solitary bees.
Leafcutter bees are known for being productive pollinators as they pollinate several kinds of flowers and plants. The bees are solitary in nature — every female leafcutter bee is a queen and performs all the chores by herself.
Pollen is carried under the fuzzy abdomen and scraped at the edges of the nesting hole. Since the pollen is moved around dry, it falls off the flowers, resulting in pollination.
This particular trait makes leafcutters better pollinators than honey bees because the latter transfer wet pollen. Dampened pollen sticks to their bodies on the way back to the hive.
In addition to being great pollinators, leafcutters are among the gentlest of bees which make them the first choice for beekeepers. The only instance where the insects may sting is when they feel threatened.
While leafcutter bees are solitary in nature, they like having company and tend to build their nests near other bees.
Mason bees are also gentle and great pollinators. The blue orchard mason bee is a particularly productive pollinator of fruit trees, nut trees and berry 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 the hive.
Mason bees maintain a solitary nature. They do live in hives but rather build nests, where they keep food and lay eggs. While many bees may bite or sting, mason bees are too involved in what they’re doing to fight.
This subfamily, consisting of almost 1,300 species, is also known by other names, such as Andrenid bees, mining bees, solitary bees, burrowing bees or ground-nesting bees.
Mining bees are the largest group of solitary bees, with the males tan or light brown in color and the females reddish orange in appearance. The males are smaller than the females.
Unlike other types of bees, mining bees build their nests and lay eggs in sandy ground.
Ashy Mining Bee
Ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) are a gentle and harmless ground-nesting bee. Male ashy mining bees are slender, as compared to females, and exhibit a few gray hair strands on their abdomen.
Female ashy mining bees are slightly heavier and have a shiny blackish blue hue on their abdomen. They nest in different kinds of habitats such as gardens, coastal grasslands, open woodland, and ground fields. They are commonly found in the south of England, Wales and Europe.
Grey-Patched Mining Bees
Bees, of all types, love hovering around dandelions. This also includes grey-patched mining bees (Andrena nitida). Apart from dandelions, these bees may also be seen buzzing around gorse, hawthorn, blackthorn, willow, cherries, speedwell and dead nettles.
Grey-patched mining bees are commonly seen in Britain during spring, nesting on a turf (both flat and sloppy). Their nests may also be situated in lawns or hillsides. The species are “univoltine” and only breed a single generation, per year. .
Collectively referred to as plasterer bees or polyester bees, Colletidae consists of over 2,000 species of mainly bees. Most of the groups collect moist or semi-moist pollen on which the larvae grow.
However, two subfamilies, Euryglossinae and Hylaeinae, lack pollen-transferring apparatus and cannot pollinate. Out of all the solitary bees, plasterer bees are the first solitary bees to be seen in springtime and the last to be seen in autumn.
Some of the species are bivoltine and have two generations per year, but the majorityare univoltine, brooding only one generation per year. .
Commonly known as Sweat bees, Halictidae are social bees in the truest sense of the word. The species are active worldwide, with some metallic in appearance. Most also feature green or red colors and yellow markings.
The males are distinctive from the females as they possess a yellow face and two pairs of transparent wings. Female haliticids carry pollen on the tibia and femur of their hind legs.
Most of the species nest underground. Some of the halictids don’t build nests at all. They are grouped into the following subfamilies:
This is a small bee family, with only around 200 species, heavily concentrated in Africa and the northern temperate zone.
Whereas many bees pollinate a diverse selection of plants, Melittidae bees are thought to be oligoleges, and focus their collecting on specific plant families. This singular behavior of a specialized pollinator is also common in Andrenidae and Halictidae families.
This bee species, made up of 10 species in four genera, is found only in Africa. Both the male and the female feature elaborate yellow or cream markings on their head.
Meganomiinae have short and sharp glossa, prominent middle coxa, galeal comb and pygidial plate.
Dasypodaidae is another small bee family, consisting of more than hundred species in eight genera. These species are found in Africa and the northern temperate zone.s.
Stenotritidae is the smallest bee family with only 21 species, all of them found in Australia. The bees are large, fuzzy and fast, and prefer to build ground-burrows for their habitat.
Best Type of Bees For Various Purposes
Beginners – Italian Honeybee
Apiculture has gained tremendous traction over recent years. If you want to start, you need to think about a couple of things, such as the type of bees to keep and the kind of hive to get.
When it comes beekeeping, you are better off starting with a less aggressive species, like the Italian honeybee. Besides being gentle, Italian honeybees are also resistant to diseases and are excellent comb builders.
Interestingly, these bees were the first domesticated honeybees brought to North America. They tend to thrive in different climates. Additionally, Italian honeybees reproduce quickly and keep a large colony over the winter. On the downside, they will need more honey and pollen to get through the winter.
Bee Keeping – Carniolan Bee
The Carniolan bee is a subspecies of the Western honeybee, and its roots can be traced to Eastern Europe. Therefore, it is naturally adapted to long hot summers and cold winters. So, if you are a beekeeper in the United States, this species would be a perfect match.
There are other reasons why the Carniolan bee is a beekeeper’s best choice. For instance, they are good producers early in the season. They begin collecting resources for honey production early on.
Besides, they have a very long tongue, which makes it easy for them to collect nectar stored in flowers — they can reach places other bee species cannot access. They are also somewhat tolerant of their beekeepers but can defend the hive against insect pests.
Another compelling reason to choose Carniolan bees as a beekeeper is that they have a great sense of orientation. Therefore, they are less likely to drift between hives. Generally, they are economically sustainable.
Making Honey – Apis Bees
Did you know that not all bees make honey? That’s why choosing the species carefully is essential if your goal is to harvest honey. One of the best species when it comes to making honey is the Apis bee. They are even dubbed honey bees.
These bees, whose origin is in southeast Asia, can produce as much as 40 kg of honey per colony. The bees are known for their ability to construct perennial, colonial nests from wax and their surplus honey production.
Inside the colony, labor is divided among the bees based on caste and age. For instance, the drone’s only job is to mate with a virgin queen from another colony. The queen, which is the egg layer, lays up to 1500 eggs per day. Then there are worker honeybees that perform all the colony maintenance tasks. Each worker’s duty depends on age.
Pollination of Trees and Plants – Bumble Bees
Bumble bees are large, attractive insects — they have a black and yellow coloration. Although these bees don’t store surplus honey for harvesting, they make up for it by being the most significant bee pollinators of trees and plants.
These bees have a pollen basket on each hind leg, which is often loaded with pollen. They also have a long tongue and wing vibrating tendencies, which enhance their efficiency as pollinators.
Interestingly, their wings beat 130 or more times per second, so they perform buzz pollination. Like honeybees, bumble bees are social and live in colonies. Similarly, they have castes that determine how labor is divided.
More farmers continue to keep bumble bees for their commercial value. They keep managed bumble bee hives to pollinate berries, peppers, and hothouse tomatoes.
If there are bumble bees around your home, you can protect their hibernation habitat by avoiding raking or mowing your yard until around April or May.
Best types of Trees/Plants to Attract Bees – Dogwood Trees
Trees and plants are a source of forage for bees. The flowers provide nutrient-rich pollen and nectar that bees rely on for food and making honey. However, some trees and plants attract bees better than others.
If you are looking for species to attract bees, consider trees or plants with bright flowers. Flowering dogwood trees tend to do a decent job. For instance, the red twig dogwood has yellow-white flowers that attract bees.
As a bonus, the tree has coral-red branches that add beauty to the garden. Besides, it does well nearly anywhere.
Another favorite for bees is bee balm. It has bright petals with reds, pinks, and purples. Just like the red twig dogwood, bee balm is easy to grow. And it will also attract other animals, like butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.