15 Types of Bees in the United States! (w/Pics)

What kinds of bees can you find in the United States?

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re here for one of two reasons. Maybe you came to see how to get RID of bees because you can’t stand them! Or, maybe you want to know more about these pollinating insects.  

 

If you don’t like bees or you’re even a bit scared of them, that’s understandable – after all, they sting! But you’re probably most concerned about wasps like Yellow Jackets.

 

Today, we’re going to talk about true bees. These pollinators are the superheroes of our gardens!

 

Today, you’ll learn about 15 kinds of bees found in the United States.

 

If you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!


#1. Bumblebees

  • Bombus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Fuzzy hair is colored with black and yellow stripes.
  • Large and round-bodied with a pointed head.

 

Bumblebees are the most recognizable bees in the United States!

Although they don’t produce honey, they’re essential pollinators for fruit and vegetable crops. They feed on the nectar of flowering plants and collect pollen to feed their young. They visit many different flowers to collect pollen, gathering it in their corbiculae (small pouches on their hind legs).

 

Bumblebees can sting more than once because their stingers don’t stay in their victims. However, they’re generally docile and will only sting if their nest is in immediate danger. Although humans can be allergic to their venom, most Bumblebee stings don’t require medical attention.

 

Bumblebees live in colonies of up to 150 worker bees with one queen. There are over 250 different species in the Bumblebee family!

 

Interestingly, Bumblebees are one of few bee families that can pollinate plants inside of a greenhouse. Because of this talent, they have been commercially bred to pollinate tomato plants for food crops.

 


#2. European (Western) Honey Bees

  • Apis mellifera

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is highly variable, but most are amber to brown.
  • Mid-size, streamlined bodies with hair on the thorax (midsection).

 

If you love honey, you have only one bee group to thank – the European Honey Bees! They’re the only group of bees that produce honey, and in fact, they have a ton of other unique characteristics as well. The species Apis mellifera, called the Western Honey Bee, is a species bred for commercial use. It’s the most common honey bee in North America.

 

Tens of thousands of bees can form one hive!

Within the hives, there are different kinds of bees that have various tasks. For example, there is one fertile female, the queen, and a small number of drones, or males whose job is to fertilize the queen’s eggs. Finally, there are workers, the females who don’t mate but build the nest and feed all the young.

 

Through pheromones and body language, the bees communicate and carry out tasks as one single organism. This is where we get the term “hive mind”!

One of the most troubling threats to honey bees in the United States is Colony Collapse Disorder.

 

The causes aren’t understood, but CCD happens when nearly all of the worker bees abandon their hive, leaving the queen, larva, and a few nurse bees with abundant food but no help. Scientists think a combination of factors might be to blame, such as pollution, insecticides, bacterial and viral infections, and parasites.

 


#3. Large Carpenter Bees

  • Xylocopa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is shiny and black with some yellow coloring on the thorax.
  • Large Carpenter Bees are about the size of bumblebees.

 

Large Carpenter Bees are one of two distinct groups of Carpenter Bees in the United States.

 

Carpenter Bees, sometimes called Large Carpenter Bees, are more colorful and nest in larger, harder wood like telephone poles, dead logs, and suburban decks.

 

If you have an infestation of Carpenter Bees in your wooden deck, chances are you have Large Carpenter Bees, which are often confused with Bumblebees or Yellow Jackets. This species is much shinier than Bumblebees and doesn’t have the hair that makes Bumblebees look furry. In addition, carpenter bees are much less aggressive than Yellow Jackets, and their yellow coloring is not as pronounced.

 

Even though they’re often viewed as pests, Carpenter Bees are important pollinators of many plants. Wildflowers, fruit trees, and garden plants rely on Carpenter Bees to help pollinate and produce new offspring. Without these important bees, we would have a hard time growing any plants at all!

 


#4. Small Carpenter Bees

  • Ceratina

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Small Carpenter Bees are forest green to blueish-black.
  • They’re narrower in the body than Large Carpenter Bees.

 

Small Carpenter Bees are unlike any other type of bee in the United States!

 

Small Carpenter Bees are black with a green or blue cast and prefer to nest in hollowed-out stems of plants like raspberry or sumac bushes.

 

These species are even more unusual than their larger relatives! They occasionally cohabitate with other females, unlike solitary Large Carpenter Bees. A couple of species are even parthenogenetic, meaning that there are no males of the species and the females produce offspring through genetic cloning!

 

Even though they’re often viewed as pests, Carpenter Bees are important pollinators of many plants. Wildflowers, fruit trees, and garden plants rely on Carpenter Bees to help pollinate and produce new offspring. Without these important bees, we would have a hard time growing any plants at all!

 


#5. Long-Horned Bees

  • Eucerini

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring varies from tan to gray or black.
  • Their bodies are fuzzy, and their legs are covered in downy hair.
  • The males’ antennae are elongated, which is where these species got their name.

 

There are up to 30 species of Long-Horned Bees in the United States!

 

This bee group nests in holes dug by females, typically under shrubbery. The nests are branched, with tiny “rooms” at the end of each branch where a single bee will overwinter. Long-horned bees are solitary for much of their life. I think of their nests as tiny apartments! 🙂

 

Look for Long-Horned Bees in wildflower prairies or sunflowers, which are the two main groups of flowers they pollinate. Some are specialist pollinators and only visit sunflowers. Occasionally, they will also visit melon, squash, and cotton plants, assisting with the pollination of these crops.

Even though Long-Horned Bees are solitary, you can sometimes spot a “sleeping aggregate,” a group of male bees sleeping on flowers in the early morning. They often curl up in the middle of the flower and appear to snuggle together. It makes them look like cute little stuffed animals! This habit has earned them the nickname “sleeper bees.”

 


#6. Sweat Bees

  • Halictidae

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Most species are gray or black with a metallic sheen. A few species are red, green, or striped with yellow.
  • Generally small in size with a compact thorax (middle section) and larger abdomen (back section).

 

You might be most familiar with Sweat Bees from working outside in your yard on a hot day! They’re attracted to perspiration and can be a real nuisance when you’re trying to garden.

Fortunately, Sweat Bees are mostly harmless. Even if they sting, it’s relatively mild and painless compared to some other bees.

 

Many people have been told that Sweat Bees bite instead of stinging, but this isn’t true since they don’t have teeth! They eat nectar, so a mouth full of chompers wouldn’t do them any good. 🙂

 

These insects like sweat because they need to consume extra salt to stay alive, and our perspiration is the perfect salty snack for these tiny bees.

 


#7. Squash Bees

  • Peponapis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Predominantly orange with black markings.
  • Their faces stick out like a small snout.

 

If you grow squash like pumpkins or zucchini, then you’re probably very familiar with Squash Bees! They’re specialist pollinators, meaning they only visit the blossoms of one family, in this case, squash!

Although Squash Bees nest in ground burrows, they can often be found catching an afternoon nap inside closed squash blossoms. If you’re gardening and one of your blossoms starts buzzing, you can be sure that you’ve woken up a bee from its snooze! 🙂

 

Interestingly, honey bees are often rented to pollinate squash crops, but studies have shown that Squash Bees are much better at the task. Since squash plants are wholly dependent on bees to yield fruit, it’s a good thing if you see Squash Bees near your garden – you could be in for a bumper crop!

 


#8. Digger Bees

  • Anthophorini

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Large-bodied and very fuzzy. These species have hair all over their abdomens and legs.
  • The coloring is gray-brown to black.

 

Digger Bees are aptly named – to make their nests, they dig into the soil and construct their homes from mud!

 

They’re considered social-solitary bees. This term sounds confusing, but think of it like this: Digger Bees nest in the ground, in their hole. But, their nests are often near other Digger Bee nests, like individual houses in a neighborhood. So, Digger Bees might be considered the suburban settlers of the bee world!

 

If you’re looking for Digger Bee nests, keep your eyes peeled for small mounds of dirt grouped near a bush or tree.

 

Some studies have shown Digger Bees are even more efficient at pollinating flowers and crops than Honey Bees or Bumblebees. Unfortunately, because Digger Bees resemble wasps, people often have them killed or removed when they find them. But these species are relatively docile and will only sting if directly provoked.

 


#9. Polyester Bees

  • Colletidae 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized with elongated bodies.
  • Coloring is gray or tan with black and white stripes on the abdomen.
  • The head and thorax are fuzzy, and the back end is somewhat shiny.

 

Polyester Bees are the only group of bees in the United States that “decorate” their homes!

 

Although this isn’t completely accurate, they apply a coating to the inside of their nests that dries into a plasticky, waterproof coating. This is how they got their name! =) 

These species are specialist pollinators, meaning that the bees only visit one type of flower for feeding and pollination. The type of flower they visit is different for individual species. They nest in the ground and are solitary.

 

Polyester Bees are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during twilight hours. Look for them at dusk during the summer months, flying from flower to flower and gathering pollen.

 


#10. Masked Bees

  • Hylaeus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • These species are small and matte black.
  • They have white and yellow markings on the face (arranged like a mask) and on the legs.

 

Because of their hairless, elongated bodies, many people confuse Masked Bees with a type of wasp.

 

Additionally, Masked Bees don’t have a carrying pouch for pollen, enhancing their resemblance to wasps. Instead of carrying pollen in a pouch, they carry it internally and regurgitate it to feed their young!

 

Masked Bees are the only group of bees in the United States that are globally distributed.

 

This means you can find species of Masked Bees on every continent except Antarctica! Look for their nests in hollowed-out twigs and stems. They’re most active during twilight, but only for a few weeks in the spring.

 


#11. Cuckoo Bees

  • Nomadinae 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Variable coloring and hair patterns across the species in this group.
  • Their bodies are elongated, coming to a sharp point at the stinger.

 

Cuckoo Bees are the most wasp-like of all bee groups in the United States!

Their coloring varies so widely that it’s hard to tell what type of insect you’re looking at without careful observation. Some are black and white striped, while others are mainly black with red bands.

 

Bees in this species group are cleptoparasitic, meaning they lay a single egg in the nest of other bees. Once the egg “hatches,” the parasitic bee kills all other larva and eats their pollen stores. They’ve become so good at this behavior that they don’t build nests or collect pollen at all! 

 


#12. Mason Bees

  • Osmia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized, thick-bodied bees.
  • Their coloring is usually metallic greenish-blue, but some species are black or rusty red.

 

Mason Bees get their name from how they build their nests. They use mud, dirt, and clay to fill in the walls of tiny gaps in wood or stone, creating a pocket to live in! In fact, the bee houses you see sold at stores are made specifically for Mason Bees!

 

These species are solitary, which means the females nest and live alone, have their offspring, and mate with male bees of their choosing. There are no worker Mason Bees.

Interestingly, Mason Bees are considered the most docile bee in the United States!

 

Farmers and other professionals regularly handle Mason Bees without being stung. They’re often kept on large farms to help with the growing process because they’re highly efficient pollinators.

They carry pollen on their thorax instead of in a pouch, which means they drop pollen on almost every flower they visit! As a result, Mason Bees are 120 times more effective pollinators than honey bees!

 

Look for Mason Bees in early spring, when the weather is still chilly. They’re usually one of the first bees to become active after winter.

 


#13. Leaf Cutter Bees

  • Megachilidae 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Large, hairy bees with black and white stripes on the abdomen. The belly often appears yellow from the pollen these species carry.
  • The huge oval eyes look fly-like compared to some other types of bees.

 

Leaf Cutter Bees take tiny circles of leaves and use them to line their nest cells. It’s thought to prevent the pollen and nectar from drying out before their young can hatch!

 

If you see round holes around the edges of your plants, you may have some Leaf Cutter Bees nesting nearby. Typically, they nest in the ground or rotting wood, building long, thin tunnels with individual compartments for each egg.

Leaf Cutter Bees are one of the largest groups of bees in the United States, with an estimated 1500 species!

Leaf Cutter Bees are essential pollinators. They visit wildflowers, gardens, and commercial farming plants regularly. 

 


#14. Miner Bees

  • Andrena

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Small bees with black hair on the abdomen, legs, and head. The thorax is covered in thick yellow fur.
  • Miner bees are short-bodied and round.

 

Miner Bees, named for how they dig through dry earth, clay, and even mortar to make their nests, are often confused with Bumblebees because of their similar body shape.

 

They’re different, however, in the way they nest! They’re sometimes called Chimney Bees because of the long tubes they produce while making their nests. These tubes each hold one nest, with many cavities for individual eggs.

The dirt walls of the cavity are held together by a waxy secretion, which the newly hatched bee eats! It wouldn’t be my choice for a first meal!

 


#15. Carder Bees

  • Anthidium

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized, stout-bodied bees with yellow and black stripes.
  • These species have very little hair.

 

Carder Bees are remarkably similar to Yellow Jackets!

 

Like the pesky wasp we’re all familiar with, Carder Bees have black and yellow stripes. But that’s not the only similarity between these two insects. Carder Bees are one of the most aggressively territorial bee groups, and often they will ram intruders (including humans!) to try and get them to leave their territory.

Since they carry pollen under their abdomen, it’s almost impossible to see, which makes these bees seem even more like Yellow Jackets. When you’re faced with an angry black and yellow insect coming for you, it’s understandable to swat first and ask questions later! 🙂

 

The reason they’re called Carder Bees is the way they build their nests. They “card” fuzz from leaves and line their homes with it. Typically they nest in dry wood like dead logs and decking. Look for a puffy ball of fibers sticking out of a hole.

 


#16. Wasps

Even though many people think of wasps as a type of bee, the opposite is actually true, in an evolutionary sense! Bees evolved from wasps to feed on pollen and nectar instead of meat like their carnivorous wasp ancestors. Bees and wasps are so different biologically that they’re classified into separate orders.

 

Here are a few key ways to decide if you’ve found a wasp or one of the many bees in the United States:

 

A. What they eat: Wasps are carnivorous hunters and scavengers. While they’re attracted to sweet things like flower nectar and your open soda can, they want to eat the OTHER insects that are also looking for a meal.

 

B. How they act: Generally, wasps like yellow jackets and hornets are much more aggressive than most types of bees. They will buzz close to humans and even ram into us, looking for a meal or marking their territory. Also, they will stop longer on individual flowers since they’re waiting for a meal to fly by. Bees, by comparison, buzz from one flower to the next quickly, collecting pollen from each one.

 

C. Their appearance: Wasps have some specific traits that make them easily identifiable compared to most bees. Instead of hair, they have spines on their legs, which are long and often bright yellow. In addition, their bodies are elongated, and the space between their thorax and abdomen is narrowed, giving them the look of a tiny waist.

 

And remember, though wasps are aggressive and can be an unwelcome picnic guest, they’re still important pollinators. So, unless they’re nesting in a dangerous area or preventing you from enjoying your yard, try to give them space to continue “bee-ing” themselves. 😉

 


Do you need additional help identifying bees in the United States?

 

Here is a book you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)

 


Which bees have you seen before in the United States?

 

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