Tap to Read ➤

Types of Bees You Probably Never Knew About

Abhay Burande
Bees are found on every continent of the Earth, except for Antarctica, and that should give you a rough idea about the immense diversity that you are likely to come across when you try to find out about the different types of bees.
There are 9 families of bees, and more than 20,000 species currently inhabiting the earth. The difference between two species is sometimes so minute that it's almost impossible to discern it with the naked eye. However, there are certain traits and characteristics which can help you in knowing the difference between some of the commonly seen bees.

Honey Bees

The honey bees have a small shape and are generally black in color. However, some have a brown-yellow center.
They are extremely social in nature. A honeybee colony consists of one queen bee who lays eggs, some hundred drones are fertile male bees and thousands of undeveloped female bees that are called worker bees.
The job of the worker bees is to collect nectar from flowers, make and store honey, protect the hive, feed, and care for the queen bee and the baby honey bees. Their sting is barbed and cannot be withdrawn.
The hives that honey bees build are called 'honeycombs' or 'beeswax'. The wax is generated due to the special glands in the abdomen. Honey is stored in the hexagonal cells of the beehive. The pollen is carried in a smooth, bristle-surrounded area on one segment of the hind leg.
This is called a pollen basket or corbicula. The bees will do anything to protect their queen and the hive, the sting from such a bee is very painful. The severity depends on the number of strings and the venom injected, if the venom is too much or a person is allergic to it, immediate medical help is necessary.

Did you know?

The world's smallest bee is the Perdita minima. It's just 2.1 mm long. It can comfortably sit on the tip of your pen.

Ground Bees

The ground bees dig tunnels in the ground and hence are also called "mining bees".
The tunnels are made with the aim of providing shelter for their progeny. The ground bees can be black, blue, yellow, purple, green or red in color, they all are small in size, and can sting. They are solitary bees, hence there is no queen bee. The female bees when fertile lay their eggs in the tunnel.
Well-shaded areas having loose soil and scarce vegetation are chosen for digging. They lay their egg in the tunnel and then seal it with some pollen and nectar for the newborn to feed on. Normally, they are not aggressive.
They attack when they feel threatened. Many ground bees are polylectic, which means that they collect nectar from a variety of flowers, which makes them the excellent bee for crop growth.

Did you know ?

The Wallace’s Giant Bee is the largest bee in the world. It can grow upto 1.5 inch with a wing span of 2.5inch almost the width of a grown man's palm.


The bumblebees are large and hairy. They are black and yellow in color. They display social behavior and live in colonies.
The social structure is made up of 3 castes: the queen, the workers, and the drones. The bumblebees live in holes in the ground or abandoned holes made by other animals. Unlike other ground bees, they make honey from pollen.
In tropical areas, these colonies flourished for many years however in the temperate areas like North America, the scenario is differs.
The worker bees and drones perish in a cool climate, but the young and fertile queen bees are able to survive the winter by going into hibernation. When the temperature elevates, these queen bees lay eggs to start a new colony. In tropical regions, there are some varieties of stingless bumblebees.

Did you know ?

Contrary to popular belief, the characteristic 'buzzing' of a bumblebee is not caused by its wings, but is, in fact, caused by its vibrating flight muscles.

Digger Bees

The digger bees have long tongues and they fly very fast.
They are mostly brown in color and have velvet patches on the face. They excavate nests in wood or stay in the ground solitarily or socially. These are also characterized by the exceptionally long antennae of its male members. Another characteristic is that these are not overly aggressive and their sting is milder as compared to other bees.
They carry pollen with the brushy areas close to the middle of the hind leg. They are excellent pollinators. Around thousand species of digger bees can be found in Canada and America.

Carpenter Bees

The carpenter bees have metal-like, black color, and no yellow marks. Their length is 2 to 2.5 inches.
They have solitary behavior and cannot prepare wax. They are known to travel long distances. The nests they make are in flower stalks or wood. They may look like bumblebees but unlike the stripe pattern of bumblebees, the carpenter bees are plane colored on the upper part.
They spend their winter in their hiding place and do not show up until spring. The spring season is the mating season where the male can be seen hovering around in the search of a mate. After getting fertile the female digs a hole in the wood and lay its egg in with a ball of pollen for the larva to feed on.
There exists a pile of sawdust near the nest entrance. Which gives them their name. The male carpenter bees are considered harmless as they do not possess a stinger like their female counterparts.

Mason Bee

The Mason bee got its name from its nesting habits, they built their nest with the help of mud just like the carpenter bees use wood.
The mason bees are bulky and use body secretion to shape their nest. The common color is blue, green and black although rust red is also seen. They are excellent pollinators and are often reared by people in order to restore the bee population.
The bees build their nest in tiny holes and gaps, and naturally found cavities. The nest is built with the help of sand, mud and chewed plant fiber. In the mating season, the male bee searches for a mate and after mating, the fertile female collect pollen and stores it in the nest. The egg is laid on the storage of pollen so that the larva has something to feed on.

Cellophane Bees

As these are similar to wasps, they are considered to be the most primitive bees.
The cellophane bees have short and forked tongues and are relatively hairless. They are solitary bees but like other solitary bees nest close to each other. They build their nest in the ground. The tongue is used to spray the transparent secretion which then turns hard and looks like a cellophane.
They nest in tunnels. Larval cells are created with the same secretion they use for the walls which become as hard as a cellophane membrane. Pollen grains are carried on leg hair or internally in a stomach like a crop. Once fertile, the female lays her egg in the tunnel and seals it with a pollen left inside for the newborn to feed on.

Orchid Bees

They are brightly colored and are metallic in appearance. They can be seen in shinny red, green, blue or gold. They have a long proboscis as the nectar is stored very deep within the blossoms. They feed on nectar, pollen and resins of flower. Being a solitary bee there is no queen.
It is thought that orchids and orchid bees co-evolved and hence they are dependent on each other. They are one of the few species where males are engaged in productive activity other than mating. Males gather fragrant oils from blossoms by employing the scraper-like segments of the legs. It is guessed that these oils are used to attract mates.

Africanized Honey Bees

The short-tempered little ones are found all over America and Brazil.
They live in colonies with a social structure comprising of a queen, the worker bees, and the drones. Similar to the honey bees, the Africanized honey bees produce honey and pollinate plants. Their social features are akin to the honey bee.
The Africanized honey bees were found all over Africa. As per one ideology, they migrated to North and South America in 1956 and stayed in the rural regions. Another theory states that African honeybees were imported to Brazil in 1957 and subsequently released into the wild.
These mated with European honey bees and the progeny was called "Africanized honey bees". These are similar to European honey bees, but are more aggressive to defend their nests. So, they are called "killer bees". From Brazil, they spread to South and North America. When people and animals are in the vicinity of their nests, these bees are very dangerous.

Leafcutter Bees

The leafcutter bees do not feed on leaves but use it to line the cells of their nest. They are dark in color with light stripes. These prepare their nests in pre-existing cavities or live in collections of individual nests.
They also inhabit the rotten logs of trees and healthy plants like roses. They have long tongues and special pollen carrying hair on the bottom side of the abdomen. They are useful for agriculture as they pollinate crops.

Sweat Bees

While the technically sound use of the term 'sweat bees' is restricted to species belonging to family Halictidae, colloquially it is used for all the bee species which are attracted to the human sweat - the salt in the human sweat to be precise.
The sweat bees are small, dark-colored and have little hair, they build their nests in the ground. They have societies in which related individuals assist one another. Pollen is carried on body hair and base of the legs.

Parasitic Bees or Cuckoo Bees

The parasitic bees are also called "cuckoo" bees.
They do not search for food or build nests on their own. Instead, they use the nests and food of other bees. They are brownish in color and have a hard exoskeleton and saber-like mandibles. They get their name from the similar behavior to a cuckoo bird.
They can be classified into "cleptoparasitic bees" and "social parasites". The former attack the nests of solitary bees, hide their eggs in the chambers before the host lay their own and close the chambers. The baby bees flourish on the food stored by the host female.
The eggs or larvae of the host female are killed by the parasitic female or her larvae. The social bees kill the queen bee, lay their eggs in the cells of the host and coerce the workers of the host to rear their babies. Females of parasitic bees do not have pollen brushes or pollen baskets.
These were some of the types of bees that you will come across on a daily basis. While some are short-tempered others are friendly and excellent pollinators. From varied colors to different sizes and shapes, the bees show an amazing diversity.