By Timo Wayman
Bees are a more diverse and interesting group of insects than most people know. For this Wonder Wander, I would like to take you on a tour of bee diversity using pictures of bees I’ve taken around the farm. There are 7 families of bees, and I’ve found representatives for 5 of them at Hawthorne Valley.
Our first bee family is the Apidae, which is the largest family of bees and contains many of the bees people most often see. This family includes the most famous species of bees, the Honey Bees (genus Apis). Unlike the rest of the bees that will be described in this post, Honey Bees are not native to the Americas. The domesticated Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) was brought over by European settlers for their wax and honey.
A male Western Honey Bee is known as a drone. His huge eyes help him spot future queen bees to mate with.
Bumble Bees (genus Bombus) are also in the family Apidae. Bumble Bees are the earliest bees seen in the spring and the last to disappear in the autumn, and their large body size and heavy coat of hair are adaptations that help them thrive in cold weather.
Another group of bees in the family Apidae, the Carpenter Bees (genus Xylocopa), are large bees that nest in holes in solid wood, which they chew with their strong mandibles. Male carpenter bees are very territorial and can be seen hovering outside nest entrances to guard them.
A close relative of the Xylocopa Carpenter Bees are the Small Carpenter Bees (genus Ceratina), who burrow into the pithy stems of plants such as roses, raspberries, and sumac to make their nests. Uniquely for solitary bees, Ceratina mothers guard their young until they are adults, sometimes aided by a single sterile “Cinderella” daughter. Pictured are a male and female mating, showcasing their sexual dimorphism.
Longhorn Bees (tribe Eucerini) are fast-flying, solitary ground-nesting bees in the family Apidae. They get their name from the incredibly long antennae exhibited by their males.
Inside squash flowers, you can find a species of Longhorn Bee known as the Squash Bee (Peponapis pruinosa). Male Squash Bees sleep inside of squash flowers, and female Squash Bees provision their nests only with squash pollen.
Apidae also includes many species of cuckoo bees: bees who lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, with their larvae killing the larvae from and feeding on the pollen provisions of the host bee. Among these are the Nomad Bees (genus Nomada), which parasitize the nests of a variety of ground-nesting bees.
Longhorn Cuckoo Bees (genus Triepeolus) are cuckoo bees in the family Apidae that specialize in parasitizing the nests of Longhorn Bees.
Our next family is the Megachilidae, which are unique in having their pollen-collecting hairs located on the underside of their abdomen rather than on their hind legs (visible in the next picture). The pictured Megachilid is a Leaf-Cutter Bee (genus Megachile), which is named for the way it lines its nests with pieces of leaves that it cuts with its large jaws.
Pollen on the underside of the abdomen of a Leaf-Cutter Bee.
Another group of megachilids are the Mason Bees (genus Osmia). Mason Bees are shiny and often brightly-colored bees that often build their nests entirely from mud. Mason Bees are important agricultural pollinators, pollinating many crops more quickly and effectively than Honey Bees.
A rare and understudied Megachilid is the Burrowing-Resin Bee (genus Paranthidium). Burrowing-Resin Bees are believed to take over the abandoned nests of other ground-nesting insects, and they separate their nest cells with plant resin and pebbles.
Like the Apidae, the family Megachilidae includes species that live as cuckoo bees, such as this Dark Bee (genus Stelis).
Another group of megachilid cuckoo bees are the Sharp-Tailed Bees (genus Coelioxys).
Bees in the family Halictidae are known as Sweat Bees due to their propensity to land on humans and drink their sweat. Pictured is a Gold-Green Sweat Bee (genus Augochlora). The Gold-Green Sweat Bees we have in New York nest in rotting wood, but their relatives in other parts of the country nest in the ground.
Another group of halictids are the Striped Green Sweat Bees (genus Agapostemon), which can be recognized by the black and yellow stripes on their abdomen paired with their metallic green head and thorax. Striped Green Sweat Bees live in communal, underground nests with a single entrance and branches for each female and her eggs. They are also known to nest near other types of ground-nesting bees.
Halictidae has cuckoo bees as well, known as Blood Bees (genus Sphecodes). They can be recognized by their deep red abdomens and wide faces.
Representing our fourth family, Andrenidae, we have a Mining Bee (genus Andrena). Along with Bumble Bees, Mining Bees are among the first bees to fly in the spring. They are ground-nesting bees, and their nests can be found in bare patches of dirt such as those seen along trails or in grassy areas such as lawns or cemeteries.
The final family of bees I was able to find at Hawthorne Valley was the Colletidae, represented here by a Masked Bee (genus Hylaeus). Masked Bees live in holes made by other animals and line them with a waterproof, cellophane-like material. Masked Bees are unique among non-parasitic bees in that they do not have any pollen-collecting hairs. Instead they collect pollen for their nests by eating and regurgitating it.