The 16 Most Common Kinds & Species of Bees You May Find In Your Backyard
From angry Africanized bees to tiny sweet bees, we have uncovered the 16 most common kinds of bees. We explain how to identify different types of bees and which ones are dangerous.
One species surprised us with how useful it was. Read more to learn which species and how to attract them.
- 1. Africanized Bees (Killer Bees)
- 2. Blueberry Bees
- 3. Bumble bees
- 4. Carder Bees
- 5. Carpenter Bees
- 6. Digger Bees
- 7. Honey Bees
- 8. Leafcutter Bees
- 9. Long-Horned Bees
- 10. Mason Bees
- 11. Mining Bees
- 12. Plasterer Bees
- 13. Squash Bees
- 14. Stingless Bees
- 15. Sweat Bees (Alkali Bees)
- 16. Yellow-faced Bees
1. Africanized Bees (Killer Bees)
Everyone has heard of Killer Bees, but what do you really know about them? Killer Bees is a colloquial term for Africanized honey bees. But, don’t be fooled by its name. They are not from Africa. These bees are from Brazil, and they are a hybrid breed.
Wanting a better bee for the tropics, a biologist in Brazil crossbreed European honey bees (Apis mellifera) with Southern African bees. The result? The most aggressive species of bees in the bee world.
Unfortunately, the bees escaped the hive. Since the 1950s, these bees have traveled from Brazil to the Southwest US. Now, there are Africanized bee infestations in California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico.
These kinds of bees are likely to swarm than their docile European cousins. So while their venom isn’t more potent, you are likely to suffer from more stings in the event of a Killer Bee attack.
If you aren’t a skilled beekeeper, you should call a professional to remove the hive. But if for any reason you need to approach Africanized honey bees, make sure you are wearing a suit.
2. Blueberry Bees
Do you love blueberries? If so, you should say thank you to the blueberry bees. While they do pollinate other flowers, they’re best known for pollinating the blueberry flowers.
Blueberry bees are native to the Southeastern US and range as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas. They are solitary bees and nest in the ground. They are active between February and April. The Florida Wildflower Foundation tells us that these bees are hard workers (1).
“…a single adult female can visit up to 50,000 blueberry flowers resulting in more than 6,000 ripe blueberries.”
Blueberry bees resemble bumblebees. You can only tell them apart with their facial features – blueberry bees have bristleless, yellow faces. Like bumble bees, this type of bee uses its wing muscle to vibrate or shake the pollen out of the flowers.
3. Bumble bees
Second, only to the honey bee, bumble bees are great native pollinators. They are slightly larger than a honey bee but appear almost fuzzy because of their dense black and yellow fur.
These types of bees are known for the unwieldy flying skills. Unlike other bee species, they flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down.
Unlike most native bees, bumble bees are social bees and live together in colonies. Different species exhibit different behaviors. Some species nest in the ground, others above ground. But they are generally not aggressive and are great insects to have around.
There are 49 different species of bumble bees in the US. Their name comes from the distinctive sound of sonication.
4. Carder Bees
Carder bees are a member of the Megachilidae family, along with leafcutter and mason bees. There are native species in the western US, but you may encounter carder bees in your garden on the east coast. If you do, these are non-native European varieties.
Carder bees take the fuzz from plants and flowers to build their nests. They particularly like lambs ear but will also be found around catmint.
They are easy to recognize. While most bees are rather hairy, male carder bees have slick and black with yellow or white spots on their abdomens. They also aggressively defend their territories.
5. Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees have a bad rep because they like to burrow into wood, leaving holes that look like a drill could have made them. There isn’t a lot you can do to get carpenter bees to stop. If it continues long enough, they may cause enough damage you have to call pest control.
If they aren’t doing structural damage, you should leave them alone. Carpenter bees are good pollinators and not at all aggressive. A male carpenter bee may exhibit aggressive behavior, but this type of bee species doesn’t have stingers.
While carpenter bees are often confused with bumblebees, it is easy to distinguish them apart. The important thing to remember is that carpenter bees are larger than bumblebees and black. Carpenter bees can range from ½ to 1 inch. Also, their abdomens are bald and shiny, while bumblebees are fuzzy. The female carpenter bees have a black face while the male bees feature a yellow with a white dot face.
6. Digger Bees
As their name implies, digger bees like to dig. They are solitary bees, each building their own nest in the ground. But you may find many individual nests close together in those dry patchy areas of your yard. If you want to discourage digger bees, you can eliminate nesting areas by planting and keeping the ground moist.
But there is no need to chase away digger bees. As long as you avoid their nests, the bees shouldn’t bother you. But you want to make sure you have digger bees and not another more aggressive species, like wasps.
An easy way to tell them apart is that digger bees are small, usually less than ½ an inch. Males are shiny, almost metallic-looking, with yellow, white, or rust-colored markings. Females are fuzzier to carry the pollen and nectar back to the hive.
Also, digger bees will be just one bee per hole, while wasps will live with multiple wasps in one nest.
7. Honey Bees
Honey bees are not native to the US. They are essential to modern agriculture because of their pollination role (2).
Honey bees perform more than 80 percent of pollination of many of our cultivated crops.
People keep honey bees because they are excellent pollinators but most importantly because they make honey. If you are thinking of keeping honey bees, there is a lot to learn. From the types of beehives to the best honey extractor to the best beekeeping apps – make sure you do your homework.
Honeybees are highly social. You will find queens, workers, and drones live in colonies. How do you find out which one is the queen?
Queens are slightly larger than the others, measuring about ¾ inch rather than ½ inch. They have thin, black, and yellowish-orange- almost golden bodies. They look quite different from native bees but are easily confused with wasps.
For the most part, honeybees are not aggressive; however, being social bees, they will swarm to protect the hive.
8. Leafcutter Bees
Like most bee species, Leafcutter bees are beneficial pollinators for wildflowers and some fruits and vegetables.
You will find these kinds of bees building nests in small holes and tunnels around your yard. They nibble and cut leaves in your garden and use it to fill the holes.
You can tell many species of leafcutter bees by the extra-large head and mandibles. These features help them cut the leaves for their tunnels. They are medium-sized with stout, black bodies. The females carry pollen on their abdomen, making their stomachs appear yellow or amber.
9. Long-Horned Bees
Male long-horned bees are easy to recognize by their most distinct feature- their extra-long antenna. While this tribe includes many different species, they all share that characteristic.
Some have yellow faces, and their abdomens are black with yellow or white stripes. These bees tend to be large and hairy, especially on the back legs where they collect pollen.
Most long-horned bees are fairly specialized pollinators, preferring one type of flower more than others. The squash bee, which we’ll talk about more later, is a long-horned bee. Another specialized pollinator is the sunflower bee. This long-horned bee is essential for sunflower pollination.
10. Mason Bees
Mason bees are excellent pollinators making them great bees to have in your garden. The metallic-looking bees buzz amongst your flowers, collecting pollen on their abdomens.
Like carpenter bees, they make their nests in small holes and tunnels. Solitary bees, a female mason bee lays her eggs in the hole, female eggs first followed by male eggs. When she has finished the nest, she seals it with mud, which is how these bees get their name.
Since mason bees are not aggressive, they can live with you in harmony. If you want to encourage beneficial pollinators but don’t want to keep honey bees, you can look to attract mason bees.
Mason bees are quite happy to nest in bee hotels. You can build one to attract these beneficial native pollinators to your yard.
11. Mining Bees
Mining bees are also sometimes called chimney bees because of their peculiar method of digging tunnels. Considered solitary bees, females dig a burrow for their eggs. You can identify these burrows by the chimney-like mounds of dirt around the entrance.
Miner bees are smaller than honey bees. They can be easily confused with bumblebees because they are also black and yellow, and both species are active in the summer.
You can easily recognize the male mining bees by their distinctive mustache.
But if you see them in your yard, there is no need to call pest control. Mining bees, like most solitary bees, are not aggressive. And since both males and females forage for nectar, they are very effective pollinators.
12. Plasterer Bees
Plasterer Bees are known for the cellophane-like sticky substance they create to line their nests. In fact, they are also called colletes, which means ‘one who glues,’ or sometimes cellophane bees.
They are solitary bees. Each female builds her own nest in the ground and lines it with the cellophane-like material that gives them their name. This coating helps waterproof the nest, prevent fungus, and essentially protect the eggs.
Plasterer bees are medium size bees with a black body and white or pale stripes along the abdomen. You don’t need to remove plasterer bees because they are beneficial pollinators and not aggressive at all. The only way you are likely to get stung by a plasterer bee is to step on one.
13. Squash Bees
Squash bees are a species like the blueberry bee that specializes in the pollination of one flower. In this case, they specialize in pollinating the Cucurbita family, which includes squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Squash bees like squash flowers so much they even mate in them.
Squash bees are out in the pre-dawn light and again at dusk as the squash flowers open. The males nest in the blossoms, while the females just visit to mate with the males—females nest in the ground.
Squash bees are about a half-inch long. They are typically brown with brown hair on their bellies. The most distinctive feature is the protruding lower face. It makes squash bees look like they have a big nose.
14. Stingless Bees
While stingless bees are not found in the US, this type of bee is still worth exploring. Native to tropical and subtropical climates, stingless bees are located in Central and South America, Australia, Africa, and Southern and Eastern Asia.
In some ways, stingless bees are similar to their cousins, the European honey bee. Both species are social bees, and both produce honey. But not surprising, stingless bees are more effective pollinators in their native environment than non-native honey bees.
While most people associate honey bees with beekeeping, there is a long tradition of keeping stingless bees for honey as well. The Mayans in Mexico were keeping stingless bees long before the Spanish imported European honey bees.
But the most fascinating thing is that stingless bees actually have a stinger!! It’s just so small.
15. Sweat Bees (Alkali Bees)
When you are out on a hot summer day and a tiny bee lands on you, it’s a sweat bee. Sweat bees are attracted to human and animal sweat.
But you may not see them. Not only are these bees super fast, but sweat bees also are super small. Some are just a quarter-inch long, so they are great at pollinating small flowers. They carry pollen in the scopa on the hind legs. And unlike the blueberry bee or squash bee, they are attracted to all kinds of different species.
If you see a sweat bee, you can recognize it by the green or blue metallic sheen.
They are solitary and non-aggressive. The only way to get a bee sting from a sweat bee is to press yourself against it directly. So if you feel a tickle and see a bee crawling on you, don’t be alarmed.
16. Yellow-faced Bees
Yellow-faced bees are a fascinating type of bee belonging to the genus Hylaeus. Known for the yellow-face that gives them their name, these bees are small and resemble wasps more than other bees. But they lack the short hairs that wasps have.
They also lack storage for pollen found on other bees’ bodies. Rather than having scopa or hair, yellow-faced bees have a special compartment in their stomach, called a crop, to carry pollen. Once they are back at their nest, they regurgitate the pollen.
They build their nests in the ground and often in a tunnel-like maze. They are a type of plasterer bee, so they also secrete a cellophane-like substance to line their nests.
They are active in summer, between May in September. During this time, they pollinate plants in the carrot family and many other native plants.
No, not all bees make honey. Nearly all kinds of bees do not make honey. The most well-known bees that make honey belong to the Apis genus. They are referred to as honey bees. But honey bees are not the only bees that make honey.
A bumble bee also makes honey. But this species of bees do not make the same quantities of honey as Apis bees and are not kept for honey production. The last kind of bee that makes honey is the stingless bee. Native to tropical climates, stingless bees have been kept for honey making for thousands of years.
Killer bees are the most deadly type of bees. You might think it is their venom that makes them so deadly, but it isn’t. Their venom isn’t much stronger than that of other bees. It is their propensity to swarm that makes them harmful.
When killer bees swarm, you don’t get just one bee sting- you get lots of stings. The accumulation of venom from the multiple stings can be deadly.
The smallest bees in the world are called Perdita minima. These bees are only 2 mm long. They are so small that scientists who study them find them by the shadows they cast while moving. Perdita minima are found in the southwest of the US. Here they build tiny nests in the desert sands. These solitary bees are pollinators for native plants.
The rarest bee is Pharohylaeus lactiferous. This bee, called the masked bee, is native to Australia. It had not been seen in over a century when an Australian researcher rediscovered them. Previous to this discovery, only six masked bees had ever been identified.
While not extinct, these bees are in grave danger due to habitat encroachment. They are found in tropical and subtropical rainforests and appear to rely on the Firewheel trees and the Illawarra flame trees. Deforestation and forest fires continue to decrease and fragment their habitat.
The largest bee in the world is the Megachile pluto, or Wallace’s giant bee. Wallace’s giant bee has a wingspan of 2.5 inches. However, this bee is extremely rare. It was rediscovered by scientists in the forests of Indonesia in 2019.
The female giant bee makes her nest in a termite nest and fills it with sticky tree resin. She has extra large mandibles to help with the task.
- Know your native pollinators: Southeastern blueberry bees. Retrieved from: https://flawildflowers.org/know-your-native-pollinators-blueberry-bees/
- The Importance of Pollinators. Retrieved from: https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/special-programs/beekeeping/pollinators.aspx
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.