The European honeybee (Apis mellifera), introduced into North America in the early 1600s, is often what people visualize when they think about bees. About 4,000 species of bees that occur in North America, many gardeners are unaware of the diversity of native bees that are busy going about their work of collecting pollen or sipping nectar from flowers.
The 10 genera of native bees are common in gardens and wherever an abundance of flowering plants occur. Each has its own seasonality, nesting lifestyle and forage preferences that differ greatly from those of the honeybee.
1. Calliopsis Bees
Where you’ll see them: The Western Hemisphere from southern Canada southward to Argentina and Chile.
When to look: Summer is the optimum time to observe Calliopsis.
These fast-moving small to medium-size bees are easy to miss, but you may spot them on vervain (Verbena spp.) in summer.
2. Small Sweat Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout the world on every continent except Antarctica.
When to look: In the northern United States, early April is often when some of the first sightings of female Lasioglossum occur; they happen earlier in the spring farther south.
Small sweat bees are a large, diverse genus of bees. The dominant subfamily Dialictus is composed of small black or gray bees with a slightly metallic sheen.
3. Long-Horned Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout North America and in parts of Central and South America.
When to look: Midsummer through fall is the optimum time to observe long-horned bees.
These robustly shaped bees can be consistently found foraging on plants in the Asteraceae family in summer. These beautiful medium-size bees are effective pollinators of many open-flower forms, including sunflowers.
Males have extremely long antennae, and females have chap-like, long pollen-collecting hairs on the lower parts of their hind legs.
4. Sweat Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout most of the world except Australia, New Zealand and southern Asia, including Indonesia.
When to look: Sweat bees are active as adults from spring through fall.
Sweat bees are medium-sized, black or dark gray with pale or white hair bands on their abdomen.
Sweat bees effectively pollinate native plants, cultivated plants and, in some cases, food crops, including blueberries and strawberries.
Where you’ll see them: In North and South America, Asia, Europe and northern Africa; they have been introduced into other countries, including New Zealand and Australia.
When to look: Bumblebees are active throughout the growing season, from spring through fall, with the time of year often determining what types of bumblebees you will likely observe.
There are over 40 species of bumblebees in North America, and they are one of a minority of native bees that nest socially, forming small, annual colonies. Excellent pollinators, they visit a wide variety of plants.
6. Mining Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, North America, southern Africa and limited areas in Asia; they are very common throughout the U.S. and southern Canada.
When to look: Spring is the optimum time to observe mining bees.
The majority of mining bee species are active in the spring and are responsible for pollinating many woodland wildflowers as well as early-flowering native shrubs, such as viburnums (Viburnum spp.) and dogwoods (Cornus spp.).
7. Leafcutter Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout most of the world, including Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, South America and North America.
When to look: Leafcutter bees are active as adults from the beginning of June to the end of September in the upper Midwest; they tend to emerge in May farther south.
Female leafcutter bees have large teeth that they use to cut pieces of leaves (or flower petals) to use as a nest lining, one step in their nest-building activities. Another feature of bees in the leafcutter bee family is that the females collect pollen on the bottom of their abdomen, rather than on their hind leg like the majority of bees.
Leafcutter bees effectively pollinate native plants, cultivated plants and, in some cases, food crops. A few species have been introduced into North America as commercial pollinators of food crops, including Megachile rotundata for the pollination of alfalfa.
8. Small Carpenter Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout most of the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and North America; they are rare in Australia.
When to look: You will see small carpenter bees visiting flowers throughout the growing season, from early spring through fall.
These tiny, shiny blue bees nest in pith-filled flower stalks, and it’s easy to provide them with nesting sites in your garden. Although small in size, small carpenter bees have a relatively long tongue and can access floral resources on both open, simple flower forms and complex flowers where nectar is more difficult to reach.
9. Cellophane Bees
Where you’ll see them: Throughout most of the world, but absent from Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
When to look: Spring is the optimum time to observe cellophane bee nests and emergence activity.
Cellophane bees are medium-sized, and most species have a heart-shaped (tapered) face, giving them a “cute” appearance. Cellophane bees are effective pollinators of many types of plants; they have a short tongue compared with other bee species of a similar size.
10. Metallic Green Sweat Bees
Where you’ll see them: In the Western Hemisphere from central North America south to Central America and parts of South America.
When to look: In the northern United States, mid to late May is often when some of the first sightings of female Agapostemon occur, earlier in the spring farther south.
Metallic green sweat bees are one of four genera of bees in the eastern U.S. that are brilliant emerald green. They are effective pollinators, visiting a wide variety of open or accessible flowers from early summer through fall.