About Native Bees


Bees are flying insects that play a key role in plant pollination. They visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen which they bring back to their nests to feed their young. You’re probably familiar with the common, yellow and black-striped honey bees, and you have probably eaten the honey they make.

A honeybee in the center dwarfs a native bee at the edge of a flower, Kathy Keatley Garvey, 2014 UC Regents

Honey bees are not native to the American continent. They were brought to the New World by Europeans and have been managed for honey production and crop pollination for hundreds of years. But not all bees live in large colonies in bee boxes and very few species are managed by humans. In contrast to honey bees, most native bee species are solitary and nest in the ground or in woody stems in the wild. Can you guess how many bee species are in the world? Close to 20,000! And only six species are honey bees.

(CC) commons.wikimedia.org


All bees have the same body type with three segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax has three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings.

Bees are in the Order Hymenoptera (membranous wings).



Bees have complete metamorphosis with four developmental stages in their life cycle

Egg on Pollen Ball © Dennis Briggs

Larva on Pollen Ball © Dennis Briggs

Pupa in Brood Cell © Robbin Thorp









Adult Miner Bee, Andrena © John Ascher


Bees visit flowers for pollen or nectar and transfer pollen (which sticks to their hair by electrostatic charges) between plants, thus facilitating pollination.

Bees work hard for their pollen and nectar but they share the ‘fruits of their labor’ with us – most fruits, vegetables and nuts we eat are a product of bee pollination. Since 30% of fruit and vegetable crops depend on bee pollination to set fruit, about every third bite we take can be traced back to their nectar or pollen gathering activities.

A balanced breakfast thanks to bees!

Our world without bees…

Photos by Laura Russo

Pollination Services (download JPEG)


Bees flight and foraging ranges depend to some extent on their body size which in turn depends on the bee species. Most bees forage in the day but some are active at night. Some of these crepuscular bee species are in the Andrenidae, Colletidae, Apidae and Halictidae families. Their enlarged simple eyes (ocelli) complement their two compound eyes to help them see in dim light.

Ocelli on a sweat bee’s head (Halictus poeyi)

Ocelli on sweat bee (Halictus), USGS

Diane Wilson 2010 http://bugguide.net/node/view/422934/bgpage

Nocturnal Lasioglossum, Diane Wilson 2010

provided by Margarita Lopez Uribe

Vespertine (dusk) Megalopta genalis, provided by Margarita Lopez Uribe


Bees see in the visible as well as the ultraviolet light spectrum while humans see only in the visible light spectrum. We may just see a colorful flower while bees see nectar guides (patterns and speckles) on the petals!

Flowers seen with visible light (left) and with UV light (right)

(CC) en.wikipedia.org

(CC) commons.wikimedia.org

(CC) Sam Droege

(CC) Sam Droege

 What other senses do you think bees use to find nectar? They smell with their antennae like these long-horned bees do!


Generalist bee species visit many plant groups for their pollen while specialist bee species obtain pollen from a narrow group of plants.

Generalist Bees

Agapostemon texanus

Agapostemon texanus

Xylocopa micans

Xylocopa micans

Metallic sweat bees and carpenter bees are generalists. A tiny green sweat bee and a large carpenter bee visit peach blossoms in Fredericksburg, Texas. (Photos by Sarah Cusser).

(CC) 2007 US Forest Service

(CC) 2007 US Forest Service – US Postal Service Stamp

Bumble bees (Bombus spp) shake their abdomens to ‘buzz’ pollen from nightshade flowers in the Solanaceae family.

Specialist Bees

Colletes, T’ai Raulston

Lon Brehmer, Enriqueta Flores

Tom Van Devender

Cactus bees like Diadasia spp. specialize on prickly pears that many wildlife species eat.

Peponapis pruinosa, Nancy Adamson

Some celophane bees like Colletes (at top), specialize in wild tomatillo flowers (Solanaceae). Squash bees like Peponapis (bottom) specialize in cucurbits (pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, gourd).


Many bees are tiny so it’s hard to tell them apart from wasps or flies that visit flowers to feed on nectar. To help distinguish these insects, observe what they’re eating; observe their body shape; and count their wings.

Dianthidium © John Ascher 2010

  • Bees are herbivores that feed on nectar & pollen and feed them to their larvae.
  • Wasps are carnivores that mostly eat insects or spiders and feed them to their larvae, but they consume nectar too.
  • Flies are detrivores (eat dead or decaying plants/animals) but often consume nectar. Flies don’t feed their larvae.

Bee, Wasp or Fly?

bee15 (1)

photo provided by Margarita Lopez Uribe

  • Bees and wasps have two pairs of wings while flies have one pair of wings.
  • Bees have rounded bodies; wasps have long pointy bodies with small waists.
  • Bees have more hair than wasps or flies, and only bees have branched hairs.
  • Female bees and wasps sting (there are stingless bees) but flies do not sting.


About 879 native bee species have been described in Texas. In 2012 we studied 10 sites in Central and Northern Texas and found 15 to 39 species per site; 85 species of native bees!

Texas Native Bee Families (download JPEG)

Blue sweat bee, Ted Kropiewnicki

A fuzzy Megachile, John Ascher

Bees vary in color, shape, and size. They’re as small as a rice grain, medium like a bean, or bigger than popcorn. Hair location is used to categorize bees.


Within families, bee species have similar morphology, genetics, nesting & feeding biology. Bee families belong to the Apoidea superfamily. Family names end in ~idae. 

Digger/miner bees like Diadasia spp (Andrenidae) dig tunnels in the ground for nesting.

© Bruce Lund 2012

The Apidae family contains large carpenter & bumble bees; medium stingless bees, cactus & long-horned bees; and small carpenter bees.

Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica, (CC) Sean McCann 2006

Oil-collecting Centris atripes, © John Ascher 2006




Small carpenter bee Ceratina, © Hadel Go 2011

Some Colletidae bees make plaster by chewing leaves into spit balls to line their nests.

Colletes sp. (CC) Wikipedia

Tiny sweat bees in the Halictidae family drink human perspiration for its salt.

Augochlorella aurata, © T’ai H. Roulston

Megachilidae leaf-cutters use mega mouth-parts to cut & drag leaves to their nests.

A leafcutter bee cutting a leaf. (CC) T’ai H. Roulston, 2014

A leafcutter bee (Megachile) drags a leaf she has cut with her mouthparts in order to line her nest.        (CC) Wikipedia




Melittidae bees collect plant oils in dry climates.

Hesperapis (CC) Lynette Schimming 2008

Bees of Central Texas ID Guide

Page authors Laurel Treviño and Margarita López Uribe
Thank the following organizations for supporting the development of outreach materials
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through the Horned Lizard License Plate Grant 
The National Science Foundation
The U.S. Army
All images are for educational use only, copyrights apply; image credits are listed below
(CC) Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike
(CC) Alain C. www.flickr.com, Small carpenter bee (Ceratina sp.) drills hole in plant stem
(CC) Bob Peterson, Large carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica)
(CC) Charles Schurch Lewallen, 1998 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, Bumble bee, Bombus griseocollis
(CC) Cotinis, 2007, Ligated sweat bee (Halictus ligatus)
(CC) Dan Mullen, www.inaturalist.org, American bumble bee, Bombus pensylvanicus
(CC) Diane Wilson, 2010, http://bugguide.net/node/view/422934/bgpage Nocturnal Lasioglossum
(CC) http://commons.wikimedia.org; en.wikipedia.org; flowers seen in visible and UV light
(CC) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Megachile-pjt.jpg, Leaf-cutter Megachile
(CC) http://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/ Agapostemon peeking
(CC) Bumble bee nest *BJO http://www.flickr.com/photos/32551349@N03/8140583553
(CC) Bumble bee wildflower USPS stamp, USDA Forest Service  http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/news/2007.shtml
(CC) Jim McCulloch, 2008 www.inaturalist.org, Augochloropsis metallica
(CC) Lon Brehmer, Enriqueta Flores-Guevara, Cactus bee Diadasia sp. on sunflower
(CC) Lynette Schimming, 2008, www.bugguide.net, Hesperapis sp. Miner bee males
(CC) Sarah Cusser, 2013, Agapostemon texanus; Xylocopa micans
(CC) Scott Famous, DoD, www.bugwood.org, Blue orchard Osmia lignaria; www.aragriculture.org, Mason bees
(CC) Sean McCann, 2006, http: tolweb.org Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica); www.eol.org, Melissodes communis
(CC) Suzanne Britton, http://ironphoenix.org/gallery, Bumble bee on nightshade
(CC) Ted Kropiewnicki, 2009, Metallic blue bee
(CC) Tom Van Devender, MABA, www.madrean.org, Diadasia sp.
(CC) T’ai H. Roulston, 2014, www.virginia.edu/blandy/blandy_web/biota/bees Augochlorella aurata; Leafcutter; Colletes latitarsis,
(CC) Nancy Adamson, Peponapis pruinosa
(CC) USGS Native Bee Inventory Monitoring Lab, 2012, http://commons.wikimedia.org Halictus poeyi (Sweat bee’s ocelli)
© Copyright protected – use permitted for educational purposes
© Bruce Lund, 2012, www.bugguide.net, digger Diadasia enavata; Andrenid bee in tunnel
© Charles Schurch Lewallen 2005 (UF/IFAS) http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in207, American bumble bee, Bombus pensylvanicus
© Debbi Brusco, 2008, http://bugguide.net/node/view/182479 Miner (Hesperapis sp.)
© Dennis Briggs & Robbin Thorp, www.vernalpools.org/Thorp Andrena Life Cycle
© Gail Starr 2011 www.discoverlife.org, Sunflower/cactus bee, Diadasia enavata
© Hadel Go 2011, www.discoverlife.org, small carpenter bee, Ceratina calcarata
© John Ascher, 2006-2010, www.discoverlife.org, Centris atripes; Dianthidium ulkei; Xylocopa virginica; Perdita ignota, Andrena (adult in life cycle); Ceratina sp.
© Kathy Keatley Garvey, 2014, Regents of the University of California, Leaf-cutters, flower with honeybee & native bee
© Laurence Packer, York Univ. wikimedia.org, Hairless, blue, carpenter Ceratina calcarata; American bumble bee, Bombus pensylvanicus; www.padil.gov.au
© Sam Droege, www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml, long-horned Svastra petulca
© www.discoverlife.org, long-horned Melissodes communis (Apidae)
© www.discoverlife.org, Agapostemon angelicus male