About Native Bees

Pollination Services

Bees are key pollinators visiting flowers for nectar and pollen and transferring pollen between plants, therefore facilitating pollination.

Honey bees, brought to the Americas by Europeans, have been managed in large colonies for honey production for hundreds of years. Six out of 20,000 bee species that are native to the Americas produce honey too. Honey bees and native bees such as masons, leaf-cutters and bumble bees, provide pollination services on farms and orchards. (Native bee, left; honeybee, center. Kathy Keatley Garvey, The University of California Regents)

~35% of fruit, vegetable and nut crop species rely on pollinators to some extent to set fruit. Every third morsel of our food in American diets comes from some pollination activities. Bees work hard to collect pollen but they share the fruits of their labor through pollination.

A balanced breakfast thanks to bees!

Our world without bees…

Photos by Laura Russo

Pollination Services.pdf


Bees travel beyond their nesting habitat to forage for food. Flight ranges depend to some extent on body size, which in turn depends on the bee species. But some tiny tropical bee species can forage for distances up to 2 kilometers (1.25 miles)!

Sweat bees, like a metallic green Agapostemon, fly ~500 meters. (CC) www.discoverlife.org

Squash bees Peponapis fly 500m-1km (CC) T’ai H. Roulston

Bumble bees Bombus fly ~1 km. (CC) Charles Schurch Lewallen






Most bees forage by day but some are active at night. Crepuscular bees see in dim light.

Three tiny ocelli on top of a sweat bee’s head complement two large compound eyes (USGS Native Bee Inventory Monitoring Lab). Bees can see in visible and ultraviolet light, while humans see only visible light along the light spectrum.


Humans and other animals may see a plain yellow flower while bees see nectar guides (patterned speckles) on petals of a different color! Yellow flower seen in visible (left) and UV light (right) Wikipedia.org

Bees use senses other than sight and taste to find food: they smell with their antennae like this long-horned bee does! They’re attracted to many types of colorful and aromatic flowers. (Sam Droege)

Bees are agile; they can reach the anthers and stigma behind the keel of flowers like bluebonnets and sages.

Generalist bees obtain pollen from many plant groups. Bumble bees, which tend to be generalists, can shake their abdomen to buzz pollen from flowers like nightshades. This sonication shakes out pollen from the holes at the top of the flower’s anthers.

Specialist bees tend to obtain pollen from a narrow group of plants (one species, genus or family) unless environment stressors drive them to change their feeding habits. Squash bees like pumpkin, cucumber, and zucchini; while cactus bees prefer prickly pear cactus.


Native bees are either ground nesters (70%) or cavity nesters (30%). Ground nesters need bare soil or sand, which you can protect in your garden, orchard or farm. Cavity nesters use crevices or holes in rocks or soft wood and may cut leaves and petals or use mud plaster to line and seal their nests. You can leave dead wood for them to drill holes.

Ground Nesting females dig underground nests with their front legs. Bumble bees, sweat bees and digger bees dig level entrances. Sunflower bees build chimneys.  Ground-nesters can use the space under grass thatch and the ground. They can dig through loose soil or sand but they can’t dig into hard compacted soil.

Cavity Nesting bees can use their mouth parts and legs to make nests. Leaf-cutter and mason bees use cavities in soft wood, rocks or snail shells! Mason or orchard bees chew mud and use it to plug their nest holes. Small and large carpenter bees carve holes in plant pith and soft wood with their mouth parts.

Texas Native Bee Foraging & Nesting.pdf

Sociality – 90% of native bees are solitary: a single female makes a nest, lays eggs and stocks the nest with pollen. Some bee species aggregate nests in a small area.  Some share a common nest entrance while each female provides for her own larvae in their cells. In semi-social bees, like bumble bees, individuals of the same age (cohort) divide the labor, foraging and caring for young sisters. Some tropical bees are social and form small colonies. European honeybees form huge colonies. One female builds a nest, lays eggs and provisions her young; most of that queen’s daughter-workers forage for food. Native bee populations depend on few eggs and larvae in nests that shift from season to season.

Social Apidae bees like Melipona quadrifasciata in Southern Mexico and Central America share a communal nest. Females jointly tend to their developing young by feeding them nectar and pollen.  Photo: Margarita Lopez Uribe

Life Cycles

All bee species go through complete metamorphosis with four developmental stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Females make pollen balls (bee bread) for their developing larvae to eat in the nests. Development can take from a month to a year, depending on the species. Adult bees can live a month (mason, mining bee), a year (bumble bee), or three years (large carpenter, honey bee) depending on the species, sex, and caste.




Egg and larva on pollen balls (‘bee bread’) (Dennis Briggs)
Pupa in an underground brood cell (Robbin Thorp)
Adult mining bee feeding on an aster flower (John Ascher)


Habitat Conservation

Conserving nest habitat and food sources helps native bees thrive. Native bees live in open prairies, mixed woodlands, farms and gardens. A constellation of native plants in each ecosystem provide food and nesting material. Natural bee habitat has bare soil, cavities in rocks, dead wood and thatch for nest sites; and diverse native plant species flowering from early Spring to late Fall for food sources.

Native Bee Habitat Tips.pdf;  Native Bee Habitat Tips Spanish.pdf

Native Habitat Tips Spanish – complete.pdf

Conserving native bees involves protecting adult and nest habitats year round. To conserve nest habitats: protect bare soil and mud from disturbance, compaction, and erosion; leave snags and fallen trees and grass thatch. Augmenting locally adapted native plants ensures that adults can thrive and feed their young. Try to do gardening and land stewardship before bee foraging begins in the early spring so that plants are blooming when hungry bees emerge and don’t prune late bloomers in the fall since females are still provisioning their nests for the winter.

Naturalists | Citizen Scientists see pamphlets at the bottom of our next page.

Native plants are essential for native bee larvae who digest their pollen readily. Adult native bees prefer to feed from native flowers over non-natives. Bee life cycles are also synchronized with wildflowers, shrubs and trees that flower during their foraging season. If you landscape with native plants, native pollinators will find them! The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provides a native pollinator plant list:   www.wildflower.org/project/pollinator-conservation

Brackenridge Field Lab, UT

BFL meadow & woodland habitats Larry Gilbert photo

BFL meadow & woodland (L.Gilbert)

Natural woodlands and prairies at the University of Texas Brackenridge Field Lab, on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, sustain more than 200 native pollinator species in 80 acres!

UT Brackenridge Field Lab Pollinators.pdf

How Do You ID a Bee?


Like all insects, a bee’s body has three regions: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax has three pairs of legs and two pairs of membranous wings (a trait of the Order Hymenoptera). The segmented abdomen may have colored bands and hair covers some or all of their body.

Many bees are tiny and look like wasps or flies. To distinguish them, observe their shape, their wings and what they eat.

Bee, Wasp or Fly?

  • Bees are herbivores; they eat only nectar and pollen from flowers
  • Wasps are carnivores; they mostly eat insects but also drink nectar from flowers
  • Flies are mostly detrivores; they eat decaying plants or animals but also nectar or blood
bee15 (1)

Margarita Lopez Uribe

  • Bees/wasps: 4 wings, long elbowed antennae. Flies: 2 wings, stubby straight antennae
  • Bees/flies have rounded bodies; wasps have long narrow bodies with pointy abdomens
  • Bees are hairier than wasps or flies and only bees have branched hairs that carry pollen


About 800 native bee species have been described in Texas. Since 2012 the Jha Lab has studied pollinators from 60+ sites in South, Central, and North Texas.

Bees are smaller than rice grains, as big as pinto beans or bigger than popcorn.  Color and ‘hair’ location are used to identify bees. They can be very colorful!

Six Texas Bee Families

  • (Apidae) Bumble bees, large & small carpenters, stingless, cactus, long-horned bees
  • Plasterer bees (Colletidae) make plaster by chewing leaves into spit balls to line nests
  • Miner bees (Andrenidae) dig underground tunnels with chimneys to build nests
  • Sweat bees (Halictidae) are tiny and drink human sweat for its salt (metallic colors)
  • Oil-collectors like Hesperapis (Melittidae) collect plant oils in dry climates (marigold)
  • Leaf-cutters (Megachilidae) use mega mouth-parts to cut & drag leaves to their nest

Texas Native Bee Families.pdf

Do you recognize any native bees from your garden in Central Texas

See Texas Pollinator Guides page for identification guides and pollinators near you.

Also see: TPWD Native Pollinator Management , TPWD helpful guides , Native Plant Society of Texas http://npsot.org/wp/story/2012/2422/ , Pollinator Partnership , Xerces Society , Wildflower.org pollinator-conservation , USDA CRP CP-42 Pollinator Enhancement
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 US Army
Images used for educational purposes only, copyrights apply. (CC) Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike; © Copyright protected – use permitted for educational purposes (photos in order of appearance by section).
(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) 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) Bumble bee wildflower USPS stamp, USDA Forest Service  http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/news/2007.shtml
(CC) Lynette Schimming, 2008, www.bugguide.net, Hesperapis sp. Miner bee males
(CC) Sean McCann, 2006, http: tolweb.org Eastern carpenter bee Xylocopa virginica; www.eol.org
(CC) Ted Kropiewnicki, 2009, Metallic blue bee (Native Bee Diversity section)
(CC) Tom Van Devender, MABA, www.madrean.org, Diadasia sp. (‘fuzzy’ bee on cactus flower)
(CC) T’ai H. Roulston, 2014, www.virginia.edu/blandy/blandy_web/biota/bees Augochlorella aurata (gold sweat bee); Colletes latitarsis (tomatillo flower)
(CC) Nancy Adamson, Peponapis pruinosa (several squash bees in flower)
(CC) USGS Native Bee Inventory Monitoring Lab 2012, http://commons.wikimedia.org Halictus poeyi (Sweat bee ocelli)
© 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.orgDianthidium ulkei; (fuzzy Megachilid -Diversity); Andrena (metamorphosis -adult)
© Kathy Keatley Garvey, 2014, Regents of the University of California, 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, Agapostemon angelicus male
(CC) Lawrence Gilbert, meadow & woodland at Brackenridge Field Laboratory
(CC) Brackenridge Field Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin
(CC) www.discoverlife.org Agapostemon
(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.eduBombus griseocollis
(CC) http://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/ Agapostemon green sweat bee peeking
(CC) *BJO http://www.flickr.com/photos/32551349@N03/8140583553 Bumble bee exits nest
(CC) T. Murray, digger bee
(CC) T’ai H. Roulston, 2014, www.virginia.edu/blandy/blandy_web/biota/bees Peponapis pruinosa
(CC) Melipona quadrifasciata (social bees) image provided by Margarita Lopez Uribe
(CC) Scott Famous, DoD, www.bugwood.org, Blue orchard Osmia lignaria; www.aragriculture.org, Mason bees
© Bruce Lund 2012, www.bugguide.net, digger (chimney) bee Diadasia enavata, (Andrenidae)
© Kathy Keatley Garvey, 2014, Regents of the University of California, Diadasia, leaf-cutters
© www.discoverlife.org, Agapostemon angelicus male