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Five Types of Common Bees and How to Identify Them

Spend more than a few minutes around flowers and you’ll likely run into a bee or two. Bees do a lot for us: they create delicious honey and honeycomb, help to pollinate the crops that feed us, and help to balance the ecosystem overall.

Yet, bees are suffering from widespread habitat loss, a crushing reality for one of the most important pollinators on the planet.

A simple way to help bees thrive in your area is to get familiar with types of bee species you commonly see there. By learning native bee habits and tendencies, you can live symbiotically with them. You may even be able to help create better habitats for these small but vital friends.

In North America alone, there are around 4,000 native species of bees, and there are around 20,000 species worldwide, nested into many categories. Each category of bee has its own style of pollinating and nesting, too.

Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry—here’s an emergency list of five basic types of bees you might see in your garden or outdoors in North America.

honey bee

1. Honey Bees

Honey bee species are easy to spot with their golden body and black stripes. They collect pollen in little baskets on their legs, so if you look closely at one, you might find bright yellow pollen dusted over its legs.

A worker honey bee is always female. She is excellent at pollinating, sometimes traveling miles to collect pollen. In agriculture, honey bees help to grow a wide range of crops like almonds, broccoli, apples, and pumpkins.

A honey bee will rarely sting because her stinger is attached to her digestive organs. Avoid any sudden or aggressive motions, and honey bee workers will quickly become your new garden friend.

bumble bee

2. Bumble Bees

Say hello to the teddy bears of the bee world. Bumble bees are also often mistaken for carpenter bees, so here’s how to tell the difference: aside from having more hair on the abdomen than the carpenter bees, our bumble-buddies are also significantly smaller. 

Covered in yellow and black fuzz, these round bumble bees tend to live in small colonies in the ground. Bumble bee workers also have pollen baskets on their legs, like the great pollinators they are, for wildflowers and crops like tomatoes. 

Bumble bees are extremely docile—they rarely (if ever) sting—and they’re named after the sound they make while gathering pollen inside a flower. *Bumble-bumble-bumble.* What could be more endearing?

carpenter bee

3. Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees have a bad rap as pests who eat into wooden houses with tiny, drill-like holes, leaving a neat pile of wood dust in their wake. But these neat bees are actually excellent pollinators for a variety of flowers. Just keep them away from young blueberry flowers, where they could steal nectar away before pollen has a chance to form.

Like bumblebees, carpenter bees are covered in yellow fur, but there are a few physical factors that help us to pin down this variety. A worker carpenter bee has a black body in yellow fur, except on the abdomen where they are bald, and are usually significantly larger than the average bumblebee. 

If carpenter bees can’t find a suitable nesting habitat, they’re much more likely to cause problems in human residences, nesting in wooden homes. You can help improve the reputation of carpenter bees by funding habitat-building for bees and other pollinators when you support Pass the Honey. Each snacking honey purchase supports our Regenerative Honeycomb Initiative

mason bee

4. Mason Bees

If you’ve ever come across a confusingly fast-flying bee, it could be a mason bee. With a dark blue, metallic-colored body, they carry their pollen haul in their abdominal hairs instead of in leg baskets like bumblebees or honey bees. 

These bee species are springtime pollination experts, and many avid gardeners love them for it. Instead of choosing a favored flower, they act as a jack-of-all-flowers, collecting pollen from any plant close enough to the nest for comfortable collection. They may look intimidating, but mason bees are surprisingly gentle, only stinging if they are trapped or physically threatened.

A mason bee nest can be tricky to spot, but keep an eye out for hollow plant material. Like her namesake, an egg-laying mason bee will use mud or clay to seal her nest for the winter. 

leafcutter bee

5. Leafcutter Bees

If masons use mud, leafcutters use . . . You guessed it, leaves. At first glance, they may not seem very bee-like with their black body and white fuzz. Like mason bees, leafcutters have a need for speed, so they carry their pollen in their abdominal hairs instead of in leg baskets like honey bees or bumble bees. We rely on leafcutter bees to pollinate a huge selection of plants, including wildflowers and commercial crops like blueberries, carrots, and onions. 

A leafcutter’s home is easy to spot: it’s capped off with a bit of leaf. While this can be aesthetically detrimental to nearby ornamental plants, it doesn’t cause enough damage to harm the plant itself, since most leafcutter bees are solitary. They can sting if handled, so approach carefully.

Know the Bees, Love the Bees, Save the Bees

Learning about the bees you see often is a pathway to providing them with the best care and habitats possible. Creating change can start as small as planting a flower, but by combining these efforts with consistent support for regenerative beekeeping and unadulterated honeycomb, you can become a hero for countless future generations of bees and other pollinators.

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