Did you know that bees are insects with a huge amount of variety?
While you probably think of honeybees, bumblebees, or carpenter bees, those are just a very small selection of all the different species of bees out there. You may have even seen some more unusual bees without realizing it!
Bees come in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Some don’t look like the bees you’re familiar with at all. While they share several characteristics, they also display a wide range of behaviors and habits that make them unique.
Keep reading to learn about more types of bees you may not have heard of before. You’re also sure to learn something new about the species you already recognize.
How Many Types of Bees Are There?
Bees are part of the family of insects known as Hymenoptera, along with wasps, ants, and sawflies.
The truth is, we don’t even know exactly how many types of bees exist. We know there are at least over 20,000 species all over the world.
Each species of bee has numerous subspecies of related bees branching out, so it’s no surprise there are so many.
Bees adapt to their environments just like any other organism, which has created some significant differences even among related species.
How Can I Tell What Type of Bee I Saw?
You may have seen a bee you didn’t recognize because it didn’t look quite like the bees you normally see.
It can be tough sometimes to identify specific bees because they appear so varied. Start by considering a few basic characteristics like size, color, and behavior. Location is also important as what kinds of plants you see them visiting.
For starters, a bee identification record book is a beneficial tool to keep track of the bees you see and a helper to identify what bees you see.
There are times when you won’t be able to determine the species, as many types of bees look nearly identical to each other.
There are several imposter insects as well, such as hoverflies, that have a bee-like appearance. This is usually a defense mechanism to keep predators away for fear of being stung. In reality, most of them are harmless and rely on the assumption that they’re able to sting or bite.
There are also bees that look a lot like other insects, and you might not realize they’re bees at all.
Are Wasps and Hornets Types of Bees?
Wasps and hornets are different types of insects, but they are fairly closely related to bees. There are several important differences between these often confused insects.
Wasps do pollinate, but not nearly on the same scale as bees. This is because they have different nutritional requirements. Wasps will often consume other bugs or even feast on dead animals to meet their protein needs, whereas bees will not eat meat.
Most other insect species are much more aggressive than bees and will attack at a lower threat threshold. Bees typically only sting if they feel their colony is under attack, so you’re less likely to get stung by a bee out foraging. Wasps, however, might come after you for seemingly no reason.
While some bees look similar to wasps, you can usually tell the difference based on size and color. Wasps and hornets typically don’t have any fuzz, and their colors are much sharper. They have an overall “meaner” look to them in general, though there are always exceptions to the rule.
5 Different Types of Bees
Bees come in so many shapes, sizes, and even colors.
It would be impossible to list every type of bee, but these are just some of the species out there. Some you’ve definitely seen and are very common, while others may be completely new to you.
The following species can be found all over the world but mainly need a warmer climate in order to thrive.
Apis Mellifera is the scientific name for honeybee.
They are probably the most well-known type of bee because they are the species that make honey. Humans have kept and bred these bees for a very long time, and there are quite a few subspecies out there. Some subspecies evolved naturally, while others are the result of human intervention.
Honeybees build their hives out of wax, often inside a tree trunk, hanging from branches, or even within your home. This is where the familiar honeycomb shape comes from and why it’s so closely associated with this type of bee.
Honeybees can sting, but they aren’t usually aggressive. Using their stinger means the end of their life, so they aren’t likely to sting unless they feel their colony is threatened. This is because honeybee stingers are barbed, keeping them stuck in the intruder even as the bee pulls away.
For the most part, honeybees tend to be calm and friendly. For many beekeepers, especially beginners, docile bees are very desirable because of how hands-on beekeeping is.
There are instances of Africanized bees, which means they will be much more aggressive and pass on those behavioral genetics.
Honeybees gather nectar and pollen to make their honey. While we harvest honey for ourselves, it’s actually what bees eat.
Honeybees are a very social type of bee, living in a colony together. A single queen bee lays all the eggs while the female workers take care of everything to keep the hive running. Male drones exist solely for mating purposes and are not always present in the hive.
Imagine a panda bear in bee form: that’s a bumblebee!
You’ve definitely seen these big fluffy bees buzzing around. They’re well known for their large, round, and fuzzy appearance. Bumblebees have characteristic black and yellow stripes.
There are over 250 types of bumblebees, so they don’t all look exactly the same.
Bumblebees aren’t aggressive and usually mind their own business, though the females can have multiple stings. In general, you don’t need to fear bumblebees that are out and about.
They make a type of honey, but there is nothing humans can harvest for consumption.
These types of bees live in colonies with a single queen, similar to honeybees. Some species of bumblebee nest underground or in leaf litter.
You can see clumps of pollen on their hind legs as they go from one flower to another, although not all bumblebees collect it. They feed primarily on nectar.
You’ve probably seen Mason bee houses around and wondered why they look the way they do.
Mason bees are solitary, meaning they don’t live communally in hive-like other types of bees. This is why mason bee houses consist of several small tubes where each individual bee can live and make their nests.
You can even raise your mason bees to help with pollination, for the environment at large, or in your own farm and garden.
Mason bees use mud and similar substances to build their nests, which are located in natural gaps in dark spaces. Each female mason bee is fertile, so she builds and maintains her own nest. There are no workers or individualized roles.
Female mason bees will seek out an ideal spot for their nests and may check out multiple spots before settling on one. They don’t do their own digging, so an existing opening must be suitable. Some subspecies will even line the insides of their nests with flower petals.
A mason bee will gather nectar and pollen to store in the nest. Once they are packed in, she will lay an egg on top and then use mud to seal that egg off. She then begins the process over again until the space is filled, at which point she will close the entrance and find a new nest spot.
The eggs that emerge first are the male bees. They exit the nest, find a female to mate with, and then die off.
Mason bees don’t make wax or honey. They will only sting if they are very stressed but don’t have barbed stingers, so it isn’t particularly painful.
Mason bee subspecies can be blue and green, and some are even metallic. One example of this unusual color is the blue orchard mason bee.
Carpenter bees are best known for boring into wood, and you may have experienced damage to your home as a result.
They rarely try to harm you, although they have quite an appetite for chewing wood. Female carpenter bees are capable of stinging but almost never will, and males do not have stingers.
This type of bee looks a lot like a bumblebee but without the fuzz. Their large bodies are black and shiny instead.
Around 500 subspecies of carpenter bees are characterized by their nesting pattern. They burrow into wood to nest, although some of them will nest in the dirt instead, and they do not consume the wood.
They’re able to chew through the wood because they vibrate their bodies while using their mandibles to scrape away at the material.
Carpenter bees live in small groups with related females, but they can sometimes be solitary. When they do live in groups, they divide their labor like other social types of bees.
The holes they make are perfectly circular, and nests have a single entrance tunnel that typically has other tunnels and chambers branching off.
Because they often live in trees or other pieces of wood, they are vulnerable to woodpeckers who consider them a nice snack.
The stingless bee is the other type of bee that makes honey we are able to harvest.
There are about 550 subspecies of stingless bees. They live mostly in tropical climates, where they can be active all year long.
Despite their name, stingless bees do have stingers; however, they aren’t useful for defensive purposes. Some subspecies of this type of bee can bite and cause painful blisters using the formic acid in their mandibles.
Stingless bees live in large colonies with dedicated defenders. This type of bee typically builds nests in available spaces in tree trunks, rocks, branches, or parts of our homes. The nests of stingless bees looks very different from that of honeybees, although they function in a similar way.
They divide labor, but unlike honeybees, workers don’t feed or care for the larvae. Instead, they will store nectar in a cell within the hive, then lay an egg on top and seal it for it to finish developing. The fully grown stingless bee will emerge when it’s ready to join the colony.
Rather than swarming to establish a new nest, stingless bee workers will gradually start to build one for a mated queen to join. They hatch a much higher percentage of queens than honeybees, but many of them don’t survive.
Stingless bees can be kept by humans to harvest honey, and they also make wax. They aren’t nearly as productive as honeybees, which is why they aren’t as common. Stingless bee honey has a distinct flavor due to the plant resins they use to build their hives, which can vary throughout the year.
Like most other types of bees, stingless bees are important pollinators. They are crucial species for certain plant species like macadamias and mangos.
All Types of Bees Are Important
They are fascinating, and bees are essential to so many pieces of the ecosystem.
Some species are solely responsible for the pollination of specific plants that otherwise would be unable to reproduce. Humans rely heavily on pollination from all types of bees to keep food on our plates.
Most people are only familiar with a few of the many types of bees in the world. In reality, there are thousands of different bees out there. If you’ve been enamored with all things bees, check out our honey bee page!