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How To Identify Different Types of Bees

Imagine this: You’re walking through your garden when you hear a gentle buzz. You carefully kneel to inspect the flowers closely. On top of the colorful petals of one plant is a fuzzy black-and-yellow insect covered in pollen. What is it?

The most common bees you find in your backyard have a lot of similarities. However, they all serve different roles in their ecosystems. The more you know about different bee species, the easier it is to help take care of them and create a healthy environment for all types of pollinators! Learn how to identify various types of bees with this guide.

Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are fluffier than their honey-making counterparts are. They’re also a little larger than honey bees. You can spot a bumble by the dense yellow-and-black hair that covers its entire body. If you come across a bumble bee out in the open, you’re looking at a female worker bee. Like honey bee workers, female bumbles visit flowers and gather pollen on the hairs of their bodies.

Unlike most native bees that are solitary in nature, bumbles live socially in hives like honeybees do. They usually build their hives underground, particularly in holes abandoned by rodents. There are usually around fifty to five hundred individuals in a single hive.

Carpenter Bee

The carpenter bee looks a lot like a bumble, but it’s larger and stockier with slightly less fuzz. Carpenter bees also have larger heads. However, the feature that sets a carpenter apart the most is its tendency to drill holes in wood. A pile of sawdust on your windowsill or other exposed wood around the house indicates there may be a carpenter bee nest nearby.

Despite this nuisance, carpenter bees are valuable pollinators alongside their honeybee and bumble bee counterparts.

Male versus Female Carpenter Bees

Carpenters, which are solitary bees, are comprised of male and female bees, which choose to mate after hibernation.

Females are responsible for building a nest and producing eggs. Meanwhile, male carpenter bees are tasked to protect the females and their territory. Because of this task, males have the most interaction with humans.

While they will dive-bomb any threat that comes their way, male carpenter bees don’t sting and are quite harmless. Their large size is part of their defense techniques when fending off threats.

Western Honey Bees

To beekeepers, honey bees are the jewel of the bee world. Honey bees are slightly smaller than bumble bees and carpenter bees. They are also black and yellow, but their yellow is more of a golden brown. You can also distinguish honeybees by the black stripes on their abdomens.

The most common honey bee species is the western or European honey bee. These types of bees naturally come from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. However, their subspecies have spread across the globe because of honey production and pollination.

Male versus Female Honey Bees

In addition to knowing how to identify the different types of bees, professional beekeepers must learn how to identify the different members of their honey bee colonies. The majority of honey bees are female workers that are smaller than the males or the queen. Though also female, the queen bee is longer than her workers. Male honeybees, also known as drones, are also longer and wider than any of the females in the hive.

Honey Bee Trivia

Here are some interesting facts about the European honey bee:

  • They can grow up to ⅜ to ¾ of an inch long.
  • Aside from man-made hives, these bees form their colonies inside hollow trees near meadows, woods, and gardens with flowering plants.
  • Adult bees feed on nectar and pollen gathered from flowering plants by the worker bees.
  • They deter attacks with bright-yellow bands on their body, warning predators of their venomous sting.
  • The buzzing sound of a honeybee is caused by its rapid wing movement, which reaches up to 230 times per second.
  • Queen bees can live up to five years, while workers and drones live only between a few weeks to a few months.

Africanized Bees

A hybrid species of the western honey bee, Africanized bees, or “killer bees,” are the stinging types of bees known to chase people when these bees get aggressive or excited. They can go on chasing for more than a quarter of a mile, making them dangerous insects to mess with.

The Africanized bee is a result of mating between local Brazilian honeybees and southern African bees. It was first discovered in the 1950s in Brazil but has later on spread throughout Central and South America. In the US, it was spotted at a California oil field in 1985.


Killer bees look so much like domestic honeybees, with their yellow bands and brown bodies, that their only identifying factor is their varying sizes. Killer bees are slightly smaller than their harmless counterpart is.

Killer-Bee Prevention

If you suspect a killer-bee nest near your property, contact a licensed pest-control specialist. It is extremely dangerous to handle a killer-bee infestation on your own because of these bees’ aggressive nature.

To avoid attracting killer bees to your area, keep food and garbage containers sealed. Before throwing empty food containers away, make sure to rinse them out, as well.

When under attack by Africanized honeybees, run away quickly in a zigzag pattern, or get indoors for shelter as soon as possible. Avoid jumping in a body of water, as these types of bees will wait above the surface until you emerge.

Leafcutter Bees

Another kind of bee species is leafcutter bees, solitary bees belonging to the Megachilidae bee family. If you have noticed little circular holes or segments cut away from shrubs, those are probably the work of leafcutter bees, which describes their name.

Leafcutters cut leaf segments in a very neat fashion. If there are jagged rips to your plants, these don’t have anything to do with leafcutter bees. Although these types of bees cut away segments of leaves from your plants, this doesn’t inflict any lasting harm to them. In fact, it allows pruning and deadheading to encourage more blooms.

Must-Know Facts about Leafcutters

Did you know? Here are some surprising facts about these fascinating bees:

  • Leafcutters are also known for their farm-crop pollination ability. In fact, one leafcutter bee can do the job of twenty honeybees!
  • Male leafcutters appear earlier than females do and will be ready to pounce and mate with females once they emerge.
  • Leafcutters are “cavity-nesting,” which means they make their nests in cavities like twigs and rotting wood that is ready to be excavated.
  • Larvae develop inside their nests, where they overwinter as mature larvae and come out as adults in the following spring until early summer.

Mason Bees

Unlike the honeybees, mason bees are solitary pollinators that nest in tunnels. They use mud or clay to seal the crevices of their shelters. Masons fall under the genus Osmia of the Megachilidae bee family. Currently, there are 140 Osmia species found in North America.

Without the aid of a colony, every female mason acts as a queen that lays eggs and takes care of her offspring until they hatch. Males, on the other hand, have a much-simpler responsibility. They mate with the female mason and then die.

Physical Appearance

The mason bee features distinct physical characteristics compared to the honey bee. Female mason bees have a black body with orange feet and abdomen, black fur on the face and thorax, and long reddish-brown hairs on the belly.

On the other hand, males are unique because of the white fur on their faces and the long orange hairs on their black abdomen

Building Their Nests

Mason bees lay eggs and nest inside ready-made tunnels, made by either humans or beetles and plants. Their tunnel nests appear like several circles that are usually six inches deep.

Like leafcutters, female masons lay their eggs inside their nests, with the female eggs deposited all the way back and the male eggs in the front. To protect their nests, the female masons seal these openings with mud by early summer.

Mason Bee Life Cycle

On average, a mason bee’s life can last up to four to six weeks. Female eggs are laid first, usually in February or March, and will then hatch a few days after. However, its larvae will not be ready to pupate until August or September.

When a mason bee reaches adulthood, it does not emerge. Instead, it goes into a period of suspended development known as diapause.

After mating, the female bee leaves her nest for a few days as her ovaries mature. The females often go back to their nesting area to lay eggs in nearby cavities.

Know Your Bee Species

While these bee species are all important, beekeepers most often work with honeybees for the sweet and valuable honey they make. Are you curious to learn more about honeybees, their colonies, and the part they play in our world? You can grab your own beehive starter kit and venture into the magnificent world of beekeeping today.