The crucial function that bees and other pollinators perform in a safe and prosperous garden is recognizable to most gardeners. Yet every day, their significance affects our lives. Did you know that you rely on bees to survive?
Well, if you’re not familiar with this fact, research indicates that one out of every three bites of your food relies on pollination. In the United States, around 150 food crops, including apples, oranges, almonds, pears, blueberries, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins, and squash, benefit greatly from pollination by insects, bees being the main players in this life-giving process.
Livestock is also not left behind as pollination by bees is vital to plants fed to animals and the fiber producing plants such as cotton. Certainly, bees are a great contribution to the survival of the planet.
The Different Types of Bees in Gardens and Yards
In addition to the common European honeybee, there are over 20,000 types of bees in the world, among which over 4,000 are native North American bee species, and many are in decline. Instead of forming hives and making honey, most native bees are solitary, nesting individually in tunnels.
These native pollinators are vital to the pollination of both wild and cultivated plants. Not only do we require wild bees because they are more effective pollinators in several instances compared to the European honey bees, but also because they have evolved along with our native plants.
All varieties of bees are specialized pollinators as they’re perfectly engineered to pollinate certain specified plants. Diversity is the secret to ecosystems’ stability, and an essential aspect of the equation is our native bees.
It is also worth noting that most kinds of native bees are not capable of stinging. Even if they are, they are usually docile and totally uninterested in stinging people, unless they are squinted or stepped on.
Unlike Yellowjackets and other social wasps that can grow to become very aggressive, most bees are rarely aggressive. The first phase in valuing bees and appreciating the job they do is identifying them. Although a bumblebee or a honey bee might be recognizable by most gardeners, several other types of bees are worth discovering.
Below are the different types of bees you can come across in gardens and yards.
Bumblebees (Bombus species)
The bumblebees are everywhere. They exist in about 50 species on the continent. They are hairy and about half and a full inch in length. Bumblebees may be of diverse colors; black, white, yellow, green, and even rusty brown patterns.
Each of the species has a distinct color pattern, and these differences make it challenging to distinguish one species from another. The female bumblebee carries pollen balls on its hind legs. They enjoy almost every flower in a typical garden or yard. From coneflowers and blueberries to foxgloves and salvia, you’ll never miss seeing this wonderful insect.
Unlike the other types of bees, bumblebees are social nesters. The mated queen bumblebees spend the winter in deaf debris. They emerge in the spring and begin to build a nest in an old rodent burrow, an empty birdhouse, or other hollow places, sometimes in the dirt.
You may also buy a bumblebee nest box to allow them to take up residency in your garden or yard. I like them because they’re so docile you can almost pet them as they pollinate!
Large carpenter bees (Xylocopa species)
The large carpenter bees have a relatively bad reputation. Yes, if you have wooden fences, sheds, barns, and houses, they chew out solitary nest tunnels in them.
However, you really don’t have to worry as the destruction that causes is minimal. Sometimes the males are buzzing you in defense of their territory. Even if they may be quite intimidating due to their buzzing and how they look, these show-off males lack stinging capabilities, and they are wonderful once you get to know them.
They’re mostly black with a golden brown to a yellow thorax, sometimes with a black spot. They have blackheads, often with a yellow spot. They are among the largest bee species, around an inch in length. While they are frequently mistaken for bigger bumblebees, it’s easy to tell the two of them apart. Carpenter bees have shiny, almost bald abdomens, while bumblebees have hairy abdomens.
There are just a few species of large carpenter bees in North America, so it’s worth appreciating and nurturing them for sure. If you want to prevent carpenter bees from nesting in your residence, simply paint the wood or use a staple gun to cover any wood panels facing down with a roll of window screen every spring.
Small carpenter bees (Ceratina species)
These tiny forms of bees are sometimes underestimated because they are just around a quarter-inch long. Dark black with a metallic glint, the 20 species of this bee that exist in North America are quickly recognized by their blunt-ended abdomen and blocky head.
Some of them have white facial marks. Tiny carpenter bees hide in hollow stems or chew out the softer tissue of shrub stems, like elderberries and brambles. You can find them nestling between dead hydrangea stems almost every summer.
They leave behind a smattering of sawdust while they work. Crazily enough, the female protects her brood chamber after the eggs have been deposited and will die there in the winter. Her young pupa needs to move her body out of the way to emerge in the spring that follows. Amazing, right?
European honey bees (Apis mellifera)
This is one of the most prevalent types of bees found in gardens and yards and can be found on plants such as clover, oregano, and mountain mint. Honeybees are about half an inch long, with black and honey-colored stripes on their tapered abdomen.
Females can be seen carrying pollen on their back legs. These bees have a diverse social system, including a queen, female worker bees, and male drones, which play a reproductive role. They feed on many types of plants, but they are not as good as many of our native pollinators, especially when it comes to pollinating certain native plants.
Honey bees mostly reside in controlled hives, but from time to time, you can find wild colonies nesting in hollow trees. Although European honey bees are not native to North America, they have been introduced all over the world due to their honey-making capabilities.
Wool Carder bees (Anthidium species)
Wool carder bees are so-called because the female bee scrapes and gathers soft downy hair (trichomes) from soft plants to be used to build a nest for her offspring. This bee is half-inch in length, with a smooth upper abdomen that has a clear pattern of yellow or white markings.
Females carry pollen on the hairy underside of their belly rather than on their legs. Some consider male carder bees very charismatic and love seeing them run after other bees who threaten their territories, whilst others may term them as bullies based on the violent tendencies of male bees against other bees.
A male will perch or hover near the chosen flowers of a female bee and serve as a guard when other bees (including other male wool carders) enter its territory, easily step forward and thwart any intruders. The aim of this intensive flower-guarding tendency is to allow females sole access to resources in the territory for better chances of mating with them.
Females create lone nests in hollow stems and natural wood cavities. If you want to witness this amazing work of bee architecture, plant some lamb’s ear plants in your garden or yard, and you will most definitely see the female Wool Carder Bees collecting hair from the leaves of this plant and use them to construct their nest.
Sweat bees (Halictus species)
This community of famous backyard bees is named sweat bees because they love to land on sweaty humans and “eat” up their salty sweat. They’re harmless, of course, but they’re tickling a little when they’re crawling on you. There are around ten species of sweat bees in the Halictus genus in North America.
These little bees measure a quarter to a half-inch in length. For me, their tiny size, coupled with their black and creamy yellow striped abdomens, makes them very easy to recognize. The female ones have a glob of pollen stuck on the tibia and femur of their hind legs. You can often see these bees on plants such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisies, and other plants that bloom during the summertime.
Female sweat bees build solitary nests in a narrow tunnel-like burrow in the ground, although a few species are social. Interestingly, there is also another group of bees known as sweat bees but are in the genus Lasioglossum. They are smaller compared to the ones in the genus Halictus and have about 400 species in North America.
Longhorn bees (Melissoides and Eucera species)
Although uncommon in most gardens, you can come across them from time to time in a typical garden or yard, especially if you have plants like goldenrod, sunflowers, zinnias, coneflowers, rudbeckia, dahlias, strawflowers, among others.
This kind of bee is recognized for the long antennas of males. The continent has over two hundred species of long-horned bees. They are about half an inch tall, with hairy legs and a thorax, and pale hair bands on their abdomen.
On their hind legs, females carry pollen. These sunflower experts are sometimes found grouped, day and night, on the blooms. Through building tunnels, long-horned bees nest in the dirt, with many females often sharing the same tunnel entry.
Leafcutter bees (Megachile species)
These bee types are around half an inch long, and North America has about 140 species. The upward tipped, flattened, stripped abdomen is one distinctive characteristic of this bee. Female leafcutter bees carry pollen below their abdomen rather than on their hind legs.
Rudbeckia, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), and asters are common plants that attract the leafcutter. The females are so hard-working, using their mandibles easily to extract bits of leaves in only a few seconds to return to their nests.
They create little cups stacked on top of each other using these leaf bits. A single egg and a supply of pollen for the larval bee are contained in each cup. They can build their nest in just about every kind of narrow tube, from hollow plant stems to masonic holes in the side of your building. These bees usually cut circles on smooth leaves of ornamental plants such as strawberries, azaleas, ash, redbud, bougainvillea, and other plants.
Green metallic sweat bee (Augochlora species)
There are only four species of this bee on the whole continent, with one species being much more widespread than the others; (A. pura). A dazzling silver or tawny green are some of these quarter-inch-long bees’ distinct characteristics, and they are fairly unmistakable.
You will normally catch them feeding on my herbal blooms, including oregano, basil, and thyme. In daisy-like bulbs, including black-eyed Susans, cosmos, asters, and coreopsis and, you can see them quite a lot as well. This little bee constructs a solitary nest in a hollow stem or a tunnel in the decaying wood.
One fascinating thing is that this bee is sometimes mistaken for a near-identical species, known as the cuckoo wasp. However, the cuckoo wasp appears to be more turquoise in color. Strangely enough, many of our local bees and wasps are predators of the cuckoo wasp, creeping into nests and consuming their eggs.
According to research, the U.S. has lost over 50 percent of its controlled honeybee colonies in the last ten years. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is characterized as a set of symptoms whose causes are still not well known, has been cited to be the cause of this sharp decline.
Scientists consider that parasites, pathogens, and pesticide toxicity are also contributing factors to CCD. The capacity of honeybees to get the maximum spectrum of nutrients from more concentrated nectar and pollen supplies can also be impaired by a decline of plant diversity due to agricultural cultivation and habitat destruction.
With this insight, we believe you can also join many bee lovers to preserve this tiny insect whose existence supports life.