10 Spectacular Bees Native To The U.S. | Popular Science
Want More?

10 Spectacular Bees Native To The U.S.

Honeybees aren't native to U.S., but these other amazing bees are. And they contribute to pollinating delicious American crops such as pumpkins, blueberries and tomatoes.

The Augochloropsis anonyma looks like a weird bee. It's got that familiar bee shape—tilted abdomen, oblong eyes—but its body fuzz is white, instead of yellow; its eyes are white; and its skin is iridescent jade-aqua-blue-purple. It has all the colors of an oil puddle in the sun.

Yet the real weirdos are our familiar yellow-and-black honeybees, says U.S. Geological Survey biologist Sam Droege. The Augochloropsis is one of 4,000 bee species native to the U.S. Honeybees, on the other hand, are more recent settlers that European farmers brought to America in the 1600s. Surveys done in the past few years have found that both types of bees contribute to pollinating U.S. crops, with native bees playing an especially important role for American plants such as pumpkins, blueberries and tomatoes.

Click here to enter the gallery

Droege considers honeybees weird because their habits differ from those of most native bees, which tend to be solitary or "primitively colonial," Droege says. "The whole multi-year queen, waggle dance, hive, honey, etc. are absent from our native species," he wrote to Popular Science in an email. Only native bumblebees, which comprise about 40 species in North America, have a formal colonial social structure with workers and queens.

Honey- and bumblebees' social structures mean people are able to cultivate them in hives and drive them around to places that need them. They're especially important in industrial farmlands, such as those in central California, where there's little habitat left for native bees.

Fields on the East Coast and others that are surrounded by some native plants, however, may be pollinated partly or mostly by native bees. In 2009, researchers studied 11 apple farms in New York State and found 81 species of native bees. Small farms could depend entirely on native bees, though larger farms required honeybees. The natives may be especially effective at pollinating foods native to the Americas, including cherries and cranberries.

Another major difference between native and honeybees is that the natives don't suffer from colony collapse disorder, a mysterious condition that's killed off, on average, one-third of domestic honeybee colonies every year since 2006. That's because native bees don't suffer from the same pests and viruses that honeybees do and they don't have the same social order, Droege says. Nevertheless, native bees may be threatened by pesticide residues, but that hasn't been well studied, Droege says.

The U.S. Geological Survey has set up a program to capture and record bee species all over the continent. The survey will ramp up this winter to include 50 collection sites. Droege hopes to collect enough data to know whether native bee populations are rising or falling. In the meanwhile, he and his collectors have gotten great photos of Augochloropsis and other weird natives. Check them out above.

Correction: This article originally listed eggplant as an example of a plant that's native to the Americas and better pollinated by native bee. Eggplants are not native to the Americas. However, they do require bumblebees to pollinate them. Domestic honeybees don't make the correct movements eggplant flowers need. I apologize for the error.

Halictus ligatus, Female

Covered in pollen. From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Anthophora affabilis, Female

Collected in Badlands National Park in South Dakota

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Augochloropsis anonyma, Male

The Augochloropsis anonyma is native to the southeastern U.S. This specimen was collected in Miami-Dade, Florida.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Melissodes dentiventris, Female

This fuzzy buzzer, collected in Anne Andrel County, Maryland, likes dry, sandy areas.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Trifolium repens

A white clover flower from a Beltsville, Maryland lawn

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Andrena fenningeri, Female

An early spring bee species, often found in maple trees. This little gal, collected by a homeowner in Bowie, Maryland, is dusted with pollen.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Svastra petulca, Male

Collected in Wake County, North Carolina

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Macropis ciliata, Female

This may be the first record of this bee species in a century, Droege says. He found this specimen in Washington County, Maryland.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Augochlorella aurata, No Sex Indicated

Dark blue _Augochlorella aurata_s, like this one, often live in coastal areas and the Deep South. This specimen was collected in Camden County, Georgia.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Andrena nasonii, Male

This bee lives in Brooklyn, New York, like me.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Dianthidium curvatum, Male

Collected in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Can't get enough of these photos, or want some higher-resolution versions for yourself? These pictures and more are free to use from Droege's Flickr photostream.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring

Latest News