Types of Bees and How to Identify Them (Pictures, Names, Identification)

bee identification

Bees are small flying insects, common in summer gardens flying from flower to flower. Most bee species are recognizable by their striped fuzzy bodies—often with black and yellow or orange markings. There are 20,000 species of bees, and the most common – the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) – is famous for producing honey.

This article is a guide to the most popular species of bees you will find in your garden. Along with pictures of common bees, descriptions of these flying types of insects will help identify various bee species.

How to Identify Bees

The best way to identify species of bees is by observing their shape, size, color, and habitats. However, bee identification can be tricky, and many species have similar characteristics. It may be easy to tell a bumble bee and honey bee apart, but identifying other bees species is challenging.

For example, bumble bees have fuzzy bodies with black and yellow stripes and are larger than honey bees. Most carpenter bees are similar to bumblebees but are mostly black, and they have shorter hairs.

The colors of bees vary from species to species. Many types of honey bees are brown or tan colors. However, larger carpenter bees are mostly black. Some bumble bee species can also be black, or some have black, white, and yellow markings. There are also fascinating bee species that have shiny green metallic colors.

Bees vs. Wasps

Close up pictures showing a bee and a wasp

Close up pictures of a honey bee (left) and a wasp (right)

Bees and wasps are closely related, and both belong to the insect order Hymenoptera. One way to tell bees and wasps apart is by the smoothness of their body. Wasps tend to have slender, smooth bodies, whereas bees have a furry appearance and are plumper. Also, bees can only sting once before dying, but wasps can sting multiple times.

Facts About Bees

Bees, especially honey bees, are generally social creatures that live in large colonies. A single hive can contain between 20,000 and 80,000 worker bees. A bee colony is also highly organized, with a queen, drones, and workers caring for the beehive.

Even though many species of bees swarm in large groups, other species are solitary creatures.

Bees play a vital role in most ecosystems. Bees are crucial for pollinating flowers so that we have crops of fruit and vegetables every year. Also, bees produce honey, a delicious sweet food enjoyed by humans, animals, and birds.

Although many bees are species of stinging insects, they are generally not aggressive. Bees are usually docile creatures and don’t attack humans. However, Africanized bees are aggressive and territorial insects. The problem is that Africanized honey bees look like regular honey bees—Apis mellifera—and can attack without being provoked.

Bees feed on pollen and nectar from flowering plants. As bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honey bees move from plant to plant, they pollinate the flowers. Honey bees then take the nectar and pollen back to the colony where they produce honey—a food source for bees that never leaves the hive.

Types of Bees with Names and Pictures (Including Identification Guide)

Here is a list of different types of bees you might find buzzing around your garden (including bee identification guide with images).

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Picture of Western honey bee or European honey bee (Apis mellifera)

The Western honey bee has black and orange-yellow bands on the abdomen and hair on the thorax

Western honey bees have black and tan-yellow stripes on their slender bodies. Western honey bees are easy to identify as they have a honey-colored look and a relatively smooth abdomen. Honey bees have three pairs of fuzzy black legs, a pair of antennae, and two pairs of wings.

As with all bees, honey bees have a body in three segments—a head, thorax, and abdomen. The females’ hind legs have pollen pouches that they use to transport pollen back to the hive.

Western honey bees are also called European honey bees – these winged insects are the primary bee species used for honey production. Western honey bees are popular with beekeepers because they are not aggressive and produce plenty of honey.

Although there are over 20,000 bee species in the world, there are only eight honey bee species. These honey-producing insects in the genus Apis include the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana), the giant honey bee (Apis dorsata), and Koschevnikov’s honey bee (Apis koschevnikovi).

Western honey bee identification

Western honey bees have a hairy brown-colored thorax and black and dark orange bands on their relatively smooth abdomen. Look for pollen baskets (corbicula) on their black hind legs. Honey bees can grow up to 1/2” (1.2 cm) long.

Bumble Bee (Bombus)

Bumble Bee (Bombus)

Bumble bees can be identified by their fuzzy appearance and large black and yellow body with a white tail

Bumble bees are easy to spot with their round fuzzy bodies with black and yellow stripes and white tails. Depending on the bumble bee species, they may have red or yellow tails. There are 250 individual species of bumble bees, most of which have similar identifying features.

The name bumble bee literally means to buzz, hum, or move clumsily. This descriptive name accurately depicts their bumble behavior as they feed on flower pollen and nectar.

Unlike honey bees, bumble bees live in nests and smaller colonies. They only store small amounts of food in the nest. Also, bumble bees have a wider body and fuzzier appearance compared to honey bees. Similar to honey bees, bumble bees have pollen sacs on their hind legs.

Bumble bee identification

Bumble bees are large bees with hairy bodies and legs. Look for distinctive yellow and black bands and tails that are generally white, but could also be yellow or red. Bumble bees grow up to 0.6” (1.7 cm).

Leafcutter Bees (Megachile)

Leafcutter Bees (Megachile)

The underside abdomen of leafcutter bee has pale yellow hairs to carry pollen

Leafcutter bees have slender bodies with pronounced black and pale yellow stripes with pollen-carrying hairs on the underside of their abdomen. As their name suggests, leafcutter bees chew leaves that they then take back to the nest. Also called leafcutting bees, these insects are one of the largest genera of bees, with more than 1,500 species of Megachile.

These ‘leaf-cutting’ bees are medium-sized bees that don’t produce honey. They are solitary insects that live in nests, crevices, burrows, and hollow twigs. Although leafcutter bees sting, their sting isn’t as severe as a honey bee’s sting. Up close, pictures of leafcutter bees also show they have large mandibles or jaws to slice through leaves.

Leafcutter bee identification

You can easily recognize leafcutter bees by their smooth striped upper abdomen. Depending on the species, the stripes of leafcutter bees can be black and white or black and pale yellow. Leafcutter bees grow up to 0.35” (1 cm) long.

Long-Horn Bees (Eucerini)

Long-Horn Bees (Eucerini)

The hairy long-horn bees have long antennae with black and whitish-yellow bands on the abdomen

Long-horned bees are solitary bees with about 500 species in 32 genera in the tribe Eucerini. Between the species of long-horned bees, there are few common identifying features. Long-horn bees have hairy bodies and legs with black and tan markings. One common distinguishable feature is their long antennae.

Long-horn bees are commonly found feeding on pollen on sunflowers. These bees don’t produce honey and live a solitary existence where they nest in small tunnels.

Long-Horn Bee identification

Long-horn bees generally have pale bands on black fuzzy bodies and two long antennae. Their six legs are hairy and a dark tan color.

Green Metallic Sweat Bee (Augochlora pura)

Green Metallic Sweat Bee (Augochlora pura)

The green metallic sweat bee has iridescent body which can have green, blue and gold hues

Green metallic sweat bees have a spectacular glossy green iridescent body. These species of sweat bees are solitary insects with over 4,000 species in 81 genera. Green metallic sweat bees are small bees measuring 0.3” (0.8 cm).

Green metallic sweat bee females live in nests in rotten wood. The males don’t survive through the winter but die in the fall.

Although the green metallic sweat bees sting, they rarely do so. But they often land on humans to lick sweat from the skin as they are attracted to salt.

Green metallic sweat bee identification

Green metallic sweat bees are easy to spot due to their striking shiny metallic green head and bodies.

Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa)

Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa)

Most carpenter bee species are have big black body with fuzzy thorax and smooth abdomen

Carpenter bees are big black bees that look similar to bumble bees. The difference between carpenter bees and bumble bees is that carpenter bees are less hairy. Another difference is that carpenter bees have a smooth, not fuzzy, abdomen. Most species of carpenter bees are black, and a few species have white or yellow markings.

Carpenter bees get their name from their habit of burrowing in wood to nest. Another feature of these plump bees is the loud sound their wings make when they fly. Like most bees, carpenter bees sting, and their sting can be painful compared to other bee species.

Carpenter bee identification

Large carpenter bees are 0.7” (2 cm) long with fuzzy black thorax, smooth abdomens, and elongated wings.

Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina)

Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina)

Small carpenter bees have shiny dark and smooth body with metallic blue and black hues

Small carpenter bees are little, almost hairless, bees that have dark shiny bodies. Some of these small bees have stunning metallic colors. Look for barrel-shaped bodies and squarish heads to spot these bees. Most small carpenter bees have yellow markings, which make them easy to identify.

Similar to larger carpenter bees, species in the Ceratina genus tunnel into soft or decaying wood. Some species of carpenter bees are solitary, whereas others live in social groups.

Small carpenter bees can be mistaken for sweat bees in the family Halictidae. Both genera are small with metallic coloration. However, the mouthparts of small carpenter bees are shorter than sweat bees.

Small carpenter bee identification

Small carpenter bees are distinguishable by their shiny metallic bodies, stumpy heads, thin legs, and elongated slender body. Some species are characterized as “black shining” or “blue shining bees.”

Mason Bee (Osmia)

Close-up picture of two types of mason bees - one mason bee type has metallic blue-green body and the other mason bee in the picture (red mason bee) has black or maroon colors.

Many mason bees have metallic blue-green bodies (left picture). Some mason bees such as the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis) can have black or maroon colors (right picture)

Mason bees commonly have metallic green or blue bodies with sparse hairy patches. Some species in the Osmia genus are rust-red colored or black bees. Adult mason bees are about 0.5” (1.4 cm) long with large wings and six hairy black legs.

Mason bees get their name from their habit of using masonry materials such as mud to construct nests. Some small species of mason bees also nest in crevices, hollow stems, or holes in wood.

Common species of mason bees include the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis), blueberry bee (Osmia ribifloris), and the native orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).

Mason bee identification

Characteristic features of mason bees are the shiny metallic bodies that can be green, blue, red, or black. You can also spot mason bees by their enlarged hind area (the pollen scopa) when it’s full of pollen.

Sweat Bee (Halictidae)

Sweat Bee (Halictidae)

Different species of sweat bees vary in appearance, with some having green metallic body

Sweat bees in the family Halictidae can look different from one to another. Some species of Halictid are metallic green, blue, or black with greenish-yellow markings. Other sweat bees have black and white stripes on smooth abdomens. Like sweat bees in other bee families, species in this group are attracted to salty sweat.

Sweat bees are essential pollinators; however, they are usually solitary and don’t produce honey. These sweat bees are common throughout the eastern United States.

Sweat bee identification

There is a wide variation in the identifying features of species of sweat bees. Most have dark, metallic bodies and yellow markings, especially on their faces. The distinguishing feature of sweat bees is a strongly-curved vein on their wings.

Carder Bee (Anthidium)

Close-up picture of Carder bee (Anthidium florentinum) with black and yellow markings on its back

Carder bee with black and yellow markings on its back

Carder bees are large black and yellow bees that are a similar size to honey bees. Looking closely at these big bees, you’ll notice tufts of hairs on their legs and sides. The yellow markings on their abdomen don’t wrap all the way around their bodies, and they have a smooth black back.

It’s easy to mistake carder bees for yellow-jackets as their yellow and black markings are similar. However, carder bees are hairier than the more aggressive yellow hornets.

Carder bees are in the family Megachilidae, so, like leafcutter bees, they cut leaves to use in nests. These large bees also use resin, mud, and plant hairs to form their nests. Looking at pictures of carder bees, you’ll notice three horns at their abdominal apex.

Carder bee identification

Carder bees are large yellow and black bees with tufts of tiny spines on their legs. You can identify these bees by their bright yellow or red markings on their abdomens’ underside and sides.

Squash Bee (Peponapis and Xenoglossa)

squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Xenoglossa strenua

The yellow and black squash bees have fuzzy thorax and smooth abdomen. On this picture: Peponapis (left) and Xenoglossa (right)

Squash bee is the common name for two types of bees in the Eucerini tribe. Squash bees get their name because they are prolific pollinators of plants in the squash family. Squash bees are medium-sized black and yellow-colored bees that have a hairy thorax and smooth abdominal area. Squash bees also have short, fat bodies, giving them the appearance of being squashed.

Squash bees are similar in size to bumble bees and are large and fatter than honey bees.

An interesting feature of some squash bee species is that they are more active in the dark. The bees can start buzzing around flowers before sunrise, and others fly when it’s dark.

Squash bee identification

Squash bees have a characteristic stout body like bumble bees. Some squash bee species have black bodies with yellow bands, and others have a fuzzy appearance with a smooth abdomen.

Striped Green Sweat Bees (Agapostemon)

Sweat bee Agapostemon texanus

A close up image of Agapostemon texanus with metallic green head and thorax and striped black-yellow abdomen

Striped green sweat bees have a smooth black and yellow striped abdomen and metallic green head and thorax. Striped green bees have long slender bodies and no discernible hairs on them. They have a striking appearance with dark antennae, lightly-colored long legs, and shiny bodies.

Striped green sweat bees are found in temperate regions in North and South America. These sweat bee species have flight patterns similar to honey bees and bumble bees.

Striped green sweat bee identification

The distinguishing features of striped green sweat bees are their metallic green shiny head. Their striped reddish or yellow and black abdomens sometimes have a metallic shimmer also.

Miner Bee (Anthophora abrupta)

As seen in the picture, miner bees (Anthophora abrupta) have fuzzy body with creamy-yellow hairs on the thorax and black hairy abdomen

As seen in the picture, miner bees have fuzzy body with creamy-yellow hairs on the thorax and black hairy abdomen

Miner bees are fuzzy black and creamy-yellow bees similar to bumble bees. Also known as chimney bees, these medium sized, stout furry bees are coated in fine hairs, including their long legs. Mining bees typically have a black fuzzy abdomen and a light cream or yellow hairy thorax.

Miner bees have a solitary existence. Their common name comes from their burrowing habit, where they dig tunnels in the soil. They also create chimney-like tunnels for their nests.

Although miner bees have stings, they are placid insects that rarely sting humans.

Miner bees are vital pollinators for plants such as rhododendrons, irises, roses, persimmons, and parsnips.

Miner bee identification

Miner bees have an overall furry body, including their head, thorax, abdomen, and legs. The species usually lack stripes, and the thorax is a lighter color than the abdomen.

Related articles: