Digital Slide Show Identification Guide to Bees

Compiled mainly by Sam Droege at the USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab along with a consortium of North American bee biologists, identification guides are now available for Bees (Apidae) Part I; Bees (Apidae) Part II; Sweat Bees (Halictidae); Mining Bees (Andrenidae); and Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae).

The guides are broken down by genus, with each having an information page followed by a page of illustrations and a distribution map. Each guide can be downloaded as a PowerPoint presentation (presentations hosted by NBII with permission from the author).

Taxonomy Helper

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)

Bees and Sphecoid Wasps

    Kingdom: Animalia
    Division: Arthropoda
    Subdivision: Hexapoda
    Class: Insecta
    Subclass: Pterygota
    Infraclass: Neoptera
    Order: Hymenoptera
    Suborder: Apocrita
    Infraorder: Aculeata
    Superfamily: Apoidea

Word Helper

Hymenopterophily: pollination by bees, wasps, or other members of the Hymenoptera Order.

Hymenopterophilous: plants that are pollinated by bees, wasps, or other members of the Hymenoptera Order.

What are Pollen Bees?

The term "pollen bees" has been in use since 1992 to describe all bees, other than honey bees, that help pollinate crops and wild flowers. Pollen bees also are collectively called native bees, wild bees, and non-Apis bees. Over 20,000 species of pollen bees have been identified worldwide, with over 3,500 occurring in North America. In fact, before honey bees were brought to North America by Europeans, pollen bees were responsible for all pollination done by bees in North America. However, since the 1950's declines in pollen bee populations have made it necessary to supplement bee pollination with the use of introduced honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations. Pollen bee declines have been attributed to pesticide use, habitat loss, irrigation, monoculture crops, and cultivation.
Reference: Diversify With Pollen Bees (Suzanne W. T. Batra, American Bee Journal, Volume 134, No. 9, September, 1994)

Pollinating Bees and Wasps: Getting Down to Buzziness

Agapostemon virescens, sweat bee, Susan Ellis
Sweat bees (Agapostemon virescens),
attracted to salts in perspiration,
are also important pollinators.
Photo Susan Ellis.

Bees are the first creatures that come to mind when people think about pollinators and pollination.

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is an almost global species. Honey bees (Apis spp.) can be found pollinating plants throughout northern Europe and Africa (honey bees are native on both continents) and they are also common in the Americas where they were introduced by humans during the early colonization of the continents. Honey bees are best known for their role in the production of honey.

In North America, many native bee species, as well as some wasps, are also important pollinators. The bumble bee (Bombus spp.) is among the most important pollinators of temperate zone plants. Other native bee pollinators include mason bees (Osmia spp.), leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.), squash bees (Peponapis spp. and Xenoglossa spp.), long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), sweat bees (Family:Halictidae), alkali bees (Nomia melanderi), and sunflower bees (Diadasia spp. and Svastra spp.).

Habitat loss and fragmentation threaten many of these beneficial organisms. A decline in nectar-producing flowers is one problem, but a loss of nesting habitat may have more serious consequences for some species.

Please browse this section to learn more about bee and wasp anatomy, bee and wasp identification, and bee- and wasp-plant associations.

Bee and Wasp Monitoring and Management Resources
Showing 31 Results
CollapseALARM Field Site Network: Bumblebee Project. Genetic Diversity and Parasite Load of Bumblebees Across a Land Use Intensity and Climatic Gradient
Description: Research report. "In this project we plan to analyse the effects of climate and land use intensity (as indicator of resource availability) on the genetic diversity, parasite load, colony densities, and colony sizes of Bombus pascuorum (Common carder bee), which is a common bumblebee species throughout Europe."
Resource Type: Management Plans and Reports
Resource Format: PDF, URL
Publisher: Assessing Large scale Risks for Biodiversity with Tested Methods ( ALARM )
ExpandBackyard and Garden Bumblebee Monitoring Protocol
ExpandBefriending Bumble Bees. A practical guide to raising local bumble bees
ExpandBumblebee Roadside Surveys: A Pilot Survey and Recommendations
ExpandFAO Bee Survey Design Presentation
ExpandFarm Management for Native Bees: A Guide for Delaware
ExpandFarming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms (2nd Edition)
ExpandFarming for Pollinators: Native Bees and Your Crops
ExpandGreat Sunflower Project Insert 2009
ExpandGreat Sunflower Project, The
ExpandGuide to Bee-Friendly Gardens - Data Collection Protocol
ExpandIllinois Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan & Strategy
ExpandManaging Alternative Pollinators. A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists
ExpandManaging Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook For Beekeepers, Growsers, and Conservationists
ExpandMinnesota Bumble Bee Survey
ExpandNative Bee Pollination of Cherry Tomatoes
ExpandNative Bee Pollination of Watermelon Fact Sheet
ExpandNo Place to Hide: Effects of Climate Change on Protected Areas (PDF, 15 pp., 1.27 MB)
ExpandPollinator Biology and Habitat
ExpandPollinator Biology and Habitat
ExpandPollinator Biology and Habitat
ExpandPollinator Conservation Fact Sheet -- California Plants for Native Bees
ExpandPollinator Conservation Fact Sheet - Nests for Native Bees
ExpandPollinator Conservation Fact Sheet -- Plants for Native Bees
ExpandPollinator Conservation: Agriculture
ExpandProtocol for Butterfly and Bumblebee Inventories and Assessments for ALARM FSN - as element of the PAC RAT
ExpandRegion 5 Refuge Bee Monitoring Project Blog
ExpandStandardized method for monitoring Bee Populations – The Bee Inventory (BI) Plot.
ExpandStatus Review of Three Formerly Common Species of Bumble Bee in the Subgenus Bombus: Bombus affinis (the rusty patched bumble bee), B. terricola (the yellowbanded bumble bee), and B. occidentalis (the western bumble bee)
ExpandTips on How to Use Bee Bowls to Collect Bees
ExpandUS EPA Pollinator Protection Strategic Plan
NBII Blogs Bees!
Articles about bees and bee-related issues, published on the NBII Blog (
Showing 10 Results
CollapseBee Identification Guide Project Receives Funding to Cover Western Species
Labeled bee specimen
 in Lovettsville, VA.
Photo: Elizabeth
Sellers, USGS.
The Polistes Foundation, with oversight by Sam Droege and Michael Orr from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), received $50,000 in funds to create extended identification guides for bees to include the Western United States and Canada from the Vetlesen Foundation.  Identification of the United State's 4000 species of native bees is unusually tricky.  Approximately 400 species  haven't been described by science and many are so poorly known that identification is problematic.   Furthermore, no field guide or uniform technical guide exists for bees, thus for researchers, naturalists, and biologists, identification of the bees they study is their most difficult task.  These funds will make their jobs just a bit easier. To learn more about this project visit the Pollinator Project Web site.

ExpandUSGS Scientist Participates in Loudoun County, VA, Board of Supervisors Meeting
ExpandUSGS Scientist to Help Develop Bumble Bee Conservation and Research Strategy
ExpandDiscover Life’s Video of Bee Hunt Project Data Collection Protocol
ExpandInvasive Species, Pollinators, and the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL)
ExpandNational Pollinator Week Exhibit all the "Buzz"
ExpandCalling All Shutterbugs: Go On Safari for Pollinators
ExpandUSGS Pollinator Research and Bioinformatics Showcase on the National Mall
Expand"The Very Handy Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection" is Now Available
ExpandPlight of the Bumble Bees

All By Myself: Most Bees Live a Solitary Life

Often when we think of bees, we envision a hive with a single queen who lays eggs and worker bees that look after the eggs, as with honey bees and bumble bees. In fact, 85% of bees are solitary - meaning a single female mates with a male and then constructs, provisions, and lays an egg in each cell in a nest by herself. Examples of solitary bees are the hornfaced bee ( Osmia cornifrons ) and the orchard mason bee ( Osmia lignaria ). Solitary bees do not produce honey or wax, are relatively docile and not apt to sting, and are resistant to parasites and diseases of the honey bee. These types of bees live in nests dug underground or placed in hollows in reeds, bamboo, logs, or other materials. Nesting females may make their nests close together forming aggregations with thousands of nests and bees. Common traits of solitary bees that form aggregations are: they are naturally active at the time a crop blooms, favor this crop's flowers, and can reproduce on a diet of nectar and pollen from the crop.


An Introduction to the Solitary Bees (Hymenoptera, Apoidea) (Gordon Ramel, Earth-Life Web Productions)

Solitary Bees: An Addition to Honey Bees (Karen Strickler, Pollinator Paradise)

Solitary Bees for Orchard Pollination (Suzanne W. T. Batra In Pennsylvania Fruit News, April, 1997)

Sacrificing For the Good of the Colony

Ants and many bees and wasps are eusocial - meaning they are socially highly organized. Eusocial insects are reproductively specialized, with a reproductive division of labor often involving sterile members caring for the reproductive members. Other defining features of eusociality are overlapping of generations and cooperative care of the young. All ants are eusocial with morphologically different workers and queens. Some bee and wasp species, including honey bees ( Apis mellifera ), carpenter bees ( Xylocopa spp.), bumble bees ( Bombus spp.), paper wasps ( Polistes spp.), and yellowjackets ( Vespula spp.) also exhibit eusociality. Interestingly, humans are also defined as eusocial. (Reference: Social Behavior of Polistine Wasps, Joan E. Strassman, November 8, 2006).

The NBII Program is administered by the Biological Informatics Program of the U.S. Geological Survey
About NBII | Accessibility Statement | NBII Disclaimer, Attribution & Privacy Statement | FOIA Logo       USGS Logo       USAgov Logo