Native Bee Identification
If you are managing your property with the goal of enhancing resources for native bees and other flower-visitors, one way to gauge success is to conduct annual censuses or surveys. Such efforts, conducted over several seasons, can provide insight as to whether your management is enhancing and/ or supporting populations of these insects. The most challenging aspect of a survey will be identifying what you see. Bee identification, especially to species level, can be challenging even for the most experienced entomologists. A good rule of thumb to remember is that bees, for the most part, tend to be hairy, full-bodied insects (there are exception, though).
You can keep things simple by just concentrating on major groups of bees and other flower-visitors or surveying only for target species. See The Xerces Society's Citizen-scientist Bee Monitoring Guide and Streamlined Bee Monitoring Protocol for Assessing Pollinator Habitat for an introduction on identifying and differentiating major bee groups. Plan on bringing a digital camera/smart phone with you to photograph the insects you observe for later examination back at home. Caution should be exercised by those with known allergic reactions to bee stings. It is worth noting that solitary bees rarely sting unless provoked (i.e., smashed or squashed), so passive observation is unlikely to trigger a defensive reaction.
Online Resources for Bee Identification
The links below direct to webpages and downloadable presentations that provide more detailed information for identifying bee species within major family groups.
- BugGuide: Bees: This page at insect image site BugGuide contains an introduction to the major bee families. You can browse hundreds of images of native bee species and become familiar with the general characteristics of each family.
- Andrenidae, Colletidae, Mellitidae: A Guide to their Identification in Eastern North America
- Guide to the Bee Genera within Apidae of Eastern North America I
- Guide to the Bee Genera within Apidae of Eastern North America II
- Identification of Eastern North American Bee Genera in the Family Halictidae
- Identification Guide to the Megachilidae Genera of Eastern North America
Bumble bees are among our largest native bees and also relatively easy to identify due to their often distinctive color patterns.