Bees are vital to the ecosystem balance around the world, and they help pollinate a huge amount of flowering plants, vegetables, fruits, and nuts grown throughout the United States. Most people picture the common honeybee when they think of bees that pollinate these plants, but honey bees are actually only a very small segment of thousands of species of bees you’ll find throughout the world.
In fact, there are over 20,000 types of bees, and only eight of them produce honey. None of the bees that produce honey are native to the United States, but there are 4,000 native bee species. Most types of bees aren’t interested in people, nor are they aggressive. They’re interested in getting to the plants in your garden and lawn, and they prefer to stay away from people.
This is why when you do come across an aggressive type of bee and get stung, you most likely mistook it for a wasp or stepped on it. But, how do you tell which types of bees are which? We’re going to give you a clear breakdown of 20 types of bees that you can find in your garden or yard below so you know which are helpful and docile and which you should avoid.
Bee by Caroline Legg / CC BY 2.0
1. Ashy Mining Bees (Andrenidae cineraria)
These types of bees belong to the Andrenidae family, and they’re very solitary bees that you see out during the spring months around your ground covers. They’re very distinctive as they have gray and black coloring, and the females are the same size as honeybees. They have shiny black coloring on their abdomens, and it can look blue under some light. You can see two distinct gray stripes at the bottom and top of the thorax, and they have white hair on their faces.
The male bees are smaller and have markings that are harder to identify. The lighter coloring of the hairs on their thorax regions is much more obvious. Ashy mining bees are at their most active between March and June each year, and you find them in very open and sunny locations with sandy soil types. The female bees make nests by burrowing under bare earth. They like to feed on hawthorn, blackthorn, buttercups, and various fruit trees.
Ashy Mining Bee by jgraham / CC BY-NC 2.0
2. Box-Headed Blood Bee (Sphecodes monilicornis)
This is a medium or large bee that you can easily recognize if you look at the abdominal regions because they’re blood-red. This is where the Blood Bees name comes from. On other bees, this species is cleptoparasitic, especially when they come into contact with bees in the Andrena, Aalictus, and Lasioglossum genuses. So, they use other bees’ collections to feed their young. They do feed on nectar, but they don’t collect the pollen themselves.
The female bees will go into other bee’s nests and destroy any eggs or grubs they find. Then, they lay their own eggs to replace the ones they destroyed and leave while sealing the nest back up. The male bees are much smaller than the females, and they have less red coloring on their abdomen. Compared to other bees, these ones also have a slightly flattened antennal region.
The females come with a box-shaped head with very pale hairs you’ll see on the back legs, and they have thinner bodies. They have three ocelli and two main eyes, and you usually find them around orange-legged furrow bees, bloomed furrow bees, common furros bees, and sharp-collared furrow bees because these species are the ones they use their nests to host their offspring.
Square-Headed (Box-Headed) Blood Bee by gailhampshire / CC BY 2.0
3. Bumblebees (Bombus hortorum)
Female bumblebees are active all year-round while the males are active between the late summer and early fall months. There are cuckoo and true versions of this type of bee. Cuckoo types of bees have hairy hind legs, short faces, and no pollen baskets. The wing membranes have darker coloring, and there is a V-shape at the top of the tail where you’ll see color changes. At the end of the abdominal region, you’ll see a few black hairs. They all love hibiscus due to the nectar.
You’ll see three main tail colors with this type of bee, red, white, and uniform. White-tailed bumblebees can have yellow to off-white for coloring, and uniform-tailed bees will have ginger coloring that matches the rest of the bees’ coloring. You also want to look at the banding on the abdomen, especially with white-tailed types of bees. They can have one to three thick black bands. Some bumblebees are also melanic, and they look all black or much darker than other species.
Bumblebee by Dmitry Grigoriev / CC BY 2.0
4. Carder Bees (Anthidium species):
This is most likely one of the more common types of bees you’ll see roaming around your garden or now. However, no matter if they’re native or not, they have a reputation for collecting fuzz from plant leaves and using it as a nest lining. Most of the over 20 native species are found in the southwest region of the United States. So, if you live in the east, you’ll see a non-native type of bee.
This type of bee is roughly an inch long, and it has a smooth upper abdominal region with a clear white or yellow pattern for markings. Female bees will carry the pollen on the hairy underside of the abdomen instead of on the legs. They love foxgloves and nepeta, and the males will defend their territory in the early summer months. Female bees will build solitary nests in existing wood cavities. If you have lamb’s ear in your garden, the female bees will collect the hair from the plant’s leaves and take it back to the nests.
Common Carder Bee by William Warby / CC BY 2.0
5. Carpenter Bees (genus Xylocopa)
Carpenter bees fall into the Megachilidae family. They are the biggest native bee in the United States, and they’re a very solitary species. They do well in a huge range of climate zones, including subtropical and tropical climates like you find in the eastern portion of the country. The big types of bees have a hairless and black abdominal region. The males can have bigger patches of hair on the abdomen with a white or yellow face. They can also have a small white dot on their heads while the females have black faces.
They can be between ½-inch and an inch long, and it’s easy to mistake them for bumblebees. Most carpenter bees are black, but some may have a purple or green hue. They also have very distinctive nesting habits, and they create perfectly round nests by drilling tiny holes in wood. This is also where the name comes from. Even though this type of bee is an important pollinator, they are also classified as a nuisance because of all the damage they can do to wooden surfaces in yards or homes.
Carpenter Bee by Faris Algosaibi / CC BY 2.0
6. European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera):
The imported European honey bee is very commonly found around gardens throughout the United States. Unlike other types of bees on the list, this is the single honey bee species. It’s now been introduced to almost every part of the world where it’s used to pollinate crops and produce honey. They’re roughly a half of an inch long with honey-colored and black striping on tapered abdomens. Female bees carry the pollen on their legs. They have a very complex social structure with male drones, female workers, and a queen bee.
These types of bees will feed on a range of plants, but they’re not nearly as efficient as the native pollinators, especially when it comes to native plants. It’s common to find these bees living in managed hives, but you can also find wild colonies in hollow trees. They love clover, oregano, borage, mountain mint, and more.
Honey bee by hedera.baltica / CC BY-SA 2.0
7. Furrow Bees (Halictus ligatus)
Furrow bees are also known as sweat bees, and they are in the Halictus family. As the name suggests, this type of bee is attracted to human sweat and they’ll calmly walk on your arm. They’re relatively docile and small, and they’re a ground-dwelling species that burrows into the soil to build nests. They also live to be in open areas without any vegetation.
It can be hard to identify these bees because they come in a huge range of colors, from metallic blues and greens to gold and all black, and some are even gray or purple. The back end has pale bands of hair, and the females of this bee species come with a very robust head with a genal tooth. This is a small spine located in the cheek area behind the eye.
Halictus rubicundus (Orange-legged furrow-bee) by Leon van der Noll / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
8. Hairy-Footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes)
This type of bee is critical for the pollination of dead-nettles, primrose flowers, lungwort, and comfrey. They are between 1.4 and 1.6 centimeters long, and the females look a lot like a smaller version of the bumblebee. They are furry and black with orange hairs on the hind legs, and male bees in this category have a rusty brown coloring with cream-coloring on their faces. Look for feathery and long orange-colored hairs on the feet and middle legs to identify them.
It’s common for this type of bee to fall down chimneys, and they have a reputation for hiding in the cracks between the soft mortar and the bricks. They also thrive in parks, woodlands, soil, and soft cliff faces. You’ll see them out and above between March and June each year, and it’s the males that you usually notice first. They emerge from hibernation slightly earlier than the females. They also fly in a very quick and darting pattern, and they’re solitary bees. They do like to nest in noisy and large groups though.
Hairy-Footed Flower Bee by Martin Cooper / CC BY 2.0
9. Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)
The female and male honey bees look different, so it’s easy to tell which gender you’re looking at when you see them. Females will have six visible abdominal sections and the male bees have seven. They also have very odd, hairy eyes that are large enough to see on a camera. The eyes will meet on top of the bee’s heads.
Look and see if the type of bee has tibial spurs or small spikes on the hind legs. If you can’t see any, this tells you that it most likely is a honeybee. Honeybees don’t have these spurs because they live in wax combs and don’t have a need to dig to get into their house. They also have flattened segments on the hind legs that are very wide and surrounded by pollen press. You also want to take a look at the mandibles. If they have a spoon shape to them, you’re looking at a honeybee. This spoon-shaped design help them feed their young.
Honeybees by studio tdes / CC BY 2.0
10. Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae)
Ivy types of bees are known as the cellophane bee or the plasterer bee due to how they tend to line their nests. They’re a little bigger than a standard honeybee, and they have a ginger coloring on their thoraxes. The thorax has a thick coating of hair on the female bees, and the abdominal area has broad bands that alternate in color from an orangish-yellow to black. The males look very similar but are smaller. The best way to tell this type of bee from another plasterer bee is to note the time of year you see them.
The Ivy bee is active much later in the year, and the males come out in late August while the females come out in late September. They’re popular in farmlands, urban areas, coastal areas, and heaths. They like fall flowers and ivy. The males tend to compete so fiercely for females that they get tangled in large balls. All of the males will try to mate with a single female.
First Ivy Bees Colletes hederae by gailhampshire / CC BY 2.0
11. Leafcutter Bee (Megachile latreille)
As the name suggests, this type of bee uses leaves they cut and collect to help seal up the nest cavities. They will cut between ¼ and ½-inch crescent-shaped or circular fragments of leaves from lilacs, roses, or shrubs. They’re also very neat cutters, so if you notice that your plants have jagged edges, it’s not the work of this type of bee. They’re black with white hairs on the bottom of the abdomen and thorax. A lot of species come with bigger heads with huge jaws to make cutting the leaves easier.
These types of bees are very quick filers, and they carry pollen on their abdomens. They are also a very efficient bee type. In fact, 150 bees working in a greenhouse can pollinate as many flowers as 3,000 honeybees can.
Leafcutter Bee (Megachile sp.) by Bob Peterson / CC BY 2.0
12. Long-Horn Bees (Melissodes and Eucera species):
Although these types of bees can be less common, you can see them from time to time, usually on sunflowers. The males have the very long antenna that the species is known for, and there are roughly 200 species of Long-Horn bees in the United States. They’re roughly a half-inch long with a lot of hair on the thorax and legs. They also have pale hair on their abdomens, and the females carry the pollen on their hind legs.
You’ll find these types of bees clustered on your sunflowers all night and day. When they form nests, they’ll dig down into the ground to create tunnels. It’s common to see several females sharing a tunnel entrance.
Long Horn Bee by TJ Gehling / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
13. Mason Bee (genus Osmia)
Mason bees got their name because they tend to use mud or other masonry products to help create their nests, and it’s common to find these nests in dark, small cavities and naturally-occurring cervices, like inside hollow twigs and stems, inside stones, or in “bee hotels” that people hang in the garden.
They’re quick, agile, and small types of bees that make them very productive pollinators. The blue orchard bee, a type of mason bee, has stunning pollination skills in orchards. When it comes to pollinating almonds, 400 of these bees will outwork 10,000 honeybees. They don’t have big pollen baskets on their legs, but they do carry the pollen on their abdomen stuck to their hairs. They usually have metallic bodies in shades of dark green, blue, and black. Some species can be rusty or reddish-hued. They’re roughly a half inch long and have an enlarged hind area when they collect pollen.
Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) by nutmeg66 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
14. Pantaloon Bees (Dasypoda hirtipes)
The females of this type of bee have very big, orange pollen brushes on the hind legs that give the impression that they’re wearing pantaloons, and this is where the name originates. This medium to large bee usually has a golden-brown coloring. The bands along the abdomen are black and golden brown, and the males have golden, long hairs and very similar banding to the females. The hair on the back of their legs is longer, and the males can take on a silver color in the sun.
You’ll often find this type of bee in heaths and near the coast because they like very sandy soil. The pantaloons come designed to help remove sand as the females leave the burrows. So, the nests have soil heaped up to create a fan shape, and this sets them apart from other mining bee species. You’ll find them in large groups with a single female, and they only kke oxtongue, ragwort, cat’s ear, and other flowers in the aster family.
Pantaloon bee (Dasypoda hirtipes) by Lukas Large / CC BY-SA 2.0
15. Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa)
As the name suggests, this type of bee is very efficient when it comes to pollinating blueberries. Particularly, they excel at pollinating rabbiteye blueberries because they require buzz pollination. These bees have also evolved with native blueberries, and their bodies now fit perfectly inside the bell-shaped flowers.
These bees are a half of an inch long, and they look like small bumblebees with hairy bodies. They also feed on clover and trumpet flowers, and they’re native to the southeastern portion of the United States. This is a solitary bee that is very active in February to April, and they’re stronger fliers who like to nest by blueberry bushes in the ground.
Habropoda laboriosa – Southeastern Blueberry Bee- by Mike Chapman / CC BY-NC 2.0
16. Striped Green Sweat Bees (Agapostemon species):
These pretty native bees are only ⅓-inch long, and there are roughly 43 species spread out across the United States. They’re very common from coast to coast, and they love Heliopsis flowers, along with oregano. The striped abdomen on this green metallic type of bee makes it easy to spot and tell apart from other bees.
The coloring on these bees consists of a green metallic thorax and head, and they have a black and yellow striped abdomen. If you see a lot of pollen on the back legs, you’re looking at a female bee. The unique coloration makes them hard to mistake for another bee. They like to nest in the ground in small holes, and it’s common for several females to live in the same hole in the ground.
Female Ultra Green Sweat Bee – by Robin Agarwal (ANudibranchMom on iNaturalist) / CC BY-NC 2.0
17. Squash Bee (genera Peponapis and Xenoglossa)
Squash bees are solitary bees that come from dual genera. They’re bulky and big like bumblebees, but they have a coloring that is very similar to honeybees. They have longer antennae and rounder faces than honeybees.
Before Europeans brought honeybees to the New World, this type of bee was the biggest pollinator of gourds and squashes that indigenous people planted throughout the United States. Today, you’ll find male squash bees around in the first few hours after the sun comes up, moving from squash flower to squash flower to find a mate.
Female types of bees in this category feed on pumpkin, squash, and gourd flowers as their only pollen source. They’re great pollinators for butternuts and zucchini, and many other things in the cucurbit family. They are a solitary bee that lives in nests they dig into the soil. However, it’s common for the male bees to spend the nights inside of closed flowers before going out to search in the morning.
5007051-LGPT by U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY 2.0
18. Tawny Mining Bee (Andrenidae fulva)
You’ll see these types of bees out and about from March to May. The females are very similar in size to traditional honeybees, and they have reddish-orange, thick hair on the thoraxes. The abdominal areas are also covered in a dense and long layer of hair in a lighter orange coloring. The faces, undersides, and legs of the female bee are all black. The males are smaller and thinner than the females, and they have a thinner coat that is more brown. The jaws on the male will also protrude.
The females are between 10 and 12 millimeters long while the males are between 8 and 10. They can do well in a range of habitats, and it’s common to see them in parks and gardens that have well-managed and short vegetation. They feed on dandelions, buttercups, willow, maple, hawthorn, and fruit trees. The females will build nests in the late spring months after they mate and the males die. There is a single female per nest.
Tawny Mining Bee by AJC1 / CC BY-SA 2.0
19. Wool Carder Bees (Anthidium maculosum)
The carder name comes from the habit these types of bees have of scraping hair off of fuzzy-leaved plants like mullein and lamb’s ear. This bee has a very distinct pattern on the body, and it has yellow spots down the side of the abdomen. While the large majority of types of bees carry pollen on their legs, these bees carry it on their abdomen. The males are bigger than the females, and this is unusual for bees. The males also have visible spikes by the end of their abdomen where a stinger would usually be, but they’re stinger-less. The thorax, head, and abdomen are all covered in grayish-yellow hair.
The female bees in this species are much less hairy than the males. They also have stingers instead of spikes on the abdomen. The main purpose of female bees is to collect wool fibers from plants to bring them to the nests. You’ll see these bees in wetlands, woodlands, cliffs, and riverbanks. They like to locate existing holes to build the nests, like hollow stems or dead wood.
Anthidium maculosum by JKohoe_Photos / CC BY-ND 2.0
20. Yellow-Faced Bees (Hylaeus confucius)
There are currently over 130 species of Hylaeus bees spread throughout the United States. Yellow-faced bees look like small blakc wasps, and they have yellow or white markings on their faces, legs, and thorax areas. They also have very slender bodies. They won’t have the extra limbs to carry the pollen around, and this makes them unique. Instead, the bees come with specialized areas on the stomachs called crops, and this is where they store the food.
This solitary type of bee builds nests in tunnels, and the female bee regurgitates her crop’s contents when she gets back to the nest to leave a small amount for each egg. This is what the babies feed on when they first hatch. You’ll see these bees out in May to September, and they like to hang around Golden Alexander, carrots, common boneset, and swamp milkweed.
Sleepy female yellow-faced bumble bee by Sara “Asher” Morris / CC BY-NC 2.0
The 20 types of bees we touched on above should give you good identifiers to use the next time you see a bee flying around your garden or yard. There are many types you may see, depending on your location. Most are solitary, and many of them simply want to collect pollen and be left alone.