7 most common bee species

08.07.2017. 12:00

The bees are very important for the environment, as well as our well-being. They are flying insects related to wasps and ants, well-known pollinators. There are nearly 20,000 known kinds of bees, found on every continent, except Antarctica. Without their hard work, we would have a lot fewer vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, seeds, and leaves to choose from. The bees also affect plant-eating animals whose whole diet depends on pollination. Without pollination, many plant species would disappear. Moreover, without pollinators, the development of life on Earth would be much different. Bee pollination is important commercially and ecologically. Because of increasing human population, the demand for agricultural products is on the rise. As a result, the decline in wild bees increased the value of pollination. In some countries contract pollination is more prominent among beekeepers than honey production. The best-known bee species is European honey bee, because of honey and beeswax production. There are many kinds of bees, including bumblebees, honey bees, miner bees, and many more. Because of close relation to wasps and ants, bees share some common characteristics with them. We will mention several characteristics specific to bee species that might help you find out if a particular insect is a bee or not.

How to recognize a bee?

Bee's relation to wasps and ants is seen in the similarities between their bodies. A lot of bee's body is covered in an exoskeleton made of small movable plates of chitin. A lot of the surface of their body is covered in fuzzy, branched hair used for collecting pollen and to regulate body temperature. The body of a bee is sectioned into three parts: Head, thorax, and abdomen. The head of a bee has eyes, antennae, and mandibles. The middle part is thorax which serves as a base for the legs and the wings. The abdomen contains the stinger, reproductive organs, and wax glands.

Usually, it is easy to recognize if a particular insect is a bee. Bees can be differentiated from other related insects by having small anatomical differences in the limb structure, venation of the hind wings, and plum-like or branched bristles. Those bristles are called setae, and they have a purpose of cleaning bee's antennae and carrying pollen.   

One of the most prominent characteristics of a bee is a pair of large compound eyes that cover a lot of surface of the head. Between them are three small, simple eyes, ocelli. Ocelli are used to get information on light intensity.

The bee antennae are segmented, and the number of segments is different in males and females. Females usually have twelve segments, while males usually have thirteen. Antennae have a large number of sense organs that can detect touch, taste, smell, and air movement (bee version of "hearing" sounds).

The mouthparts have both a pair of mandibles for chewing and a long proboscis for sucking up nectar. The proboscis refers to tubular mouthparts.

Bees thorax has three segments, and each has a pair of legs. The two hind segments also have a pair of membranous wings. As we already mentioned, front legs have bristle combs for cleaning antennae. Since bees collect pollen, many kinds of bees have pollen baskets on their hind legs. Pollen baskets are flattened sections of bristles with incurving hairs that secure the collected pollen. The abdomen has nine segments, and last three are modified into a sting. Female bees have a seventh abdominal plate divided into two half-plates.

The wings of a bee are synchronized in flight, and smaller hind wings are connected to forewings by a row of hooks.

Bees can be recognized even by their behavior. One of the most prominent characteristics of bees is that they collect pollen and have adapted to such lifestyle. However, some kinds of bees scavenge from carcasses, while some wasp species collect pollen. Because of it, the behavior alone cannot be an indicator if a particular insect is a bee.

From the biological point of view, the main difference between wasps and bees is in the food their young eat. Young bees are fed a mixture of pollen and nectar, while wasps feed their young with little animals. Also, wasps are covered in unbranched hair. Adult bees range in size from about 2 mm to 4 cm. All bee species usually share the characteristics mentioned above, but depending on the particular species they might be slightly different.

kind of bees

Common bee species

  1. Honey bee

  • Western honey bee (European honey bee)

  • European dark bee (German black bee)

  • Killer bee

  1. Bumble bee

  2. Carpenter bee

  3. Mining bee

  4. Sweat bee

  5. Megachile

  6. Colletidae

Honey bee

A honey bee is any member of the genus Apis, distinguished by the storage and production of honey and the construction of nests from wax.

Honey bees are only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees. Some other kinds of bees also produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apisare are true honey bees. The study of bees, including honey bees, is called melittology.

  • Size: 10 - 15 mm
  • Color: Golden yellow with brown stripes


A lot of nutritional requirements honey bees get from a combination of pollen and nectar. Pollen is the only natural source of protein for honey bees. The average amount of pollen that an adult has to consume is 3.4 - 4.3 mg. Proteins from their food are broken down into amino acids, and some of them are essential for honey bee health. Pollen is also a source of lipids for honey bees. Nectar is collected by worker bees as a source of water and carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.

Honey bees need water to maintain osmotic homeostasis, cool the hive through evaporation, and to prepare liquid brood food. Mostly water from nectar is enough for the colony, but on hotter days, or when nectar is limited, foragers collect water from streams or ponds.


By collecting nectar and pollen, honey bees pollinate plants. The collected pollen and nectar are used to produce honey which is then stored in honeycombs in the nest. Honey is used as a food source during winter. Honey bees are generalist pollinators, meaning that they pollinate a wide variety of flowers. Colonies are not formed by solitary bees but by groups known as swarms. Honey bee colony usually has one queen bee (fertile female bee), a few thousands of drones (male bees), and tens of thousands of worker bees (sterile female bees). Every group has a different role in the colony. The queen mates with drones and lays eggs. Worker bees take care of the young, the queen, the beehive and everything else necessary for the survival of the colony. Drones have only one role, and that is to mate with the queen. If a drone manages to mate, he usually dies. In the case of incoming winter or lack of food, worker bees will kick drones out of the beehive. Such a high level of organization of animal sociality is called eusociality. It is defined by cooperative brood care, overlapping generations within a colony, and division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. Eusociality is different from other social systems because an individual of one caste usually loses some behavior characteristics of individuals in another caste.


Honey bees can build their nests almost everywhere, and the size of their nests can vary. Most common places for nests are trees, but sometimes they can even be found in chimneys and attics. Unlike some other species, honey bees can live for many years. They can survive the winter by clustering together and warming up the beehive. Stored honey is used as food to produce body heat by “shivering.”  

Common kinds of honey bees are: Western honey bee, European dark bee, and killer bees.

Western honey bee

Western honey bee or European honey bee is commonly known as apis mellifera. It is the most common honey bee species worldwide, was one of the first domesticated insects. Western honey be is the main species maintained by beekeepers for both honey production and pollination. Origin of the name comes from Latin. Apis means "bee, " and mellifera means "honey-bearing," such name refers to the species' tendency to produce a large quantity of honey. They are an important model organism in scientific studies, especially in the fields of learning, social evolution, and memory.

  • Size: 10 - 15 mm

  • Color: Goldern yellow with dark brown bands


Worker bees collect pollen and nectar used in honey productions. Honey is used as food for other members of the colony and their offspring. Because of their wide cultivation, they are the most important pollinators from agriculture. These bees are threatened by many pests and diseases, especially colony collapse disorder. Conservation efforts are being made to protect hives and prevent the colonies from dying.


Western honey bee is eusocial, as all honey bees are. The colony has a single queen bee, many workers, and a smaller number of drones (fertile males). Individual colonies can have tens of thousands of bees. Activities in the colony are organized by communication between individuals, using odors and "dances."


With human assistance, they are present on every continent, except Antartica.

European dark bee

The European dark bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) is a subspecies of the honey bee, and sometimes it is known under the name German black bee. Originally they were present from western regions of Russia to Northern Europe. After it was domesticated in Europe, hives were brought to North America in the colonial era. Compared to other honey bees they are quite large but have unusually short tongues.

The European dark bee can be recognized by their stocky body, sparse abdominal and abundant thoracal hair brown in color.

The aggressive feral hybrids can be recognized by the lighter, yellowish banding on the sides of the abdomen. However, for breeding purposes, the only reliable distinguishing character are details of the wing veins.

  • Size: 10 - 15 mm
  • Color: Straw yellow with thick black bands


Same like other honey bees, they collect pollen and nectar from flowers and use them to produce honey. The produced honey is stored in the hive, and during winter times it is used as food.


They are not more dangerous than any other honey bee. However, hybrids are defensive and are known to sting people for no apparent reason. Some colonies are very “runny” on the comb and easily excitable, which makes them difficult to work with. The have excellent flight strength even in winter, low tendency to swarm, significant winter hardiness, a high lifespan of workers and the queen.


The European dark bee commonly builds nests in the crevices of trees, but they can also be found in chimneys, attics, and roof eaves.

Killer bee

Killer bee is a colloquial name for Africanized honey bee. It is a hybrid of the Western honey bee produced by cross breeding African honey bee with several European honey bees.

Africanized honey bee firstly appeared in Brazil during the 1950s; it was produced in an effort to increase honey production. But, in 1957 26 swarms escaped quarantine and since then the species spread throughout South America and some parts of North America.

  • Size: 10 - 15 mm
  • Color: Golden yellow with dark brown bands


Workers collect pollen and nectar which are then used to feed other members of the colony and their offspring. In areas with suitable temperature climate, Africanized colonies outperform European honey bee colonies. They can work in conditions that would often keep European bees hive-bound. Because of their advantages, they have gained a reputation of superior honey producers. Studies show that in areas of Florida that contain Africanized honey bees, the honey production is higher that in areas without them.

Another important advantage they have is their higher resistance to several health issues. They are more resistant to fungal diseases like chalkbrood, parasites such as Varroa destructor, and even colony-collapse disorder.


Killer bees are much more defensive than other bees and have the faster reaction time to disturbances. They can chase a person for up to 1 km, and have killed around 1,000 humans. The victims of their attack receive ten times more stings than from European honey bees. The sting of a killer bee is no more potent than a sting of any other honey bee, but they tend to attack in greater numbers which can be deadly for people allergic to bee venom. Fortunately, they can only sting once.

European hive usually becomes Africanized through cross-breeding during a new queen's mating flight. Studies have shown that Africanized drones are greater in numbers, faster, and stronger than European drones. Because of that, they can out-compete European drones during mating flights. The result of their mating is almost always Africanized offspring.

In the case of an attack, it is recommended to run in a zigzag pattern and seek shelter. Avoid jumping into water as they will wait around until you have to come up for air.


Killer bees have smaller colonies, so they tend to nest in unusual places. Their nests have been found in boxes, crates, abandoned cars, and tires. If you encounter a nest near your home or in a strange place, you might be dealing with killer bees.

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

Bumble bees have round bodies covered in soft hair called pile. Because of the pile they appear and feel fuzzy. Their coloration often consists of contrasting bands of color. Some species don't build nests but steal the nest from another colony by killing them. Those bumble bees are called cuckoo bees. Nesting bumble bee can be differentiated from cuckoo bee by the form of the female hind leg. Female nesting bumble bee has a pollen basket, a bare shiny area surrounded by hairs used to transport pollen. Female cuckoo bee has hind leg completely hairy, and pollen grains are transported by being wedged among the hairs.

  • Color: Black with yellow bands
  • Size: 10 - 23 mm


Bumble bee has a specialized long and hairy tongue (proboscis) used for sucking up nectar. When bumble bee is flying or resting, the proboscis is kept folded under the head. The advantage of having a long tongue is that they can collect nectar from a wider range of flowers than a bee with a short tongue.

Worker bees collect nectar and pollen from flowers and bring it to the hive so it can be used as food for colony members and larvae.


Many bumble bees are social insects that form colonies with one queen. The colonies are usually smaller than honey bee colonies (mostly 50 - 400 individuals).

Bumble bees are very aggressive when they are defending their nest. Invaders who disturbed their nest are even chased for long distances. Since their stingers are not barbed, they can sting multiple times. A sting of a bumble bee is one of the most painful stings; swelling can last for several days.


Bumble bees are mainly found in higher altitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. However, they can also be found in South America, New Zealand, and Tasmania. Because of their ability to regulate their body temperature, using internal mechanisms of "shivering" and radiative cooling from the abdomen, they can be found in colder climates where other bees are absent.

The size of their nest varies depending on the species of bumble bee. Many species build nest underground, often using old rodent burrows or sheltered places. They avoid places with direct sunlight that could result in overheating. Some species also build their nest above the ground near decks and patios, sometimes even underneath roof beams or inside attics.

Unlike organized hexagonal combs of honey bees, bumble bee cells are clustered together without order. Dead bees or larvae are removed by workers and that way they help prevent diseases.

Carpenter bee

Carpenter dark bee

The origin of their name comes from their nesting behavior. Almost all species burrow into hard plant material such as bamboo or dead wood.

Many kinds of bees in this genus are very similar, and it is difficult to tell them apart. They are usually all black or have some yellow or white on a primarily black body. Some species show only subtle differences, such as details of the male genitalia.

Carpenter bees are often confused with bumblebees by non-professionals. The easiest way to differentiate them is to notice that most carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen, while the abdomen of a bumblebee is completely covered with dense hair. Venation of wings is characteristic for carpenter bees. Many males have larger eyes than females which is related to their mating behavior.

  • Color: Blue - black
  • Size: Large carpenter bees 13 - 30 mm
  • Small carpenter bees 3 - 15 mm


Carpenter bees are important pollinators of shallow flowers because they have short mouthparts. For example, orphium and maypop are not pollinated by any other insect. Many carpenter bees "rob" nectar from the flower by slitting the sides of flowers. Such behavior occurs because they cannot reach the nectar from long-tubed flowers. Unfortunately, by "robbing" the nectar, they don't come in contact with flower anthers, so there is no pollination. As a result, some plants have reduced seed and fruit production, while others developed defense mechanisms against robbing.


These bees are considered solitary bees, even though some species have simple social nests. Male bees are often hovering near nests and might approach nearby animals. However, males are harmless as they don't have a stinger. Female bees have stingers, but they might only sting if provoked. Carpenter bees are one of the calmer kinds of bees.


Carpenter bees make nests by tunneling into bamboo, wood, and other similar hard plant materials. Tunneling is done by body vibration while rasping their mandibles against the surface. Each nest has one entrance and might have several branches. The entrance is often perfectly circular hole located on the underside of a bench, tree limb, or a beam. Despite the wood drilling, they do not eat wood but discard it or use it for building partitions between cells. The tunnel is both a brood nursery and pollen/nectar storage.

Mining bee

Mining bees are solitary bees, commonly known as Andrena. They are present worldwide, except Oceania and South America.

Males are usually smaller and more slender than females. Females can be recognized by the possession of broad, velvety areas between the compound eyes and the antennal bases.

  • Color: Brown to black with whitish abdominal hair bands

  • Size: 8 - 17 mm


Mining bees are kinds of bees that forage in the spring. Some species begin foraging in February. Foraging preferences differ depending on the species; some feed only from preferred flower species.


Usually, they are not dangerous and rarely sting. Mining bees are amazing pollinators, and the use of pesticides in lawns to get rid of them is not recommended.


Mining bees build their nests underground, in sandy soil. They often nest near or under shrubs to be protected from frost and heat.

Nests usually have one small, main tunnel and several branches, each containing one egg cell. They emerge from the underground cells when the temperature ranges from 20 °C to 30°C. After mating females seek a site for their nest burrows where they construct small cells. Inside them, the female puts a ball of pollen mixed with nectar so that young bee can have a food supply. After laying an egg in the cell, female seals it. The nests don't damage the soil or gardens and can be recognized by the tumulus marking the entrance of the nest. The tumulus is a mound of earth that resembles worm casts.

Sweat bee

As the name itself says, these bees are attracted to salt in human sweat.

  • Color: Metallic blue, bronze or green
  • Size: 3 - 23 mm


All kinds of bees from this family are pollen feeders, and some are important pollinators of crops. They often feed in swarms.

Some scientists believe that these bees have a more complex detox and digestive system because of their ability to metabolize grains from a wide range of flowers.


Sweat bees are likely to sting if disturbed, but the sting is minor. They mass-provision their young, meaning that a mass of pollen and nectar placed in the cell with an egg is all the food larva will get.


Most of these bees nest in the ground, though some nest in the wood. Some members of the colony are more solitary than others and might live in individual cells away from the rest of the colony.


The Megachile family is a group of solitary bees, often called leafcutter bees or leafcutting bees. The name originates from the specific behavior of certain species within Megachile. Most kinds of bees within this family chew leaves or petals into fragments and use them in building the nest. But, some bees neatly cut pieces of leaves or petals and use them to build their nests without chewing them first. Some believe that leaf discs help prevent the extreme drying of the larva's food supply. This is one of the largest genera of bees, including almost 1500 kinds of bees.

  • Color: Black with thin yellow bands
  • Size: 5 - 24mm


Leafcutter bees are beneficial pollinators who pollinate fruits, vegetables, and wildflowers. Some commercial growers use these bees for pollination of onions, blueberries, and carrots.


Leafcutter bees don’t defend their nest aggressively and will sting only if handled.


Usually, leafcutter bees build their nests in burrows in the ground, hallowed wood, or even plant stems. Some of these bees even build nests in holes in concrete walls and other man-made objects.

Nests contain long columns of cells, and cells are constructed continuously from the deepest part of the tunnel outwards.

The female places one egg in each cell with a supply of food, usually pollen. Later she builds a cap and seals off the cell walls. After larva hatches from the egg, it consumes the food supply, and in the spring an adult bee emerges.


The Colletidae are a family of bees who is often referred to as polyester bees or plasterer bees. Their name originates from the fact that they smooth out the walls of their brood cells with their secretions. They apply the secretions with their mouthparts, and it dries into a lining similar to cellophane. The surprising fact is that created brood cell lining protects from fungal attacks, and also is waterproof!

Colletidae have slender, hairy body and greatly vary in size.

Many believed that this family of bees is the most primitive because of the similarities of their mouthparts to Crabronidae. Crabronidae are a family of wasps who are thought to be ancestors of bees. Recent molecular studies have disapproved this hypothesis and place Melittidae as the most primitive group of bees.

  • Color: Black with pale stripes of hair
  • Size: 0.7 - 1.5cm


Some bees from this family collect honey only from certain types of flowers, they are specialized pollinators. Colletidae are important pollinators and are only active for three to five weeks. They carry pollen in a pocket on their hind legs.


These bees are not aggressive and won’t attack unless provoked.


Colletidae usually live solitary and build their nests in the ground. They can be found all over the world, but most species live in Australia and South America. Over 50% of bees living in Australia belong to this family.

Read more: How long does a bee live?

Bees and other pollinators keep us alive

Bees went through evolution and developed along with other species. A presence of more than 10,000 kinds of bees proves that with time they have adapted to many different regions and ways of living. When we think of bees, most of us think of honey bees and honey production. But, bees are not limited only to honey bees. However, even though some kinds of bees don’t produce honey, they are still very useful for the environment and life living in it. Their most important role is pollination, all life on earth depends on it. Many plants would not be able to reproduce without pollination by bees. By learning more about common kinds of bees in your local area, you can find a new appreciation for these little workers and learn which bees you should maybe avoid. Finding bees in our gardens or close to home, doesn't always mean that those bees want to hurt you. They might just be looking for more flowers to collect nectar and pollen from, or a bit of water to take to the beehive. In recent years honey bees specifically are threatened because of health issues caused by parasites, fungus, and pesticides. Bees and other pollinators keep us alive by providing food for all of us. The least we could do is to help protect them so that future generations can also enjoy the fruits of their hard work.