Common Bee Species of North America

Picture of honey bee extracting nectar

There are over 20,000 known bee species worldwide, with 4,000 native to the United States. They vary in size from the world’s smallest bee, Perdita minima (2 mm), to carpenter bee species the size of kumquats. Bees are as diverse as the flowers they pollinate in terms of size, shape, and color. There is still much not known about native bees—many are smaller than a grain of rice, and about 10% of bees in the United States have yet to be named or described—but they all play a role as pollinators. 1Go To Source- “How many species of native bees are in the United States?”

Biology Of Bees

Bees are eusocial animals that live in colonies and are divided into hierarchical castes with corresponding responsibilities. A complicated system of chemical cues aids in the establishment of conditions that determine the sex and caste of new bees.

  • A singular queen bee is in charge of laying eggs. Each hive has only one laying queen, who can live for several years in good health. She mates with drones from other hives the majority of the time. When her health deteriorates, or the hive is about to swarm, she releases pheromones to aid in creating new, virgin queens who can start new colonies.
  • Drones are male bees born from unfertilized eggs and whose sole purpose is to reproduce with queens in nearby hives. They’re only made when the hive is expanding, which usually happens during peak pollination season, and before a swarm, or when the queen’s sperm supply is running low. Once a drone reproduces, it dies. Because they are produced without genetic material from a male bee, all drones from the same hive are the queen’s clones.
  • Worker bees are female bees born from fertilized eggs and do the majority of the work, such as tending larva, collecting and processing pollen, making honey, guarding the hive, and other general housekeeping tasks.

Bees In Relation To Humans

Agriculture relies heavily on bees. They pollinate crops, boost yields, and create a thriving honey industry. Bees are so important that farmers pay millions of dollars to rent hives to pollinate their crops. Bees pollinate more than a third of the food we eat, either directly or indirectly. Many fruits, nuts, and vegetables rely on bees and other insects to pollinate them to produce fruit, and without pollinators, these crops could become extinct.

All of this pollination comes at a high cost: honey bees generate $24 billion in annual agricultural revenue in the United States, and 161.8 million pounds of raw honey were produced in 2016. 2Go To “Agriculture and Bees”

Stinging Bees

When worker bees sting you, their abdomens are pulled out, and they die, but the stinger remains lodged in your skin, pumping in more venom and releasing alarm pheromones to alert other bees to your presence. As a result, if you get stung, you should dig a stinger out as soon as possible. If there are other bees nearby, having been stung once greatly increases your chances of getting stung again.

Drones don’t even have stingers, which means they’re useless for hive defense. Queen bees don’t have barbed stingers, so they can sting you multiple times. However, you won’t see them unless it’s Spring and they’re swarming. Swarming bees are generally sluggish, but they will go to any length to protect their queen. 3Go To Source- “Are Bees Dangerous?

Honey Bee

Picture of honey bee hive

Honey bees are light brown and measure about 15 mm in length. Honey bees are oval-shaped insects with golden-yellow colors and brown stripes. Although honey bee body color varies by species, and some honey bees have primarily black bodies, almost all honey bees have dark-to-light striations.

The honey bee’s light and dark stripes serve a survival purpose. Unlike other species that hide when predators approach, the honey bee’s brightly colored bodies serve as a warning to predators or animals seeking honey.

Habitat Of Honey Bees

Tropical climates and heavily forested areas are the honey bee’s natural habitats. Honey bees can live in both wild and domesticated environments, but they prefer gardens, woodlands, orchards, meadows, and other places with many flowering plants. Honey bees build nests inside tree cavities and under the edges of objects to hide from predators in their natural habitat.


Photograph of of flying bumble bee

The bumblebee is a widespread social insect known for collecting nectar from flowers and pollinating plants. Bumblebees are giant yellow and black flying insects that make a distinctive buzzing sound.

Bumblebees come in various colors, and some species have bands of red, yellow, and black. They have a stocky body with a lot of hairs on it that pollen sticks to. Bumblebees have four wings, two of which are small and are connected to the fore wings by a row of hooks known as hamuli. The wings beat at a fast rate of 130-240 beats per second.

Habitat Of Bumblebees

The majority of bumblebee species live in temperate climates and are more tolerant of cold temperatures. They also live in higher-altitude areas, such as mountainous areas. In most cases, bees cannot survive in colder climates. On the other hand, the bumblebee can thrive, and some species can even be found in the polar regions. They can survive in colder climates because they have body temperature-control mechanisms that many other insects lack.

Carpenter Bees

Photo of flying carpenter bee

Carpenter bees are giant black and yellow insects that measure about an inch in length. They look like bumblebees, but their abdomen (back end) is black and shiny instead of the yellow hairs that bumblebees have.

Females have the ability to sting, but only when provoked. The males are unable to sting. Females have a black face, and males have a yellow face. 4Go To Source- “Carpenter Bees, Xylocopa sp.”

Habitat Of Carpenter Bees

Unlike most common bees, carpenter bees don’t live in either hives or the ground. Carpenter bees build individual nests in softwood, which is why they can be found in porches, old trees, and other softwood structures.

Carpenter bees burrow into wood structures to lay their eggs, whereas bumblebees typically nest in the ground. Soft, weathered, and unpainted wood, in particular, provides ideal conditions for carpenter bee nests. Carpenter bees live in solitary, which means they don’t work or live in hives like bumblebees.

Africanized Honey Bees

Image of Africanized honey bee

The Africanized Honey Bee is commonly known as the “killer” bee and resembles the more temperamental European Honey Bee in appearance. They are, however, slightly smaller, and only microscopic measurements in a laboratory could tell the difference.

They’re sturdy, measuring 3/4 of an inch in length, and covered in fuzz. They have brownish-black stripes that aren’t as distinct as those found on wasps and hornets. They have four transparent wings attached to the thorax, which is the body’s middle section. The bottom of the thorax is also where the six legs are connected. The head is smaller than both sections, with the abdomen larger than the thorax and ending in the stinger.

The Africanized Honey Bee’s two compound eyes are large and bulbous, allowing them to see ultraviolet rays and thus fly at night. The queens are the most powerful bees in the colony, followed by the drones, and finally, the workers. 5Go To Source- “Africanized Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata)”

Habitat Of Africanized Honeybees

Because Africanized bees have smaller colonies, they are able to build nests in unusual locations. They’ve been seen living in tires, crates, boxes, and abandoned cars.

The Africanized Honey Bee has made its way across South and Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Swarming, the process by which bee colonies replicate, allows Africanized Honey Bees to continue their northward expansion of their territories. The annual spread rate has been around 200 miles.




  1. “How Many Species of Native Bees Are in the United States?” USGS Science For A Changing World, U.S. Department Of The Interior, Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.
  2. DeLeo, Amanda. “Agriculture and Bees: What Consumers Need to Know.” Morris Arboretum, University Of Pennsylvania, 26 Sept. 2017,
  3. “Are Bees Dangerous?” Penn State, Penn State University, Accessed 5 Feb. 2018.
  4. “Carpenter Bees.” Entomology & Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University,,The%20males%20cannot%20sting. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.
  5. Ojar, Christina. “Killer Bees.” Columbia University In The City Of New York, 1 Mar. 2001,