Observing Bees

Bombus nevadensis (Apidae)
Bombus nevadensis (Apidae)

Bee faunae tend to be diverse and, because bees are relatively small and fast moving, it can be difficult for citizen monitors and scientists alike to identify them in the field or garden. Nevertheless, with practice you can learn to identify many bees to the family level just using the naked eye, camera, and/or field guide. In some cases, you may even be able to categorize them on the fly to genus or species level, However, caution is always advised on this front! Most people have a mental image of bumble bees (family Apidae, genus Bombus), for example, because their robust bodies and bright yellow, black, orange and/or white pile coloring gives them a distinctive appearance that’s hard to miss.

Some other bees are just as distinctive. For example:

  • Green metallic bees (family Halictidae, genus Agapostemon) have bright-green, metallic-tinted bodies (head and mesosoma, or the head, mesosoma and metasoma) and only a slight covering of hair. My observation is that these green metallic bees are often attracted to sunflowers in the late season.
  • Carpenter bees (family Apidae, genus Ceratina) have small, black, relatively hairless, oftentimes shiny bodies and small yellow or white markings on their face and “shoulder” areas.
  • Leaf-cutter bees (family Megachilidae, genus (Megachile)have relatively wide, black and yellow striped metasomas that curve upwards with their pollen collecting hair (scopae) on their undersides. Hence, these bees frequently have brightly colored pollen stuck to their undersides.

Once the eye is trained to recognize such features, you can, at a minimum, organize your observations by higher taxonomic groupings. If you are successful, a great deal of biological information will become available to you!

Take Pictures!

Taking pictures of pollinators is a great way to identify them and to learn more about them (Glassberg 2001), because high resolution digital photography allows you to blow up your images and see key taxonomic characters that you might miss with just the naked eye. Try and get several photos of your pollinator from different directions. This is very important as it will help you or us to identify the pollinator.

Local Families of Bees

Five families of bees found in the Palouse region: Andrenidae, Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae and Megachilidae. A brief description of these families and the common genera that comprise them is provided in the following pages.

For a list of species found in Latah or Whitman Counties see our Species List.