The Different Types of Bees in Florida

Have you ever wondered just how many different types of bees there are?

As beekeepers, we get asked this question frequently.  According to Florida’s Nature, there are over 4,000 species of bees in the U.S. and almost 20,000 species of bees worldwide.  Florida has 315 native bee species (29 of those species are only found in Florida) with 5 non-native bee species. 

Unlike non-native honey bees, Florida’s bees are amazingly diverse with six primary families — Andrenidae, Apidae, ColletidaeHalictidaeMegachilidae, and Melittidae. Even within those families, there is tremendous diversity not just within families but within species. They come in all:

  • Sizes — smaller than a grain of rice up to the width of a quarter
  • Colors — blue/gray, red and black, yellow, orange and black, metallic green, iridescent black, and more
  • Fuzziness — from wasp-like with almost no hair to extra fuzziness and
  • Shapes — from round to long and slender to extra bulky.
  • Even beyond those distinctions, males and females often exhibit sexual differences resulting in some species varying widely in color, shape, and body size based on their sex.

With a couple of exceptions, all bees are pollinators, though only a few species produce honey.  Sometimes, it is so difficult to differentiate between species that they need to be examined under a microscope.  

We found some great resources for you when researching this topic.  WFSU Ecology producer Rob Diaz de Villegas has a detailed series chronicling the insects of Florida. He has identified and photographed numerous Florida bees and has organized bees into the following families:

  • Carpenter Bees
  • Bumblebees
  • Leafcutter, Mason and Resin Bees
  • Longhorn Bees
  • Sweat Bees
  • Cuckoo Bees
  • Mining Bees
  • Western Honeybee

Another great resource we found was the a presentation by Michelle Peterson: “Native Bees: Gardeners’ Best Friends”.  She points out there are over 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and goes in depth between the different between Honey Bees and Native Bees:

Honey Bees 

Examples: Western Honey Bee, European Honey Bee

  • Eusocial 
  • Live in a colony of thousands built out of wax honeycomb they construct 
  • Make lots of honey 
  • Generalist pollinators 
  • Protective of their colony which they defend with their stingers (their lives) 
  • Managing colonies requires investment in supplies, equipment, gear and bees 

Honey bees, which were imported to North America to pollinate agricultural crops, are easy to distinguish from native bees by their coloring, which is golden brown with black abdominal stripes. In the U.S., most honeybees live in artificial hives maintained by professional or hobbyist beekeepers. Only rarely do they live in wild colonies.

Native Florida Bees

Examples: Bumblebees, Carpenter Bees, Metallic Sweat Bee, Southeastern Blueberry Bee, Small Carpenter Bee, Miner/Digger Bee, Leafcutter Bee, Orchard Mason Bee, Long-Horned Bees, Squash Bee, Orchid Bee

Native bees are often pollination specialists that evolved alongside specific types of plants and are the only insects capable of pollinating them. An estimated 30 percent of U.S. crops rely on native bees for pollination!

  • Mostly solitary 
  • Live in a narrow nest either below ground or in wood cavities near the ground 
  • Most make no honey 
  • Often specific pollinators 
  • Often stingless, or will only sting if handled, provoked, or lives are threatened 
  • No need to manage colonies; easy to create habitat that attracts natives

If you want to get down to a detailed, scientific research level, simply look no further than iNaturalist.  The goal of their website project “Florida Native Bees” is to document native bee sightings across the state of Florida. Images and related information will provide valuable plant-pollinator data, habitats, and bee diversity information.

What better way to do this than with the use of today’s technology!  The site has a detailed map with the ability to zoom in and look at specific observations. 

bee populations in Florida



bee observations on Florida

Bee health has become a growing area of concern.  Over the past decade, increasing attention has been paid to a variety of stressors that may negatively impact bees. These potential stressors include: pressure from monoculture agriculture, risk of pesticide exposure, pests and parasites, forage, nutrition (both in feed and natural availability) and management.

 

What Can You Do To Save Florida’s Bees? #BeeTheSolution

  1. Plant a garden with bee-friendly plants that are rich in pollen and nectar
  2. Go chemical-free in your yard products and use natural solutions instead of pesticides
  3. Plant a tree with blossoms for a great food source and also nesting material
  4. Create a bee bath from a birdbath with stones for resting, so bees can take a drink of water
  5. Teach your children, the next generation, the importance of honey bees for our ecosystem
  6. Support local beekeepers by purchasing locally-made honey and beeswax products

A great example of a company that follows these practices is Florida Honey Pot Farms. This Central Florida honey company plants blueberries and saw palmetto trees for their bees, and you won’t find any harsh chemicals and pesticides. The bees are always gently handled with care and in conjunction with Honey Bee Institute, are educating generations to come about the importance of bees.  To learn more, visit www.floridahoneypotfarms.com. 

 

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