Top Ten Bees You May Not Know About

For many of us, the bees that are heading out of our backyard gardens and into hibernation this fall are relatively indistinguishable from one another. But in fact there are roughly 4,000 different bee species found in the United States and Canada alone. With over 900 stunning photos, The Bees in Your Backyard provides an engaging introduction to all of these. Curious about which ones you’ve probably been missing? The authors, Joe Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril, put together this handy list of the “backyard bees” many people have never heard of. –PUP blog editor

1. Long-horned bees (Eucerini)

1 long-horned beeAll bees feed their offspring pollen and nectar. Many long-horned bees are specialists, a nice way of saying ‘picky’; females only collect pollen for their young from specific kinds of flowers, even when other ones may be available. Many of them prefer flowers in the sunflower family.

2. Mason bees (Osmia)

2 mason beeWe rely on honey bees for the pollination of many of our tastiest fruits. Some mason bee species can be effective pollinators of orchard crops, and research has shown that they are often better pollinators than the honey bee.

3. Leaf cutter bees (Megachile)

3 leaf cutter beeAs their common name suggests, leaf cutter bees use their incredible mandibles to cut out circular pieces of leaves that they carry back to their nests. These leaf pieces are used to line the walls of the nest cells like wallpaper.

4. Small mining bees (Perdita)

4 small mining beeThe genus Perdita has over 650 different species, all of which live in North and Central America. The smallest bee in North America is a Perdita.

5. Metallic green sweat bees (Agapostemon, Augochlorini)

5 metallic green sweat beeWhile most bees in North America are solitary and don’t live in hives with a queen and workers, there are a few species green sweat bee that are partially social. They are solitary at the beginning of the season, but social by the end of the season.

6. Mining bees (Andrena)

6 Mining beeAll mining bees nest in the ground (as, in fact, do most bees in the U.S. and Canada), in tunnels each female digs herself. The deepest bee nest that has been excavated in North America was a mining bee nest and it was over nine feet deep.

7. Sweat bees (Lasioglossum)

7 sweat beeSweat bees, particularly those in the subgenus Dialictus, are often the most abundant bee in people’s backyards, and probably anywhere else one looks for bees. Though nondescript, they are ubiquitous.

8. Masked bees (Hylaeus)

8 masked beeMasked bees are often mistaken for wasps because they are nearly hairless. These bees are the only North American bees that don’t carry pollen on the outside of their bodies. Instead they ingest the pollen, storing it in a crop. When they return to their nest, they regurgitate it.

9. Carpenter bees (Xylocopa)

9 carpenter beeCarpenter bees are among the biggest bees in North America. They are also one our only bees capable of chewing into wood to construct their nests; most other bees use pre-existing tunnels, made by beetles, other insects, or helpful humans.

10. Cellophane bees (Colletes)

10 cellophane beeCellophane bees line their underground nest with a natural cellophane-like material they produce using a special gland. This substance looks remarkably like plastic wrap.

How many of these have you seen in your backyard? Check out the book’s introduction here.

“The Bees in Your Backyard” Slideshow and Exclusive Interview

Joseph S. Wilson, assistant professor of biology, and Olivia Messinger Carril, who received her PhD in plant biology and has been studying bees for nearly 20 years, are co-authors of comprehensive new bee guide, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees. Wilson and Carril took the time to answer some of PUP’s questions about their new ultimate bee guide, and discuss the significant and changing role that bees play in our everyday lives. Read their interview just after this stunning slideshow featuring just a few of the book’s 900 photos:

Bees in your Backyard image

An Andrena species visiting a prickly poppy (Argemone sp.)

The largest and smallest kinds of bees found in North America, a Perdita (left), and a Xylocopa (right).

Hairy bees like this Melissodes often transfer a lot of pollen between plants because pollen sticks to their hair as they move from one plant to another.

A small male Perdita sits on a flower petal waiting for a potential mate.

Andrena sphaeralceae, a specialist on globe mallow (Sphaeralcea).

Many Colletes are specialists and will only collect pollen from specific plants. This Colletes, for example, only collects pollen from prairie clovers (Dalea).

A Caupolicana foraging on a mint flower (Lamiaceae).

Agapostemon can often be found on globe mallow flowers (Sphaeralcea).

Lasioglossum (Dialictus) are among the most abundant bees in many backyard gardens in North America. These small bees are often overlooked but can be important pollinators of both native and cultivated plants.

Many bees in the family Megachilidae use plant material to line their nests. Here a leaf-cutter bee (Megachile) carries a piece of leaf back to her nest to construct nest cells.

An Osmia on a thistle (Cirsium) flower.

Some Osmia have a preference for flowers in the rose family (Rosaceae) and are good pollinators of many or our orchard crops. Here, an Osmia visits an apple flower (Malus). Osmia can be much better pollinators of apples than the more commonly employed honeybee.

A Megachile flying near a cluster of composite flowers. You can just see the bright yellow pollen under the abdomen of this bee. Megachile, like all Megachilidae, carry their pollen under their abdomens rather than on their legs.

A male Eucera rests on a flower early in the morning. Many male long-horned bees, like Eucera, spend the night sleeping on flower stems or on twigs.

A male Melissodes in a desert marigold (Baileya).

A Xenoglossa resting on the petal of a squash flower.

An Anthophora on a milkvetch flower (Astragalus).

A Habropoda resting on a leaf in Illinois. Like Anthophora, male Habropoda often have white faces.

A Megachile, resting on a cactus flower (Echinocereus).

Your book begins by telling us that there are over 4000 bees in North America, do either of you have a favorite among those?

OC: Its hard for me to pick a favorite, but if I had to…  Diadasia are the genus I studied for my PhD. They are found only in North and South America and there are about 30 species in the U.S. Separately, the Exomalopsini tribe includes the genera Exomalopsis and Ancyloscelis.  All of these bees are fuzzy and look like teddy bears with wings. The Exomalopsini are tiny–about the size of a tic tac, while Diadasia are considerably larger. Both groups are made up of bee species that specialize on flowers (called ‘hosts’).  So in addition to their adorable appearance, I am intrigued by their lifestyle choices.  For my PhD research I looked specifically at the flower scent of Diadasia host plants and compared it with the scent of non-host flowers.

JW: I have always like the small bees in the genus Perdita. There are over 650 different Perdita species so I can’t say that any one species in particular is my favorite, but as a group I really like them. I think what draws me to this group is that Perdita are not the stereotypical bee; they are all small, nearly hairless, and often have bold yellow and black markings on their faces and bodies. The smallest bee in North America is a Perdita. For me, Perdita are a good example of how diverse the bees of North America are. When I point out a Perdita to friends they are always amazed that those small creatures hovering around flowers are actually bees, not gnats.

How did you each get your start in the field of bee studies anyway?

JW: I have been interested in insects for a long time.  In fact I remember having the biggest insect collection in the 6th grade. It was in making that collection that I first ran across a bee that I realized was not a honey bee (It was actually a male long-horned bee sleeping in a sunflower.) Although my interest in biology (including insects) persisted, I didn’t actually start working with bees until early in my college career.  I was introduced to the people, including Olivia, working in the “bee lab” (officially the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab) through a girl I was dating (who later became my wife). At first I volunteered in the lab pinning and labeling bees and eventually was hired as a technician. I worked for Olivia, who was leading a project surveying bees in a National Monument in southern Utah. Later, I headed my own project investigating bee diversity in a military base in western Utah. I temporarily paused my work on bees while I pursued a PhD studying the evolution and biogeography of some nocturnal wasps, but returned to working with bees (and wasps) after completing my degree.

OC: As an undergraduate I worked part time for the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab.  My first tasks were menial:  data entry and whatever odds and ends tasks needed to be done.  At the end of my first year there, however, my boss approached me with an opportunity to participate in a survey of bees in Pinnacles National Monument, in California.  I would be required to camp for three months, and hike every day looking for bees on flowers.  While I had little vested interest in the bee survey itself, the idea of camping and hiking every day for months on end sounded like a dream come true.  By the end of that first season, though, looking at the amazing diversity of bees that I had collected (nearly 400 species in an area of 25 square miles) enthralled me.  Why were some species only in certain areas, while others were found across the whole monument?  Why would some bees specialize on certain plants, and what was it about those plants that was so ‘special’?  How did they know when to emerge from their nests every year?  I happily returned to Pinnacles for two additional seasons, no longer just for the hiking and camping, but also for answers to my questions.  I’ve been trying to answer questions about bees ever since.

What made you think to write a book about  bees and how did you gather the information?  What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

OC: For me, the idea of a guide to bees that was accessible to those without years of training in bee biology first took shape during my years as a graduate student.  Many in my cohort were interested in studies of pollinators and/or pollination, but were disheartened by the lack of information for the beginner.  Here were scientists in training looking at flowering plants and categorizing their visitors as “honey bee”, “bumble bee”, or “other bee”.  Considering that the “other bee” category includes nearly 4,000 species, this was unfortunate.  I realized that this is in fact how most people see bees, and that too is unfortunate.  There are bees in almost every backyard, pollinating gardens and flower beds right under our noses.  In contrast to the birds in our backyards, which we can name from the time we are five years old, bees are lumped under the heading of “Bee”, and we are taught to steer clear because they are dangerous.  In fact they are beautiful, amazing, (harmless), and inordinately important creatures, but completely misunderstood.  I don’t remember who said it to first, but when I lamented to Joe about how inaccessible the story of the bee was to the lay person, he completely agreed.  “We oughta write a book” was the outcome of that conversation.

We gathered the information for this book by pouring over the scientific literature, collecting every bit of information we could about each genus, and then synthesizing it all into a few short paragraphs that were understandable to anybody.  For me, the most surprising thing was about myself.  Here I had been studying bees in one way or another for over 15 years and assumed I knew more or less all there was to know about bees.  I was so very wrong.  Bees are incredible, and each species has a unique story to tell.  Even today most species and even entire genera are complete mysteries to scientists either because they are rare or because no one has taken the time to get to know them.

JW: More and more as we turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or browse the covers of magazines, we are aware of the role of bees in our lives. I began to be somewhat dismayed by the mischaracterization of bees from trusted news outlets and prestigious media companies. If the common portrayals of bees was to be believed, bees were either killers (i.e., killer bees) or they were in grave danger from colony collapse disorder (which only affects the honey bee). I was frustrated that while the public was gaining an appreciation for the importance of bees, they were largely in the dark about what a bee actually is, and how diverse North America’s bee community is. The decision to write this book came after discussions about the need to educate people about bees. Education is the first step to conservation.

Like Olivia, as we researched this book I was blown away by the diverse and complex world of bees. Most bee researchers focus on a small group and become experts on that group. To write this book, Olivia and I had to learn about the lifestyles of all of North America’s bees, which was challenging, but also quite rewarding. Furthermore, we endeavored to include high quality photographs of as many of the bees as we could, and we hoped to take these pictures ourselves. I learned firsthand how challenging bee photography can be, and we ended up adding a section in the book about some of the tricks we learned about photographing bees.

In the introduction to your book, you discuss the many misconceptions surrounding bees–what ‘myth’ do you find yourself most often dispelling?

OC & JW:  It used to be that every time we told folks what it is that we studied, they would try to find common ground with us by relating a story about that one time that they had been stung by a bee (the truth is, only female bees are even capable of stinging, and they are not very aggressive.  In all the many years of collecting bees and handling them–sometimes hundreds in a day, we’ve been stung less than two dozen times).  Anymore, though, people skip telling us about being stung and ask:  “So how bad off are the bees?”

How bad is the bee decline, really?

OC: The truth is that 1) we don’t really know because 2) its complicated.  Its complicated because there are so many species of bees.  If one kind is in decline, we really can’t assume that all 30,000 kinds around the world are.  Or because some are in decline in the eastern United States doesn’t mean that western populations of that same species are too.  We can guess that many of the landscape alterations we’ve made in the U.S. are not beneficial (replacing midwestern prairies with monocultures of corn and soy, fragmenting desert areas with parking lots and strip malls, perhaps even our unchecked use of insecticides), but the actual impact is largely unknown.  Systematic bee surveys were seldom conducted 100 years ago, so we don’t have solid baseline data against which to compare current population levels.  And at least some bee species seem to naturally vary 10 to 100-fold from year to year based in part on floral bloom and weather.

We do know for certain that for several years honey bee populations appeared to be dropping dramatically and the reasons for that are still not entirely clear.  Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that honey bee populations have suffered declines–there are recorded instances of honey bee declines dating back at least 100 years and perhaps even longer.  Declines in honey bee populations are economically disastrous to be sure, but they don’t tell us much about the many other pollinating bees that help with fruit and seed set.  Looking at other bees, there are evident declines in the populations of some species of bumble bees in the last 30 years.  Alternatively, squash bees have expanded their ranges in the last 100 years; they were once just in the southwest but have spread as squash plants have been planted in gardens across the country.  Considering the contrast in just these two kinds of bees, we are hesitant to make any sort of broad statement about the state of bees as a whole.

What do you hope people get from this book, and who is it meant for?

JW: While my hope is that this book will be useful for naturalists, gardeners, and professional entomologists, I think everyone will gain a greater understanding and appreciation for bees by reading it. I like to think that this book will enable more educated conversations about bees, which will lead to better designed conservation efforts both by professionals and by homeowners.

There are stories in the news every week discussing how important bees are to agriculture and what a loss it would be to us if they disappeared. However, your book is titled “The Bees in your Backyard”… why are bees important in our backyards?

JW: Bees are important for agriculture, but they are equally important at smaller scales.  Bees make for healthy flower gardens and healthy vegetable gardens and they are also beneficial to fruit trees.  Studies have shown that backyard gardens are good for healthy bee communities and vice versa; surrounding natural areas are good for backyard bee populations

OC: Near my own small garden in New Mexico some weedy-looking globe mallow popped up this year.  I opted to leave them and let them flower, even though I have to wade through them to get to my row of vegetable plants.  Because they provide such a bountiful resource for the bees, I’ve found that my garden (which has fewer blossoms than the globe mallow patch) is much more frequently visited by bees than in years past. I’m reaping the rewards in the form of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, chiles, and eggplants.  Since we don’t know if most kinds of bees are experiencing population declines, it seems wise to assume they might be.  If that’s the case, planting a few extra bee-friendly flowers or encouraging them to nest in our backyards certainly can’t hurt anything and most likely will be a great help to these wonderful creatures.

Joseph S. Wilson is assistant professor of biology at Utah State University and has been studying bees and wasps for more than a decade. Olivia Messinger Carril received her PhD in plant biology from Southern Illinois University and has been studying bees and the flowers they visit for nearly twenty years.

Why beekeeping in L.A. is a good thing, according to Noah Wilson-Rich

The BeeAccording to Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History, bees exert an overwhelmingly positive influence, despite their bad rap as stinging pests. In his recent op ed in the Los Angeles Times, bees are efficient entities that produce “tangible benefits.” Wilson-Rich draws attention to the peculiar and outmoded 1879 ban on urban beekeeping in L.A.– a ban that has now been reversed– declaring that urban beekeeping in single-family residential zones is legal, and for good reason. He argues:

Bees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy annually in their role as pollinators of more than 100 fruit and vegetable crops. That number balloons to $100 billion globally. I won’t pretend that bees will put a dent in L.A.’s unemployment rate or add significantly to the state’s gross domestic product. But legal beekeeping would spur job creation, allowing skilled professionals to make a living by installing and maintaining beehives for residences, companies and schools.

According to Wilson-Rich, urban beehives are actually more productive than their rural counterpart. Urban beekeeping is already legal in numerous cities, including Washington D.C., Paris and New York, and he questions why Los Angeles, a city where allegedly ten bee colonies exist every square mile, fails to keep up with the valuable and safe practice or urban beekeeping.

Read the full piece in the Los Angeles Times here.

Noah Wilson-Rich is the founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based beekeeping service and research organization. He is the author of The Bee: A Natural History.

The Bees in Your Backyard – a slideshow

Bees are in decline, bringing many to embrace their value and think twice before decimating a hive. Even urban beekeeping has experienced an explosion in popularity. But the sheer number and variations that exist in the species can be confusing for novice (and seasoned) bee enthusiasts alike.

The Bees in Your Backyard by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril provides an engaging introduction to the roughly 4,000 different bee species found in the United States and Canada, dispelling common myths about bees while offering essential tips for telling them apart in the field. The authors are bee and wasp experts, and between them they have been studying these often misunderstood pollinators for more than three decades. The book contains over 900 stunningly detailed color photos, a few of which we’re excited to share with you here:


Image by Bob Peterson

Image by Jaco Visser

Image by Rick Avis

Image by B. Seth Topham

Image by Jillian H. Cowles

Image by Jillian H. Cowles

Image by USDA Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory

Image by Jillian H. Cowles

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1.7_6_Strepsistera_JacoVissersmall thumbnail
1.7_10_mitesRAsmall thumbnail
2.1_1_bigandsmallBSTsmall thumbnail
3.1_8_AndrenaprimaJCsmall thumbnail
6.1_14_AgapostemonMelliventrisJCsmall thumbnail
7.0_1_MegachileHookedHairsBBSLsmall thumbnail
7.1_3_LithurgopsisJCsmall thumbnail

PUP Op ed Original: Noah Wilson-Rich on why urban dwellers should be raising bees on their rooftops

Belted beeNoah Wilson-Rich studies bees and the diseases that are depleting their colonies. He founded the Best Bees Company, a Boston based beekeeping service and research organization, has given a TED talk, and is now the author of The Bee: A Natural History, recently published by Princeton University Press. Today he shares with us the vital importance of urban beekeeping.

By Noah Wilson-Rich

Nearly a decade after the start of Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.), a bizarre phenomenon whereby honey bees simply vanished from their hives across the United States during 2006-2011, bees are still dying at unsustainable rates today. Across the country, about one in every three hives does not survive the winter. Germany shares this alarming statistic across their apiaries. Bee deaths seem higher in areas with harsh winters and in areas with monoculture agriculture use – but lower death rates in cities. In Boston, urban bees not only survive the winter at higher rates, but they also produce more honey than beehives in surrounding suburban and rural environments.

The Bee jacketBees are vitally important creatures. We tend to give honey bees (Apis mellifera) all the credit for pollination because most people are familiar with the old man beekeeper working his white painted beehives image. Yet, honey bees are only one species of bee from about 20,000 total species worldwide. Their contributions span far past pollinating around 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon, and an estimated $100 billion to the global economy each year. Of the $15 billion that bees contribute to the United States economy annually, the alfalfa bee alone contributes an estimated $7 billion. The alfalfa bee! (Cattle rely on alfalfa for feed.) If the future of humanity is to involve nutritious food, then we must consider bees.

Regardless of what caused or ended C.C.D., or why bees are thriving in cities, the discovery of urban beekeeping as a safe haven for bees gives us hope. The post-C.C.D. world still has myriad dangers for bees; they are still dying. The three leading hypotheses for what’s killing bees: 1) Diseases, 2) Chemicals (e.g., fungicides, pesticides, etc.), and 3) Habitat loss. The Typhoid Mary event for bees that opened the flood gates to a series of additive plagues was in 1987, when Varroa mites first came to the United States. In 1998, small hive beetles were added. In 2004, imported Australian honey bees brought with them Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In 2006, C.C.D. began. In 2013, the fungus Nosema ceranae became omnipresent in all 200 hives that my laboratory sampled. And we haven’t even started on the pesticides, fungicides, and habitat loss yet.navigating bee

Spring brings to light the brighter side of things. My beekeeping team was back out this year, tirelessly checking hives, maneuvering rooftop equipment on skyscrapers, trekking through waist-high snow drifts, looking for signs of life. One team returned to our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuary in Boston’s South End, reporting that 100% of the day’s hives visited were alive. I assume they stayed around Boston or Cambridge that day, and my suspicion was right. The next day, another team of beekeepers returned from the field, their faces long trodden and forlorn, with only 1 out of 15 hives visited that day having survived the winter. I assumed they visited countryside beehives; I was right.

Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”

Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)

Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. The pesticide policy came into effect long ago, way before “killer bees” gave the non-aggressive bees a bad rap. Rather, policy makers received bad info, that bees attack fruit – and decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban the bees. We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. Yet the law of the land remains, and Angelinos must kill beehives upon site. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping as soon as within the next few months.

Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment. For example, simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based company. His latest book is THE BEE: A Natural History.

Read the introduction here, and take a peek inside here:

Sunny, Spring Book List

The Bee
Say goodbye to cold, dreary winter and hello to spring. Welcome the season by checking out Princeton University Press’s selection of natural history books. Wondering what bird you hear chirping? Download BirdGenie Backyard Birds East and West and find out. Some choices to get you out of the house and into nature:


The Bee:
A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich
With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley
“The natural history of solitary, bumble, honey and stingless bees is as gripping as our lengthy alliance, as urban beekeeper Noah Wilson-Rich and contributors show in this charming compilation. They cover evolution, biology (including a unique proboscis made of two organs), behaviours (such as honey bee ‘quacking’), the causes of catastrophic die-offs, and more.”–Barbara Kiser, Nature



Birds of Australia:
A Photographic Guide

Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones
“Written primarily for the visiting birder, reading a copy of this book will fire up anyone’s desire to get out into the field to see more of our fabulous birds.”–Sean Dooley, Australian Bird Life


bookjacket Britain’s Butterflies:
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland

Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson
“The images in this pocket-sized photo-guide are excellent and include pictures of eggs, chrysalids and caterpillars of all breeding species. Comparing very similar species can be difficult, but computer mock-ups helpful place specimen in situ. Clear text and page design make the book easy and fun to use.”BBC Wildlife magazine


bookjacket Britain’s Hoverflies:
A Field Guide

Revised and Updated Second edition
Stuart Ball & Roger Morris
Praise for the previous edition: “The latest field guild from the excellent Wildguides. . . . Beautifully and clearly laid out.”–Charlie Moores, Talking Naturally


10 facts about bees from The Bee by Noah Wilson-Rich

Everyone is familiar with bees, but few are aware of their significance in our survival. The roles of bees in the ecosystem include pollinating more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops. They also are critical to the reproduction and diversity of flowers.

The Bee

10 Bee Facts:

1. Only female bees sting, and many solitary bees can’t sting.

2. A bee’s sting (or stinger) is a modified egg-laying organ.

3. A bee has five eyes: two are complex eyes that see movement well, while the other three detect light intensity.

4. Bees can see ultraviolet light, but they cannot see the red end of the spectrum, so they perceive the world as more blue and purple than we do.

5. Drones do not have a father, but they do have a grandfather.

6. Bees are herbivores, and their diet comes entirely from flowers—carbohydrates from nectar and protein from pollen.

7. Honey bees are not native to the Americas, and bumble bees are not native to Australia.

8. A queen bee has exactly the same genes as a worker: she develops into a queen simply because she is fed extra rations of royal jelly when she is a larva.

9. The honey bee genome has been sequenced; it is about one-tenth the size of the human one.

10. Bees pollinate over 130 fruit and vegetable crops, and produce many other things that benefit humans—honey, wax, resins, propolis, royal jelly, and even venom.

The Bee

For more information on bees, the human-bee relationship, and beekeeping read The Bee by Noah Wilson-Rich.


The Bee:
A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich

With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley

Stumped for a last minute gift idea? Try these books

Buying gift or coffee-table books online can be nerve-wracking when all you have to go on is the cover and maybe, if you’re lucky, a couple of sample pages. What will the book really look like? Will it be gift-y enough? We want to take the uncertainty out of the process for you with these videos that show off three of our sumptuous recommended gift books. These books are all available now to complete your last minute holiday shopping.


Penguins: The Ultimate Guide:

The Bee: A Natural History:

Atlas of Cities:


For additional holiday gift recommendations, please click here.

Noah Wilson-Rich author of The Bee to stop in at Labyrinth Books

Wilson-Rich_theBeeThe Press is very excited to announce that Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History, will be making an appearance at a local book store down the street from our offices on October 21st at 6:00PM. The venue, Labyrinth Books, is an acclaimed independent book store conveniently located right on Nassau St (if you’re familiar with the area) and we hope you will join us in a discussion with Wilson-Rich about his book.

Stick around after for book signings as well!

10 interesting facts about bees

8-7 Bee BookWhen I was asked to write a post about bees, I felt a lump the size of a honeycomb rise in my throat. I thought to myself,  “Bees? Like the things that ruined my 8th birthday party or every trip I’ve ever taken to Rita’s Ices? Those things?!” Yes, those things, but amazingly enough, after reading through Noah Wilson-Rich’s new book The Bee: A Natural History, I can honestly say my opinion of bees has changed, for the better. Here are 10 interesting facts about bees that will hopefully either solidify your love of these insects or foster a new appreciation for them.

1. Thousands of years ago, bees evolved from carnivores to herbivores. Maybe this explains my initial irrational fear of them!

2. There are over 20,000 species of bees who are classified in nine families and further divided by short, medium, and long tongues.

The Bee: A Natural History, Pg. 67

3. Bees can see ultra violet rays. They see the world primarily in purples and blues.

4. Bees have just ten receptors for taste, but 163 receptors for smell.

5. Honey bees communicate via dancing. The Round dance communicates the nearby presence of food. The Waggle dance is used to communicate the location of a food source more than 165ft away from the hive. The direction, distance, and quality of the food is made known through the Waggle. If a threat is detected near the food, another bee will interrupt the dancing bee with a head-butt.

6. In 2000, honey bees provided an estimated $14.6 billion to the US economy.

Pg. 49

7. Only female bees sting.

8. Queen bees and worker bees share the same genes, the only difference is future queen bees are given extra rations of royal jelly.

9. Bees pollinate over 130 fruits and vegetables.

10. Flowering plants developed attractive, scented, and brightly colored flowers once bees changed their foraging preference from animal protein to a vegetarian lifestyle.

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day with Noah Wilson-Rich!

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., author of the upcoming The Bee: A Natural History, will be speaking at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History for National Honey Bee Day on August 16.


Wilson-Rich has been keeping bees on Cape Cod since 2010 and maintains two apiaries in Truro, where he conducts research on experimental vaccines that could potentially improve the health of honey bees. His talk at the museum will focus on this research, as well as the role of bees on Cape Cod and the importance of honey bees in sustainable gardening. He will also discuss his business, the Best Bees Company, a service based in Boston’s South End that installs and manages hives for honey bees for businesses and residents of eastern Massachusetts.

 thebeewilson-rich  The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich

Q&A with Leif Richardson, co-author of Bumble Bees of North America

auricomus PHW

We’ve recently published a comprehensive identification guide to bumble bees of North America. One of the authors of that guide sat down with Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden to talk about misunderstandings when it comes to bumbles–how are they related to other social bees? do they make honey? what does aposematic mean?, and more. Enjoy this preview and then read the complete interview here.

At the end of the interview, there is an opportunity to enter and win a copy of the book, too. So make sure you scroll to the bottom.


Q. First, can we briefly place bees, and bumblebees, in the order of things?

A. Bees are in the insect order called Hymenoptera, which also includes ants, wasps, sawflies and a few miscellaneous taxa. The closest relatives of bees are wasps, and they diverged from them many millions of years ago.

Q. Yes, I read in the book that bees evolved from wasps 100 million years ago—though frankly, I can’t tell the two apart. Are there things I can be looking for?

A. What many people consider a bee is the furry thing that looks like a honeybee, but most people don’t know that there are many species of bees that closely resemble wasps.

In general, bees are more hairy than wasps, and the hairs are branched—all bees have branched hairs at least somewhere on their body. They can sometimes look very feathery under the microscope, just like a bird feather….The feathery hairs insulate, and also aid in the collection of pollen—or so is the theory.

In most bees, the females collect pollen to feed to their offspring, so they have a pollen-carrying structure. We call that a scopa—which is usually a morphological characteristic of the exoskeleton combined with hairs. If you think of what a honeybee’s leg looks like, you have that big, wide area on the hind leg—this is the scopa of a honeybee. It’s a concave area and then it has long hairs that arch over it, so the bee can pack pollen in there.

In other bees, the scopa may be on the underside of the abdomen or on the thorax, and some bees even carry pollen internally.

You won’t always be able to tell bees and wasps apart, but look for the pollen-carrying structures, and generally more hair on bees than on wasps.

Q. How many kinds of bees in North America? And how many are bumblebees by comparison?

A. There are only 46 species of bumblebees, which are in the genus Bombus, on the continent–but nearly 4,000 species of bees total, including the bumblebees, in the United States.

Most of the bees are not what you know as a bee—most of them are solitary in their lifestyle, and not social [like the familiar honeybees]. So the males and females mate, and then the females go off and lay their eggs in a nest, and provision it with pollen and nectar and seal it up and they’re done.

That’s as opposed to rearing their offspring, and then successive generations of a worker caste coming and later reproductive individuals, too, all in the same colony in the same year—that would be a social bee.

Continue reading this Q&A at A Way to Garden: