How many species of native bees are in the United States?

There are over 20,000 known bee species in the world, and 4,000 of them are native to the United States. They range from the tiny (2 mm) and solitary Perdita minima, known as the world’s smallest bee, to kumquat-sized species of carpenter bees. Our bees come in as many sizes, shapes, and colors as the flowers they pollinate. There is still much that we don't know 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 all of these bees have jobs as pollinators.

Native bees are the primary insect pollinator of agricultural plants in most of the country. Crops that they pollinate include squash, tomatoes, cherries, blueberries, and cranberries. Native bees were here long before European honeybees were brought to the country by settlers (honeybees are not native to North America). Honeybees are key to a few crops such as almonds and lemons, but native bees like the blue orchard bees are better and more efficient pollinators of many crops, including those plants that evolved in the Americas. Native bees are estimated to pollinate 80 percent of flowering plants around the world.

Many of our native wild and crop plants have sets of bees that are so specialized that they restrict their visits to those plants alone. The most important facet of bee conservation is the encouragement and retention of all of our flowering native plants.

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Does the loss of plant diversity affect the health of native bees?

Loss of plant diversity is the primary cause of native bee decline. About 30-50% of all native bees are highly specialized, so if the plant they rely on disappears, the bees go away. If the bees disappear, the plant is unable to reproduce and dies out. While some of the plants pollinated by native bees are important food crops, other plants...

Do bees feed on both nectar and pollen?

Bees feed on and require both nectar and pollen. The nectar is for energy and the pollen provides protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used by bees as larvae food, but bees also transfer it from plant-to-plant, providing the pollination services needed by plants and nature as a whole. Learn more: USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring...

Do native bees occur on every continent on the planet?

Native bees occur on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever there are insect-pollinated flowering plants—be it in forest, farms, cities, and wildlands—there are bees. And just because you don’t see obvious blooming plants, that does not mean that there are no bees around. Look down! Those tiny flowers that you see on some plants are also...

Are honey bees native to North America?

Honey bees are not native to North America. They were originally imported from Europe in the 17th century. Honey bees now help pollinate many U.S. crops like fruits and nuts. In a single year, one honey bee colony can gather about 40 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar. Honey bees increase our nation's crop values each year by more than 15...

What is the role of native bees in the United States?

About 75% of North American plant species require an insect—mostly bees—to move their pollen from one plant to another to effect pollination. Unlike the well-known behavior of the non-native honeybees, there is much that we don’t know about native bees. Many native bees are smaller in size than a grain of rice. Of approximately 4,000 native bee...

Why are pollinating bats, birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals important?

Do you enjoy a hot cup of coffee, a juicy peach, an-apple-a-day, almonds, rich and creamy dates, a handful of plump cashews, or vine-ripened tomatoes? Do you enjoy seeing the native flowers and plants that surround you? If so, you depend on pollinators. Wherever flowering plants flourish, pollinating bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other...

Why are bats important?

By eating insects, bats save U.S. agriculture billions of dollars per year in pest control. Some studies have estimated that service to be worth over $3.7 billion per year, and possibly as much as $53 billion. This value does not, however, take into account the volume of insects eaten by bats in forest ecosystems and the degree to which that...
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Date published: June 22, 2020

It’s Pollinator Week!

Pollinators in the form of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles provide vital but often invisible services, from supporting terrestrial wildlife and plant communities, to supporting healthy watersheds.

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It’s pollinator week and USGS is providing science to better understand the status of pollinator species. Here’s the chance to test your knowledge about bees and other pollinators, with our pollinator week quiz!  And let us know on FB or Twitter how you did!

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Bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles provide vital but often invisible pollination services that support terrestrial wildlife and plant communities, and healthy watersheds.

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The Buzz on Native Bees

Bees are nearly ubiquitous, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever there are insect-pollinated flowering plants — forest, farms, cities and wildlands — there are bees. And just because you don’t see plants blooming, does not mean that there are no bees around. 

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December 17, 2019

Melecta species, face, Park County, Wyoming, M

Fossil Butte National Monument, WyomingNote that friends at National Wildlife Federation have dubbed this species the Billy Idol Bee. Since it has no common name I hear-by declare this species' common name to be the Billy Idol MelectaNote, however, that all the bees in the genus Melecta are nest parasites

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December 17, 2019

Augochloropsis metallica, F, Face, U

This bee is in your garden! Have you seen it? Collected on the Tomatoes in Francisco Posada's in Laurel, Maryland

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December 17, 2019

Andrena nasonii, M, side, New York, Kings County

An abundant Andrena, often found in lawns and disturbed field like situations. The males are as generic as they come but have a tiny point coming out of their integument on either side of the underside of their thorax. Thank goodness. Photographer ... Erick Hernandez Photography Information: Canon Mark II 5D, Zerene Stacker, Stackshot Sled, 65mm Canon MP-E 1-5X macro

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December 17, 2019

Augochlorella aurata, back, Camden County, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia, Dark Purple/Blue form of this species that often occurs in coastal and Deep South situations

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December 17, 2019

Svastra petulca, right

A lovely Deep South Svastra, S. petulca to be specific. A nice pollen shot. You can see the huge bushy pollen carrying hairs on its hind legs, designed to carry dry pollen unlike Honey Bees and Bumble Bees which mix their pollen with nectar. I am guessing it is some sort of composite given it is blow out orange and that Svastras are known to favor that family of plants

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December 17, 2019

Andrena fenningeri, F, Face 2, Bowie, Maryland

A very early spring bee, covered in pollen, collected by a homeowner in Bowie, Maryland, often found on maples

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December 17, 2019

Halictus ligatus, F, face, Philidelphia, PA

Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, covered in pollen from an unknown plant

Halictus ligatus female on an oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum).
May 29, 2019

Halictus ligatus female on an oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)

The center of the composite flower looks like a "landing zone" and has evolved to guide pollinators to its nectar/pollen.