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 species in the United States, 10% have not been named or described.

About 20%-45% of native bees are pollen specialists, meaning that they use only pollen from one species (or genus) of plants. If that plant is removed, the bee goes away. If bees are removed, the plant doesn't reproduce. Some of the native bees are specialists on the very plants that we use for food, including squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and the annual sunflower.

In almost all crops, native bees are the primary pollinator or they significantly supplement the activity of honey bees. Even crops like cotton, soybeans, and peppers that don’t need a pollinator have a higher yield if they’re visited by bees.

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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...

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...

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...

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 21, 2021

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.

Date published: July 16, 2020

USGS Scientists are Busy as a Bee

Many bumble bee species have declined in recent decades due to changes in habitat, climate, and pressures from pathogens, pesticides and introduced species. The western bumble bee, once common throughout western North America, is a species of concern and is being considered for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

Date published: June 17, 2019

Test your bee and other pollinator knowledge!

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!

Attribution: Ecosystems
Date published: June 18, 2018

It’s National Pollinator Week! Get the buzz on USGS pollinator research

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

Attribution: Ecosystems
Date published: January 23, 2017

Busy as Bees to Help Protect Pollinators

In late 2006, beekeepers across the United States reported sudden, dramatic losses in honey bee colonies. Similar losses were reported in 2007 and for several subsequent years. The reasons for these losses were unclear. 

Date published: June 15, 2015

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. 

Date published: May 19, 2015

Pollinators Get a National Strategy to Restore Their Health

Small bees that don’t bother or sting us can remain unstudied despite their abundance. 

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Outstanding in the field podcast album art
December 10, 2018

Outstanding in the Field (Ep 1): To Bee or Not to Bee

The USGS Ecosystems Mission Area brings you Outstanding in the Field, a series of stories about our science, our adventures, and our efforts to better understand our fish and wildlife and the ecosystems that support them. This episode's buzz is all about pollinators, the birds, bees, bats, beetles, and other animals that feed on pollen from plants and help bring about one

Western bumble bee
July 17, 2018

Western Bumble Bee

Many bumble bee species have declined in recent decades due to changes in habitat, climate, and pressures from pathogens, pesticides and introduced species. The western bumble bee, once common throughout western North America, is a species of concern and is being considered for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

April 28, 2016

Untapped Capacity: Our 4,000 Species of Native Bees

So many unknowns and so many potentials.

  • In secret, Native Bees, not honey bees, do most of our pollinating
  • Why we don't know the status of 99% of our Native Bees
  • Why are there 400 Native Bees without names
  • Why biodiverse native plant communities = biodiverse native bee communities
January 8, 2016

USGS Pollinator Research and Monitoring

The USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, located in the Northern Great Plains state of North Dakota highlights their current and ongoing research on land use and pollinator health.

This part of the country represents critical summer forage habitat for commercial beekeepers and their honey bees. Colonies located here in the summer produce honey and go on

Image: Native Bee Pollinating a Prickly Pear
June 30, 2014

Native Bee Pollinating a Prickly Pear

A native bee pollinates a prickly pear cactus in Colorado. Credit: Mark Vandever, USGS.

Attribution: Ecosystems
Image: Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower
August 31, 2013

Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower

A native bee pollinates a native flower. Credit: Mark Vandever, USGS.

Attribution: Ecosystems
Image: Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower
August 31, 2013

Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower

A native bee pollinates a native flower. Credit: Mark Vandever, USGS.

Attribution: Ecosystems
USGS CoreCast
June 24, 2009

Bees Are Not Optional

It's Pollinator Week, and we're talking to USGS scientist Sam Droege about the tremendous importance of native bees and pollinators in general, and how you can lend a hand to these tiny titans.  
 
Like eating fresh fruits and vegetables? Think agriculture is important to our society? Then you'll want to pay attention to this CoreCast. (original recording: June

Picture of a bee pollinating a flower

Bee pollinating a flower

Bee pollinating a flower