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Native Bees in California

We all know and love (well, maybe not all of us love) the honeybee. But a lesser known fact about honeybees is that they are not native to the United States. Rather, they are native to Europe and were brought over to the United States in the 1600s. So what bees are native to the United States, and more specifically, Southern California? There are 1,600 species of native bees here in CA and they can be broken up into 5 families: Apidae, Colletidae, Andrenidae, Halictidae, and Megachilidae. 

Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). PC: Ron Hemberger

Apidae is the most diverse family, containing almost 6,000 species. Bees in this family have characteristic pollen baskets, called corbicula, on their legs. The species seen above is the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). The yellow-faced bumble bee ranges from British Columbia all the way down to Baja California. According to The Richardson Bay Audubon, these bees are generalists, meaning they pollinate many kinds of flowers, but they certainly have favorites. These include lupine, plume thistle, wild buckwheat, phacelia, clarkia, and ericameria. In addition to pollinating wild species, these bumble bees are very important pollinators for agriculture, especially with tomato crops. (Richardson Bay Audubon)

Plasterer bee (Hylaeus nigritus). PC: Olivier Pouvreau

The family Colletidae contains over 2,700 species worldwide. They are characteristically solitary, but not territorial; they can often be found nesting in the same area as each other. Colletes have an adaptation that is rare for modern bees: a forked tongue. The females produce a cellophane-like secretion from their mouths that they place over the entrances of their burrows, and a forked tongue helps with the placement of this substance. This secretion is used to prevent fungal growth and water from entering the burrow. Interestingly, the secretion is being studied by scientists as a potential bio-plastic. 

Mining bee (Andrena spp.) PC: Christine Evers

Andrenidae are small, solitary bees that nest in the ground. There are more than 500 species in California, and they are broken up into three genera. The largest genus of these three is Andrena. Andrena are characterized by their facial foveae, which are hair-lined depressions located between the eyes and the antennae, almost like eyebrows. Their nests are made up of tunnels that they use to store pollen. The pollen is then used as a sort of bed to lay eggs on. 

Ultra green sweat bee (Agapostemon texanum). PC: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Halictidae, commonly known as sweat bees, received their common name from their tendency to land on humans and drink perspiration, which provides both moisture and salt for the bees. They mostly nest in the ground, but some species nest in wood. They are kleptoparasites, meaning they will lay their eggs on larvae in another species' nest. Once the larvae hatch, they eat the host larva.  

Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum). PC: Jillian H. Cowles

Megachilidae are known as the architects of the bee world. They nest in pre-made tubular cavities such as holes in wood, old plant stems, and even snail shells. They are an important pollinator for cherries and almonds. A unique characteristic of these bees is that the females have scopae (used for transporting pollen) on the underside of their abdomens. The highlighted species is the wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum). The wool carder bee ranges from the middle of North America to the west all the way down to Mexico. This bee is known for its aggressive mating patterns. If you are curious about these mating patterns, check out the US Forest Service website! Male wool carder bees are so aggressive that they will bump into other species that enter their mating area, and this even includes humans! 

If you are interested in learning more about CA native bees, check out Krystle Hickman, a conservation photographer who focuses on native bees, @beesip on instagram or her website

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