Megachile inimica is a large leaf cutter bee. They are solitary bees that pollinate fruits, vegetables, and wildflowers. Females lay their eggs in small cells they create at the back of cavities in rotting wood - a good reason to keep the trunk of a dead tree, an old stump, or fallen tree limb. After adding a small ball of pollen, females seal the cell with chewed up leaves. Larvae overwinter in the cells, emerging in the spring. Leaf cutter bees are most active from June through August - taking over the pollination work from mason bees.
Virginia Carpenter Bee
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
Lear Cutter Bee
Everyone has watched these large bees buzzing clumsily around our gardens - bumbling if you like. They are easy to see and hear! But you can relax. They are not aggressive and will only sting if you disturb their underground nests. Like honey bees, bumble bees are social, living in colonies with a single queen, but on a much smaller scale. Also, like honey bees, they are generalists attracted to any source of pollen they can find and are active from spring through fall. That makes them very good pollinators for our gardens. To keep them healthy, avoid all pesticides. Beyond that, providing native plants for food and some open dirt for nesting is all the help they need.
Sweat bees are tiny solitary bees that forage from spring through summer. They are generalists. Like most solitary bees, they have no queen or honey stores to protect, so they are not aggressive and rarely sting. Even when they do sting the effect is milder than most other bees and wasps. As their common name suggests, they are attracted to sweat for its nutrients. It's not unusual to have one land on your arm on a hot summer day and begin licking! Sweat bees nest underground or in rotting wood on the ground.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It my be just one of the 20,000 native bee species in North America - but it matters! Read more about the rusty patched bumble bee.
Common Eastern Bumble Bees
Carpenter bees are very large bees, sometimes mistaken for bumble bees. They use their strong jaws to excavate tunnels in wood where the females lay their eggs. Adult bees will overwinter in the same tunnels. If their wood of choice is the siding of your house or your deck, they can sometimes cause serious damage - but only if there are a large number of bees. Woodpeckers can make it worse by pecking at tunnel entrances to get at the larvae inside. Males carpenter bees will defend the nests by flying up to intruders but it's all show. Males have no stingers. Females rarely sting unless the brood is threatened. Carpenter bees are a valuable native species so I don't recommend insecticide unless they are causing extensive damage. Traps are available for reducing the numbers without chemicals.
Mason bees are among the best pollinators active from mid-April through mid-June - perfect timing for orchards. They are gentle, generalist pollinators known for pollinating apricots, almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, and flowers in the rose family. Read more about attracting mason bees to your garden.
There are about 20,000 bee species worldwide, about 4,000 in North America, and about 400 in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Many are threatened and some, like the rusty patched bumble bee are endangered. Saving our native bees is critical to the health of our environment. So, we all need to learn all we can about creating a safe and healthy habitat for these tiny beneficial creatures - most of which rarely sting!
We can't cover every species, or even a few, in depth here. But continue reading for a little better understanding of six of our more common bees and their need for native plants and suitable sites for raising brood and overwintering.