This page provides examples of morphological characters used to identify bees. To observe these characters, a dissecting microscope with a light source is used. Details on choosing a microscope, and many other aspects of Collecting and Identifying Bees can be found in the downloadable .pdf The Very Handy Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection. manual edited by Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Beltsville, MD.
Form and function
The form of the bee’s structure is often extremely important in its function. The following three photos are examples of different structures bees use to carry pollen back to their nests for larval development or food stores. These different structures define very different behavioral strategies that separate families and genera of bees.
The social honey bee and bumble bee carry their pollen in a corbicula, sometimes called a pollen basket, on their hind tibia. It is mixed with nectar to form a pellet. In honey bees, this conveniently packed pollen load is sometimes collected in beehive traps and sold for human consumption.
Most bees that do not carry pollen in corbiculae on their hind tibia instead carry most of their pollen in scopae, which are specialized hairs located on different areas of the bee. These bees can also have corbicular structures on other body parts such as the propodeum and hind femur. A few bees carry pollen internally. The location and characteristics of scopae can be very important in identification.
Bees in the family Megachilidae are unique in that they carry their pollen in scopae found under their abdomen. However, male Megachilidae bees can not be identified by this feature since they do not collect pollen or have these hairs.
For more information, see
Michener, C. D. (2000). The Bees of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Mitchell, T.B. (1960) Bees of the eastern United States. I. Technical bulletin (North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station), 141, 1-538. insectmuseum.org/easternBees.php
Thorp, R. W. (2000). The collection of pollen by bees. Plant Systematics and Evolution 222: 211-223. springerlink.com
Thorp, R. W. (1979). Structural, behavioral, and physiological adaptations of bees (Apoidea) for collecting pollen. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 66(4): 788-812. jstor.org
- Special thanks to Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, for permission to include “ The Very Handy Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection” on eXtension.org.
- Special thanks to the many individuals in bee monitoring who helped develop “The Very Handy Manual”.
- Bee photos and text on this page by Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee