Collecting and Identifying Bees

Collecting and identifying bees can be a fun and educational activity for all ages. It can also be an effective way to monitor ecological change and effects on bee diversity. Honey bees found in the United States (Apis mellifera) only represent one species out of over 3,500 US bee species.




Bees, which are in the superfamily Apoidea, come in an amazing diversity of size, shape, color, and surface textures. Collecting bees brings a greater appreciation and understanding for this important facet of nature to both the collector and audience the collection is shared with.



A collection of bees mounted in a Cornell insect drawer. Insect drawers offer protection and viewing through a glass cover. Insects in these drawers should be protected from dermestid beetles with and insecticide, in this case a red fumigant strip. Dermestid beetles find, then slowly eat and destroy unprotected insect collections.


Resources available to help you develop a bee collection.


Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Beltsville, MD has several instructional videos on collecting bees. See his YouTube channel at:


To identify bees to genus or species, special ‘Keys’ are used. Keys can be thought of as a flow chart of characters found on a bee that eventually lead you to the species name. Probably the most up to date key to identify bees in the USA, particularly east of Mississippi river, is an interactive key at:

Help with identifying bees through photography in a public user website:

Videos on collecting insects

Characters used in Identifying Bees


This bee has a character used in identification that we would describe as “Metallic race car green”. To identify bees, you will need to look for specific characters that are used in keys. For examples, see: Characters used in Identifying Bees.