If you’ve been in Texas for more than a few minutes, you know that there are a considerable array of winged flying creatures. Here is a guide to help identify which pollinators are hanging around your backyard:
These big boys are one of the easiest species to pick out. They’re the most prominent species of bees in Texas with big yellow and black stripes and fuzzy bodies. Their hairiness allows them to be excellent pollinators. Their “Pollen baskets,” which is the hair on their legs, will enable them to get the most amount of pollen attached when they land on flowers. Bumblebees are also characterized as one of the only Texas Bee species that nest in a colony.
Carpenter Bees look very similar to the famous Bumblebee with one significant aesthetic difference, Shiny black abdomens and their propensity for all things wood. These solitary creatures only have one active bee in their nest at all times. They pick weathered wood to create small round holes to lay their eggs in, usually on siding, fence posts, decks or eaves. Although they are destructive to property, these bees are not aggressive and don’t often attack unless handled or provoked. Carpenter bees typically get their nectar from the bottom of the plants. Unfortunately, this makes them weak pollinators since they don’t have as much contact with the flower pollen as the Bumblebee.
Like most native bees, the Squash Bee is solitary and nests mostly in the ground. Squash Bees have evolved to hunting at times of near-darkness due to their enlarged Ocelli (eyes) that let in more light. You will see Squash bees around during sunset or sunrise when other bee species are nesting. 2/3rd’s of all commercially grown squash is due to Squash Bee pollination.
These exciting insects have a huge set of lips (mandibles) that they use to cut leaves. The Leafcutter Bee nests typically in rotting wood, soil or plant stems. They cut out circles from leaves and line their nests with them. These bees are very passive and will not attack unless extremely provoked. Leafcutter Bees are imperative for commercially grown Alfalfa pollination in the United States
These bees have a unique attraction to the salt in animal or human sweat. They are known to land and “lick” off sweat. They are the smallest of the Texas Bee population. Sweat Bees are only ½ - ¾ inch and can range in color from a dull/metallic black to metallic green, purple or blue. Sweat Bees are very parasitic. They will infiltrate the nests of other bees, destroy the existing eggs, and then lay their eggs to be raised by the unsuspecting foster bee.
Mason bees make up 25% of the world bee population and a large portion of the Texas bee population. These solitary natives make their nests using mud or other materials, in between rocks or on the ground. They are great cross-pollinators and are an alternative for beekeepers that are allergic to HoneyBees. Since their venom is exceptionally mild and they are so docile, they rarely sting.
Next time you’re sitting enjoying a drink on a patio or working in your garden and see a friendly flyer, hopefully, this guide can help you distinguish which kind of species it is.