There are over 400 species of wild bee in Wisconsin, and just one species of honey bee. That’s a lot of different kinds! So at WiBee we’ve categorized them into 5 groups that you can identify by sight on flowers. There are a lot of representatives of all of our groups actively flying right now. Honey bee, Bumble bee colonies have built up over the summer and should be sizable. Green bees don’t fly in spring but are out now. Large Dark bees are represented by the genus Mellisodes, among others. These long horned bees are active on coneflowers and sunflowers. Many Small Dark bees are also flying, such as the family Halictidae–sweat bees — which can be found on almost any flower and my personal favorite, the genus Hylaeus— masked bees–which carry pollen in an internal crop rather than on they bodies, making them easily confused with wasps.
All this bee diversity means it a really good time to get out, get familiar with bees, and take a few WiBee surveys before fall arrives.
The most important distinction to know is a bee from a non-bee. Non-bee flower visitors can be things like beetles or ants or butterflies, but the trickiest ones are flies and wasps (see the photo of the bumble bee mimic by Ben Bradford, it’s actually a fly!). Flies eyes usually meet at the top of their heads, a dead giveaway, though the bumble bee mimic has bulgy eyes and along neck. Wasps are hairless or nearly so and have thinner legs-both characteristics that don’t allow them to carry pollen the way bees do. See more on our pollinator identification page.
Have you wondered how to define a “flower” on a complex non-crop plant? Check out this cheat sheet.