Digger Bees, Orchid Bees, Carpenter Bees and Cuckoo Bees (Family: Apidae)

The Apidae family is much more than the well known honeybee. It contains an assortment of helpful pollinators. Some of the Apidea are native to North America.

Apidea bee on catmint

Digger bees are nonaggressive, solitary and nest in soil. Queen digger bees are hard workers that dig an underground burrow, line it with wax, stock it with collected pollen and nectar, and lay eggs near the food source. You can spot a digger bee's house by the mound of dirt around the nest's entrance. The bee offspring have to dig their way to the surface.

Males commonly emerge before the females and than spend their time cruising around the nesting grounds waiting for gals in search of some masculine companionship. Some species of male digger bees can smell the female emerging from the ground and 'help' her out of the ground by digging down to meet her.

Carpenter bees are long lived, large semi-solitary bees that carve out nests in old dead wood. To protect your wood home or deck from these bees, cover bare wood with a paint or varnish. Since these bees can live up to three years, often a mother and several young daughters share a nest.

After chewing a nest, the carpenter bee stocks it with pollen and nectar 'bee bread' and lays eggs. Like bumblebees, carpenter bees practice buzz pollination to shake loose pollen from plants. Carpenter bees can also store pollen in their stomach and bring it back to the nest.

Male carpenter bees will hover around nests but cannot sting. They attempt to 'defend' their territory by flying at people but cannot harm you. Female carpenter bees can sting but are not aggressive, do not defend their nests and very rarely sting unless handled.

Orchid bees are beautiful bees that come in a gorgeous array of metallic colors. These bees can fly over 30 miles in a single trip. Male orchid bees fly far and wide to collect scents from exotic flowers which they store in a special cavity in their hind leg covered with waxy leg hairs. As you may have guessed by the name, one of the flowers they visit is the orchid. Some orchids depend on these bees for pollination. Males use their scent banquet to attract females.

Sadly almost all orchid bees live in South and Central America. Only one species, the green orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma has made its way to Florida. It is roughly the size of a honeybee and is nonaggressive. Females like to nest in enclosed areas and seal off their nest with a mixture of plant debris and resin. Like many Florida transplants, this solitary bee may have communal nesting sites.

Cockoo Bees are the black sheep of the bee family tree. These sneaky bees do not make their own nests. Instead, like the cockoo bird, they sneak into another bee's underground home and lay their eggs. The unwitting foster mother takes care of the Cockoo larvae. The Cockoo bee may kill the other bee's eggs or larva or leave them. In addition, the cuckoo larvae often eat any 'step siblings' therefore getting the lion's share of the food and attention.

Female cockoo bees do not have pollen carrying structures. They have no need to transport pollen since like Maisie the Lazy Bird (from Horton Hears a Who) they fly off after leaving their egg with a stranger. Adult cockoo bees eat nectar and it is uncertain how effective they are as pollinators.