To Bee or Not to Bee

Deep into the summer, flowers are blooming everywhere. Flowers attract bugs, and bugs attract my camera. As I do every year, I’ve dug out my macro lens and gone tromping through fields and meadows in search of small flying insects to photograph.

Today’s collection features our bee friends, and some other friends that look similar to bees but aren’t.


There are over 250 species of Bumble Bees in the world; fewer than 50 species live in North America. In the eastern US, there is one species of bumble bee that is more common than all the rest. Oddly enough, it’s called the Eastern Bumble Bee, Bombus impatiens.

FUN FACT: The term bumble bee has only been in use for about a hundred years. Prior to the 1920s, it was known as the humble bee. Both terms come from the low buzzing sounds the bee makes when foraging.

Monsieur Cobweb, good monsieur, get you your weapons in your hand and kill me a red-hipped humble-bee on the top of a thistle, and, good monsieur, bring me the honey-bag.”

          – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Act 4, Scene 1

A bee of a different sort. I use the app iNaturalist to help me identify insects and plants. Put in a photo and a location and the app makes suggestions, based on millions of submissions by other naturalists. Frequently really knowledgeable users will suggest an ID later to further refine the process. Citizen science in action!

iNaturalist was only able to identify some of the critters in this post to genus, not species. Here we have a winner in the “Small Carpenter Bee” category.

See the over-sized antennas? A bee in the Long-horned Bee group.

A bright green Metallic-epauletted Sweat Bee. Say that five times fast.

European Honey Bees on mountain mint, a plant that attracts many species of insects. Honey bees were introduced to North America by the first settlers in the 1600s, and are now commercially kept by bee keepers for their honey. They also account for 80% of crop pollination in the country.

Honey bees live in large complex colonies led by a long-lived queen. Queens lay thousands of eggs over a season, which can become male drones or female workers. Drones’ sole job is reproduction, finding another queen to mate with. The more numerous female worker bees clean the hive, tend the eggs and larva, produce wax to build the brood cells, forage for pollen and honey, attend the queen and protect the hive.

FUN FACT: The queen chooses which eggs will become male or female. If she uses stored sperm to fertilize the egg, it will become a female worker or new queen. If she lays an unfertilized egg, it will become a male drone.

When a honey bee returns from foraging, she will often perform a waggle dance. Her movements tell the other bees the direction and distance to a good source of pollen and nectar. Pollen is used for food. Bees fan nectar with their wings to dry it, producing honey that can be stored for hard times. The queen and some members of the honey bee colony will live through the winter and the honey will be a valuable food source when flowers are no longer blooming.

Like honey bees, bumble bees are generalists, and will feed on many different types of flowers. They collect both pollen and nectar, but do not make honey, as they do not survive the winter.








Pollen settles on a bee’s legs as she moves from flower to flower. She combs it from her leg hairs, mixes in a small amount of nectar, and stores it in a pollen basket, or corbicula, on her leg. Do you see it?

Even the water lilies attract their share of bees.

Bumble bees are one of the few bees native to North America that are truly social. Most others are solitary. Each year, the queen produces many female workers. She also produces a few females that are known as gynes. These will become new queens. They will mate with drones, which soon die, as do the female workers and the old queen. Only the inseminated gynes overwinter. In spring, a gyne emerges as a queen to start a new colony.


Not everything hovering around the flowers is a bee. Here we have two Hover Flies: a Common Compost Fly (top left) and one of my favorites, a Margined Calligrapher Fly (top right.)

I keep trying – and mostly failing – to catch these small winged critters in flight. Came close with the compost fly.

Looks like a wasp, no? But no, it’s another fly, in the Thick-headed Fly category.

This scruffy fellow is a type of Bristle Fly. Check out the weird antennae.

Great Black Digger Wasp. Their wings shine iridescent blue in the sunlight.

There are many cool critters flying around the summer meadows, and all are fascinating in their own way. All attract the attention of my camera. But it’s the humble Bumble Bee that captures my heart.

Here she is…

…and there she goes. Work to do!

2 thoughts on “To Bee or Not to Bee

  1. Your combination of researched facts and extraordinary photos is mesmerizing. Would you consider giving a talk to our community through our Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC)?

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