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The Wild Ones

Megachile fortis (Herculean Leafcutter Bee) (Image 1 of 12)

Leafcutter bees use large mandibles to remove pieces of leaves that they use to build nests in which to lay eggs and raise larvae.

Halictus ligatus (Banded Sweat Bee) (Image 2 of 12)

Covered here in pollen from head to abdomen, the banded sweat bee can be found in cities across the Eastern Seaboard. Bees typically root about in flowers, gathering as much pollen as they can before flying back to the nest.

Nomada luteola (Yellow Cuckoo Bee) (Image 3 of 12)

Not all bees are pollinators. Cuckoo bees invade the nests of other bees, duping them into raising their offspring.

Augochloropsis anonyma (Unknown Greenling Bee) (Image 4 of 12)

The unknown greenling is found throughout Florida.

Anthophora plumipes (Plumed Bank Nesting Bee) (Image 5 of 12)

Introduced to Maryland during the 1980s to pollinate croplands, this nesting bee is now abundant in the Washington, D.C., area.

Megachile armaticeps (Cuban Horned Leafcutter Bee) (Image 6 of 12)

Found in the arid province of Oriente, Cuba, these bees thrive amid cactus and thorn scrub on the hottest and driest part of the island.

Anthidiellum notatum (Florid Mini Bee) (Image 7 of 12)

The body and abdomen of the mini bee is heavily pitted and armored. The heavy black bands are believed to deflect stings and bites from other bees and insects competing for pollen.

Bombus griseocollis (Brown-belted Bumblebee) (Image 8 of 12)

The brown-belted bumblebee has adapted to urban areas and appears to be thriving.

Euperilampus triangularis (Triangle Perilampidae Wasp) (Image 9 of 12)

These wasps have two interlocking pairs of wings — fore and hind wings. Usually both sets of wings overlap, but in this instance the hind wings are upright and operating independently.

Xylocopa mordax (Caustic Carpenter Bee) (Image 10 of 12)

The iridescent hue of the wings is known as wing interference patterns, or WIPS. Light bounces off transparent wings, which are made of chitin, to create unusual colors similar to those seen in soap bubbles. Serrations on the wings are a sign of aging.

Megachile lanata (Downy Leafcutter) (Image 11 of 12)

Found in Cuba, the downy leafcutter is perhaps one of the first bees to reach the New World via global trade routes, making the passage from West Africa in slave ships during the Colonial Era.

Centris haemorrhoidalis (Blood-tipped Digger Bee) (Image 12 of 12)

Bees are frequently named after defining characteristics, in this case a reddish brown abdomen. The “fuzzy britches” aid the bee in hauling pollen back to the nest.


Established in 2004 by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab and its director, Sam Droege, were tasked with creating long-range surveys of bee populations to determine whether native bees are in decline. “We’re lacking a lot of data,” Droege says. Determining the health and status of native bee populations, though, depends on the ability to identify them in the first place.

So Droege created a database that currently contains approximately 1,400 high-resolution images (though more are continually being added) of bees and other species they mix with in the wild that biologists, citizen scientists and others have sent the USGS. The images were made using a macro lens at the bee lab in Maryland, creating images remarkable in detail that are used in guides and for identification purposes.

To read more about the work of the Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab and others, read “The Secret Life of Native Bees” at Ensia, and to see more images from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab database, go to Sam Droege’s Flickr page. View Ensia homepage

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