Bees are typically known as black and yellow or black and orange, depending on where you’re from in the world. Ask any kid in school and this is what they will tell you 🙂 Colorado, for example, generally has black and orange bees. But for the sake of this article, we’re going to say they’re yellow. However, did you know that bees aren’t always black and yellow or orange, and can be other colors of the rainbow too?
There are various species of bees across the globe, and not all of them are the typical black and yellow color of the popular bumblebee or honey bee. Not surprisingly, with over 20,000 known bee species, bees can be found with white, red, green, purple, blue, and brown markings, and colors.
Most of the bees we see outside or in a bee-hive are yellow and black striped, so when the occasional bee looks strangely more green or blue than you’ve seen before, you might question if it’s actually a bee. You might also have a hard time convincing others that the colorful bee you spotted in the garden is part of the normal ecology. Luckily for you, we have all the information you need on bees and their mysterious colors below to find out all you need to know about bees and their numerous colors. Is this just a freak of nature caused by mating? Let’s find out 🙂
What Color are Bees?
Bees come in all sorts of colors that you wouldn’t usually expect or know about. Bees are generally known as black and yellow creatures throughout the world, but are commonly seen in other vivid colors too. Female bees can sometimes be completely black without any yellow stripes. You might even mistake her for a fly if you weren’t paying attention.
Bees come in multiple colors, sometimes solid colors, stripes, and patterns, and sometimes they even come in mesmerizing shiny metallic colors of absolute beauty. You would be amazed at the diversity of bee colonies out there!
Have you recently seen a colorful bee and thought that perhaps it wasn’t a bee at all? Maybe, with our information below, you’ll be able to find out exactly which type of bee it was and a little more insight about them too.
Here are the “other” colored bees that exist across the world and where you might find them:
Some white bees might be black-and-white striped or completely white all over. They’re not uncommon and can be spotted in multiple parts of the world.
The White Digger Bee
Also known as the Habropoda bee species, are white and can be found in central and north America. Digger bees tend to dig in the ground through dirt and choose to make this their home and nesting place.
A fun fact about digger bees is that they are a solitary type of bee in which each queen bee and accompanying worker bees will have his or her own entrance to their underground nest and private chamber.
White-Haired Anthophorula Compactula
White-Haired Bees in the Anthophorula Compactula species are hairy little unsocial bees that can be found in Texas.
Halictidae White-Banded Bees
White-Banded Bees from the Halictidae family are mainly only found in Australia, despite the Halictidae bee family being one of the most copious bees in the world. Their sting can be extremely dangerous to humans.
White-Tailed Tree Bumblebee
White-tailed Tree Bumblebees are found in the UK and are mostly black, with an orange/yellow back, and a white striped tail, making them a fairly distinctive species. These lazy guys prefer to nest in bird boxes, tree holes, and manmade environments.
White Leaf-Cutter Bees
Genus Megachile, or Leaf Cutter Bees, can be found in elegant black and white stripes. They aren’t social insects, but they are important for the pollination process of wildflowers, vegetables, and some fruits. They are usually harmless and only sting when they feel threatened.
You’ll find these leaf cutters in various parts of the world, but they are most common in North America (specifically the United States).
Although rare, purple bees do exist. If you ever spot a purple bee, count yourself lucky and be happy that you did. They are harmless and non-aggressive and will only use self-defense if feeling threatened. The males do not have a stinger.
Violet Carpenter Bee
The beautiful Xylocopa Violacea is a Violet Carpenter Bee that almost looks black. But on close inspection is purple and, in some lights, the purple is a bright almost ultra-violet. These purple beauties are usually harmless and are native to Asia, but also found in central China and are common across the United Kingdom and Europe, especially Poland.
This is one of the largest bees (abdomen, thorax and all!) found in Europe, growing up to 3cm long, and was once declared extinct back in 2002.
They need rotting and decayed wood to be able to dig in and create their nests to lay their eggs (and following larvae), and leave plenty of pollen for the hatchlings to continue to populate their species.
Blue bees are probably more common than you realize. In North America alone there are 140 recognized species of Blue Osmia Bees.
Blue Carpenter Bee
The Blue Carpenter Bee, which is found in Southeast Asia, parts of China, and India, can grow up to 28mm large. It’s a good thing they’re not known as aggressive bee types! Only the females sport the beautiful blue marking on their fur and have stingers while the males remain stinger-less, as is natural in all-male carpenter bees.
Bright Metallic Blue Sweat Bee
Try saying the name of this species as fast as you can and as many times as you can in a row – the Augochloropsis Metallica. Also known as the bright metallic Blue Sweat Bee and commonly found in Texas. Known as a sweat bee because they like to snack on salty human sweat (they need sweat flow as well as nectar flow clearly :))
Due to their metallic colors, the Augochloropsis Metallica may also come across as green and/or purple depending on the light and reflections in the surrounding area.
Blue Orchard Mason Bee
Some Mason bee species are blue like the Blue Orchard Mason Bee. They are known as super pollinators and can be a wonderful addition to your garden for increased growth and seed reproduction. You’ll find these blue blueberry-friendly bees in North America.
Another blue Mason species is the rare Osmia Calaminthae found only in the US in Florida. Their fur is mainly blue and white with small traces of black.
Blue Banded Amegilla Cingulata
Native to Australia but found in numerous other regions today such as Indonesia and India, the Blue Banded Amegilla Cingulata is a blue and black striped bee known for its distinctive buzz pollination which you can read about here. It’s basically a process these bees use to loosen and release firm pollen in flowers and plants.
Neon Cuckoo Bee
This hefty-looking buff Neon Cuckoo Bee ranges in color from dark blue to light blue and is occasionally either blue-banded or wholly blue. Found mainly in Australia (excluding Western Australia) and New Guinea.
A not-so-fun-fact about the cuckoo bee is that it is a parasitic bee that lays its eggs in the nest of other bees and when their young hatch they kill the host bee’s larva and feed off their pollen. These guys aren’t the only ones either.
They might be harder to spot in grassy areas and woodlands where green is abundant, but they’re there and they’re plentiful, all are strikingly beautiful.
Peacock Carpenter Bee
The Peacock Carpenter Bee is found on the Northeast and East coast of Australia and derives its name from having similar colors to a peacock, blue and green. This bee is also very shiny and, in some lights, can almost look purple. The males also tend to have white face colors and again do not have stingers.
Honey-Bellied Sweat Bees
Honey-Bellied Sweat bees are typically green on the chest and upper back, with black and yellow striped bodies, and yellow legs. Occasionally the female’s abdomen can be green or sometimes even blue. Also part of the Halictidae bee family, like the Blue Sweat Bee, these green bees are attracted to human sweat for salty nutrition.
They can fly short and long distances, are found in the Western Hemisphere of our globe and are also known as metallic green sweat bees.
Most brown bees are common bees. Although typically known as black and yellow striped, many bees’ yellow stripes come across as brown or orange and might be just that.
Common Brown Carder Bee
The Common Brown Carder Bee is geographic to a wide range of counties including:
- Russia’s west
- Mainland Europe
- Northern China
- North Korea
- United Kingdom
Both the male and female species of the common carder bee look similar in that they’re mostly brown-haired with little black detail and the only difference is that females have a ginger/cream coloring on their sides.
Hairy-Footed Flower Bee (Male)
Male Hairy-Footed Flower Bees are brown and black with the smallest amount of white coloring on their face. Just like their name states, like a hobbit, these bees have little hairy feet.
You can find them in almost all of Europe, Asia, the United Kingdom and some parts of the US. Sometimes, the male can look red in color. The females are mainly black, you can read more about the females below.
We might occasionally mistake white for grey and vice versa, but when it comes to white and grey hair there is a clear difference. Just ask anyone that dyes their hair white.
Shrill Carder Bee
The Shrill Carder Bee is a combination of the colors grey, black, and a little peach stripe on the tail. Their dominant color though is grey. These bumblebees are rare in the United Kingdom but can also be found in numerous European countries, including Ireland, and parts of Scandinavia.
Ashy Mining Bees
Ashy Mining Bees, also known as the grey Mining Bees, are black and grey. The lower part of their body is mainly black while the upper part and their head are predominately grey. They are a species of sand bees found across Europe, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Though they are quite rare in Scotland.
Of course, we have our most usual known bee, the yellow bee. But as there is with all species, there are different types of yellow bee and different characteristics. Here are just a few:
The world’s common yellow and black striped Honeybee that provides us with delicious honey was originally native to Africa and Europe but can be found almost anywhere in the world today. Worker honeybees are popular among beekeepers for the production of honey. Honey bee colonies are the most widely seen and well known in the bee family worldwide, so you won’t just find Italian Honey Bees in Italy any more 🙂
Yellow Faced Bee
The yellow-faced bee is part of the Hylaeus genus which hosts more than 500 species of bees. 130 of these species live in America. They are generally small, only growing up to 7mm in length, and resemble the appearance of a wasp. Their faces are yellow while the rest of their little bodies are black.
One interesting fact about the yellow-faced bee is that, unlike other bees who carry pollen with their scopa, the yellow-faced bees carry pollen with a specialized compartment in their stomachs. This is called a crop.
Bumblebees can relate to any of 250 species of Bombus from the bee family Apidae. Female bumblebees can sting repeatedly like a wasp, whereas males can only sting once. We find bumblebees mostly in the Northern Hemisphere but also in South America, Tasmania and New Zealand.
Bumblebees are covered in soft hair, typically black and yellow striped, which is actually intimidating coloring designed to ward off predators.
In some species of bees, the females are easy to determine because of their distinguishable black features. Some females are completely black, while the males in their same family will have different colorings and markings.
Hairy-Footed Flower Bees (female)
Female Hairy-Footed Flower Bees are predominately black. Their bodies are black all over with a touch of yellow coloring in their little legs. The males are brown and black (as mentioned in Brown Bees above). Just like their male counterpart you can find female hairy-footed flower bees in most of Europe, Asia, parts of the US, and the United Kingdom, including the British Isles.
The differences in the male and female of this species type is known as sexual dimorphism
Black Carpenter Bees
Helping to pollinate plants, specifically vegetables, and fruits, black carpenter bees have all the same characteristics as their carpenter brothers and sisters. The difference is their features, whereby black carpenter bees are all black.
As with other carpenter bees, you can find the black carpenter bees in parts of Europe, Asia, China, and Britain.
Large black carpenter bees are territorial and defensive but will rarely attack unless provoked or feeling threatened.
Just like other similar colors like brown and orange, red bees may be mistaken for other types of bee species. Though sometimes the red in a bee is vivid enough that you’ll know its species right away if you know a thing or two about bees. Funnily enough, as bees base their sight on UV light (which is blue and green), they can’t actually see red with their bee vision! So these red bees really do fly under the radar 🙂
Red Mason Bees
Red Mason bees are red and black striped. They are a non-aggressive bee – like most bees – and are great pollinators. You’ll find this common mason bee type in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, mainland Europe, North Africa, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran.
Red-Tailed Black Bumblebee
Red-Tailed Black Bumblebees are exactly that, black bees with red tails. Though the males also have a red stripe across their neck, face, and chest. The males are also smaller than the females and they are a social colony of bees.
Found throughout Europe including Ireland, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Greece, and Finland, these social bees prefer open fields and are extremely important to the pollination process.
Here’s a fun fact, the socially colonized red-tailed bumblebees can self-produce heat to warm up their blood and help regulate the temperature of their nest.
Now you know that not all bees have stripes. Some bees are one whole color, some are a mixture of colored stripes, others have small markings on their faces or tails, and some are in fact spotted.
Wool Carder Bees
Wool Carder Bees have extinct markings that make them easy to point out from other types of bees. They have a black back, with yellow spots on their abdomen and their sides, and with yellow legs. You’ll find these nifty little leaf scrapers in New Zealand, South America, the Canary Islands, North Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The two-spotted bumblebee found in America’s East and Canadas South East is simply named for its two yellow spots found on its abdomen. They are efficient pollinators, and the queens and workers all look very similar.
They prefer wooded areas and gardens and are a steadily growing bee species not currently experiencing decline like others.
Why Are Bees in the Same Families Different Colors?
Different species of bees are different colors all around the world because of habitat and natural environment. The bees in the same family, however, that aren’t always the same color, like bumblebees, for example, are different colors due to their genetics.
The genetics of bees work similarly to that of humans, whereby we pass features and physical characteristics down to our children through our DNA and genetics, bees also do the same.
Bees are social creatures and the queen bee will mate with multiple drones in a bee colony, but they don’t usually crossbreed with totally different types or species of bees. Although some sub-species can mate. For example, the Africanized honey bee was a subspecies of honey bee that caused havoc as an aggressive honey bee mating with other less aggressive sub-species. This may cause some slight difference in bee colors and markings.
What are the Different Types of Bees?
There are over 20,000 known and listed species of bees in the world, and we’ve only mentioned a few of them! Can you imagine how many other colors and characteristics are of bees are waiting to be researched and marveled at by bee lovers?
Here is a list of the different types of bees you may come across in your backyard or in your travels:
- Western Honeybee
- Leaf Gutter Bee
- Blueberry Bees
- Squash Bees
- Bumble Bees
- Carpenter Bees
- Mason Bees
There are approximately 4000 bee species that are native to America.
Does the Color of a Bee Affect its Beeswax?
Perhaps the last question on your lips surrounding bees and their different colors, is whether these colors affect the color of the wax they produce…..and the short answer is no! All beeswax is very similar in color at source, no matter what the color of the bee and the waggle dance of its foragers 🙂
Bees come in various sizes, species, and colors. Rarer bee species are found in purple, green, and blue, while common bees are found in colors ranging from black, brown, yellow, and orange. All bees have multiple distinguishable color features but aren’t as well known as the typical yellow and black striped furry bumblebee. So when you see some unusual bees swarming in your neighborhood, you will know what is going on 🙂
How to Identify Different Types of Bees (treehugger.com)
Beyond Black and Yellow: The Stunning Colors of America’s Native Bees | WIRED
Types of Bees: The different species, families and generas of bees (buzzaboutbees.net)
Bee identification guide | Friends of the Earth
The Color of Bees! – School Of Bees