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Finding Wild Bees of Wisconsin

Bumble bee

Bumblebees are just one of the wild bees you can find in Wisconsin

Respect for Wild Bees

Here at Beepods HQ, we have respect for the wild bees of our state. There are over 500 known species of them! These six-legged, four-winged insects help pollinate our wildflowers and fruit crops, helping our state’s economy and creating the beautiful landscapes we know and love.   

Wild bees forage alongside our honey bees and reflect the biodiversity that ecosystems need in order to be healthy. Healthy ecosystems have clean air, clean water, plentiful plant life, and have a consistent hum of living, breathing organisms. 

When you’re interacting with your hive this spring and summer, take a look around; you may see the tiny wings of some of our most common wild bees beating alongside your honey bees as they forage on a patch of asters. Let’s talk about where you might find these wild bees of Wisconsin, how you can recognize them, and what makes them unique. Here are some of the most notable species:

 

Bumblebee

Bumble bee wild bee

Bumblebees are just one of the wild bees you can find in Wisconsin

Bumblebees are an interesting bee as they have some striking similarities to honey bees. Consider their ability to produce honey, for example. Additionally, many greenhouses bring in bumblebees to pollinate their plants. Tomatoes, in particular, do fairly well with the help of a bumblebee. 

These fuzzy, slightly rotund bees are generally docile and not apt to sting unless you disturb their nests. Another similarity they have with honey bees is that they live social lives nesting together in groups. They are also a hardier bee species, appearing early in the spring and able to tolerate the cool weather shifts of fall.   

 

Nesting Habitat: Underground cavities like former rabbit burrows or chipmunk nests

Physical Characteristics: A little more to love; hairy with patches of yellow, black, and orange; large, comparatively with some up to 1-inch in size

Fun Fact: Bumblebees live social lives  – versus solitary – just like honey bees. Bonus fun fact: Bumblebees are one of the only bee species to produce honey like honey bees, but it’s in much smaller quantities, so don’t get your hopes up for a jar of bumblebee honey. 

 

Honey Bee

honey bee wild bee

Honey bees, while not native, are wild bees of Wisconsin

While not native to Wisconsin, there are wild colonies of honey bees throughout the state. Apis mellifera is actually of European origin and was brought across the Atlantic hundreds of years ago. 

Honey bees live together in large colonies of thousands of individuals. The workers are the most abundant far and a subset of them collects pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flowers in order to create food resources for the other members of the hive. This includes the creation of honey, rich in carbohydrate, and the preferred source of food for busy bees. The honey stores also help the colony get through frigid winters. 

 

 

Nesting Habitat: Human-constructed hives or cavities in fallen trees or logs

Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized bee with brown/orange body, hairy eyes

Fun Fact: Honey bees dance to communicate with each other. Workers use the waggle dance to communicate what direction forage is located and how far away it is from the hive. 

 

Small Carpenter Bee

small carpenter bee wild bee

A small carpenter bee, visiting a flower

Carpenter bees get their name from the fact they create their nests by digging the pith out of twigs and stems so they can take up residence inside. While many bee species have hair on their bodies, and this is what distinguishes them from wasps and flies, the carpenter bee is an exception. 

 

Nesting Habitat: Inside hollow twigs and plant stems 

Physical Characteristics: Small bodies with dark metallic coloration 

Fun Fact: While mostly solitary, carpenter bees do sometimes set up their nests near each other in a community of bees. 

 

Sweat Bee 

sweat bee

Sweat bees are attracted to the salt in your sweat

This small species of wild bee isn’t likely to sting. Perhaps one of the most full of contradictions, this type of bee can live solitary (if female) or communal lives. Their physical characteristics vary with some with metallic green abdomens and others with stripes. They are generalists when it comes to foraging, partaking of many different types of flowers.  

 

Nesting Habitat: Soil, rotting logs

Physical Characteristics: Small-medium body size, metallic green coloration. Some varieties have yellow or white stripes on their abdomens

Fun Fact: Sweat bees get their name from the fact that they are attracted to the salt on your skin when you perspire. 

 

Leafcutter Bee

leafcutter bee

A wild bee of Wisconsin, the leafcutter bee has an unusually large mandible

The leafcutter bee gets its name from its unusual behavior; leafcutter bees use their large mandibles to cut rounds of leaves, which they then use to line their nests. The females of this species nest individually, but it isn’t uncommon to find leafcutter bees congregating in the same area to build their nests. 

These bees carry pollen not on their back legs like the honey bee, but rather on their abdomens. It’s important to note, leafcutter bees do not carve out their own holes to create their nests; they use preexisting holes in logs, fallen branches, and other natural wooden structures that were left by other insects and small creatures. 

 

Nesting Habitat: Preexisting holes in logs, tree branches, or in plant stems

Physical Characteristics: Small-medium, dark coloration, large mandible

Fun Fact: Leafcutter bees are incredibly efficient pollinators of alfalfa and are used in the livestock industry to help ensure there is plenty for animals, like cows, to graze on. 

 

Mason Bee 

Mason bees are skilled pollinators, especially when it comes to fruit trees such as apples. They have similar habits to leafcutter bees in that they make their nests in preexisting holes in logs and trees. However, they utilize mud to create structure in their nests in lieu of leaves. 

Also similar to leafcutter bees, mason bees collect pollen on their abdomens. The pollen easily falls off during their travels, pollinating flowers and trees, and they rub the pollen off once back in their nests. The females of this species live solitary lives as well, creating nests, laying eggs, tending to the young all by themselves.  

 

Nesting Habitat: Preexisting holes in logs, tree branches, or in plant stems

Physical Characteristics: Medium-large body, blue metallic coloration, hair on the underside of the abdomen

Fun Fact: Mason bees typically do not sting, but if they do, you will experience less discomfort as their venom is milder than a honey bee’s. 

Want to keep your own honey bees?

Check out our top-bar hive: the Beepod

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Protect Wild Bees of Wisconsin

When you are able to differentiate between the many bees we have buzzing amongst our wildflowers, it gives you the background information you need to take steps to help wild bees continue to go about their business and to prosper. 

You can be a citizen scientist and track your wild bee encounters. The University of Wisconsin has a dichotomous key and picture matching elements on their website, which you can use to identify wild bees you encounter out on hikes, camping trips, and more. There is a form included that allows you to submit the results, which helps track wild bee diversity. 

Consider joining the Bumble Bee Brigade, a program that trains people to track and photograph bumblebees. You will submit your data on a website and scientists review to check for errors. While honey bees are studied heavily, wild bees are not, and tracking their movements helps us all have a better sense of whether they are in decline or not. 

Take action to support pollinators in your own yard and neighborhood. Choose native flora when planting, plant diverse blooms that will last through spring, summer, and fall, and ditch the lawn; it does nothing for pollinators.  

If you want to start smaller, begin by paying attention to the bees you see on the flowers in your yard. It’s not uncommon to look at that patch of asters and see a sweat bee, a honey bee, and a bumblebee all gathering pollen at the same time.

 

See Also:

Managing Comb: What Is It and How to Fix It

Celebrate Earth Day with Bee-Friendly Plants

 

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Caitlin Knudsen

Caitlin Knudsen is a content writer for Beepods with a passion for lifelong learning and psychology. She is an avid gardener, grower of houseplants, and does recipe development and food photography in her spare time.
Caitlin Knudsen
Caitlin Knudsen is a content writer for Beepods with a passion for lifelong learning and psychology. She is an avid gardener, grower of houseplants, and does recipe development and food photography in her spare time.

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