Overview

Comprehensive Description

Apidae (Honeybees and Bumblebees)
The bees in this family display varying degrees of sociality in their living arrangements. While there are few species in this family, they are common visitors of many prairie wildflowers. Apinae (Honeybees): There is only one species in this subfamily, Apis mellifera (Honeybee), that is present in North America. This familiar bee was introduced to the New World by early colonists. It has declined in numbers in recent years and probably isn't as important as when Charles Robertson observed its behavior during 1880-1930. The flight time of the honeybee ranges from spring to late fall, and it visits a wide variety of wildflowers. Bombini (Bumblebees): These large fuzzy bees are probably the most important pollinators of all. They are especially like to visit the larger composite flowers and long tube-shaped flowers from various families of plants. They nest in the ground or in cavities of various kinds. This tribe includes various Bombus spp. (Bumblebees), which are usually black and yellow and covered with abundant hairs.

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Anthophoridae (Anthophorid Bees)
This is a large family of long-tongued bees that includes various Miner bees, Carpenter bees, and parasitic bees. Miner bees build nests in the ground consisting of tunnels and brood chambers, while Carpenter bees chew holes in rotting wood or the pith of shrubs to construct their nests. Anthophorini (Miner Bees, Anthophorine Bees): These are rather large, fast-flying, hairy bees with very long tongues. This tribe includes the Anthophora spp. Ceratinini (Little Carpenter Bees): These small bees construct nests in the pith of shrubs, particularly Elderberry and Sumac. Includes the Ceratina spp. While few in species, they are common visitors of many prairie wildflowers. Emphorini (Miner Bees, Emphorine Bees): This small family includes Ptilothrix bombiformis and Melitoma taurea. The latter species is especially attracted to large bell-shaped flowers in the Mallow and Morning Glory families. Epeolini, Melectini, and Nomadini (Cuckoo Bees): The bees from these three tribes are brood parasites on other Miner bees in the Anthophoridae family. Some species of Nomadini also parasitize the nests of Andrenid bees. Nomadine bees are most active during the spring or early summer, while Epeoline bees are more active later in the year. Melectine bees are uncommon visitors of prairie wildflowers.
Eucerini (Miner Bees, Long-Horned Bees, Eucerine Bees): Sometimes called "Long-Horned Bees" because of the long antennae of the males. Species in this tribe construct nests in the ground and are important visitors of many prairie wildflowers. Includes Melissodes, Synhalonia, and Svastra spp. Some specialist pollinators of this tribe are Peponapis pruinosa pruinosa (Squash and Gourd Bee) and Cemolobus ipomoeae (Morning Glory Bee). Pasitidini (Miner Bees, Pasitidine Bees): This small tribe includes Holcopasites spp. The species Holcopasites heliopis is a specialist pollinator of Heliopsis helianthoides (False Sunflower). Xylocopini (Large Carpenter Bees): This includes Xylocopa virginica (Eastern Carpenter Bee). This large bee chews holes through rotting wood to construct its nests. It will sometimes rob nectar from a flower by chewing holes at the base near the nectaries. Larger flowers offering abundant pollen and nectar supplies are especially attractive to it.

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Diversity

The family Apidae is made up of over 25,000 species of bees in 4,000 genera.

  • Gauld, I., B. Bolton. 1988. The Hymenoptera. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Michener, C. 2000. The Bees of the World. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

There are thousands of species of Bees all around the world. Bees can and do live in almost kind of climate. The only places bees do not live are in places with extreme cold all year round. In Michigan there are probably nearly 200 species.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Adult bees are short stout insects. They are fuzzier than their relatives the wasps and the ants. They have chewing mouthparts, four wings, and straight antennae. Most of them have yellow and black stripes, but some are bright green, and some are all black. Most bees can give a painful sting. Bee larvae and pupae are never found outside their nest. Bee larvae look like grubs, with soft white bodies, no legs and brown heads. Honey bee queens are larger than other members of their colony, with workers being the smallest and male drones ranging in the middle.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; venomous

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Apidae species live anywhere there are flowers to feed from. Some bumble bees can tolerate very cold temperatures and live in the far north and high in the mountains.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Adult bees drink nectar and eat pollen, while larvae eat pollen, nectar, honey, and pollen or floral oils.

Pollen is collected by the female parent in solitary species, or by the foundress and or workers in colonies. Females collect pollen on branched body hairs, which are later transferred to the scopa (carrying structure), generally located on the hind legs. An exception to this are the Hylaeus, which are hairless and lack scopa, instead transporting pollen in their crops.

Bees normally collect dry pollen which is naturally sticky, but some bees mix pollen with regurgitated nectar to maximize its sticky qualities. In taxa that have scopa to carry the pollen, nectar is carried in the crop, and is then refined to make honey. Some bees collect floral oils instead of nectar. When a female returns to her nest she regurgitates her crop full of nectar or oil into a honey pot or preconstructed cell for storage.

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Bees are essential to the survival of many ecosystems, as without them many plants could not reproduce. Bees pollinate more plants than any other insect. They are so important, that many species of solitary bees in the family Megachile are farmed and cared for because of their importance in pollinating commercial crops.

Some plants have developed clever ways to trick bees into pollinating them. Certain orchids (Ophrys) emit pheromones similar to those of female Andrea, Anthophora, Colletes, Eucera, Tetralonia, and other bees. Males smell the pheromones and are attracted to the flowers thinking that they are female bees. As the male tries to mate with the flower, he pollinates it at the same time.

Ecosystem Impact: pollinates

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Predation

Many bees have a venomous stinger that they can use to attack creatures that threaten them or their nest. They also generally nest in places that are hard to reach, or they protect their nest by digging it out of dead wood, soil, or other material.

Known Predators:

  • Thomisidae
  • other Araneae 
  • Hymenoptera
  • Ursidae
  • Formicidae
  • Aves

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Animal / associate
larva of Amobia signata is associated with nest of Apidae

Plant / pollenated
adult of Apidae pollenates or fertilises flower of Epipactis atrorubens

Plant / pollenated
adult of Apidae pollenates or fertilises flower of Dactylorhiza traunsteinerioides
Remarks: Other: uncertain

Animal / associate
larva of Metopia argyrocephala is associated with nest of Apidae

Animal / associate
larva of Metopia campestris is associated with nest of Apidae

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Known prey organisms

Apidae (honeybees) preys on:
nectar

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
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Known predators

Apidae (honeybees) is prey of:
Apodidae

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Social bees communicate a lot, using chemicals, visual signals, the vibrations of their wings, and touch. They exchange information that helps them know what's going on in the hive and what they should do.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; infrared/heat ; ultraviolet; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Development

Bees are holometabulous insects. This means that they undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through egg, larval, and pupal stages before emerging as an adult.

Eggs are elongate, white, gently curved, and have a soft membranous shell. In social species, eggs are not laid with any food as workers begin to feed larvae as soon as they hatch. In solitary species, eggs are laid upon or near a food source enclosed in a cell with the larvae.

Larvae are soft, whitish and grublike. They grow quickly, molting about four times as they mature. The honeybee has 5 larval instars (molts). Cleptoparasitic taxa hatch from the egg with a large sclerotized head and long curved mandibles, which they use to kill the host larvae or egg. They then begin to eat the hosts’ food source, and after the first molt take on the normal grublike appearance of other bee larvae. Apidae larvae are unable to defecate as there is no connection between the midgut and hindgut. In solitary bees, after the larval food source is gone the bee will defecate, and then almost immediately pupate. Many bee larvae spin silken cocoons for themselves.

Fertalized eggs develop into females while unfertalized eggs develop into males. After mating, the female stores the sperm in her spermatheca. Mating only one time will give her enough sperm for the rest of her life. As an egg pass down her oviduct, she controls whether it gets fertilized, by allowing whether or not sperm can exit the spermatheca as the egg passes.

For more information, see the information on their close relatives, ants and wasps (Hymenoptera).

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Solitary bees hatch in the summer or fall and spend the winter in their nest. They emerge in the spring or summer to reproduce and then die. Among social bees, queen bees can live for several years. The workers usually live just a few weeks or months, although some live through the winter. Male bees usually live a few months at most, and often die shortly after mating.

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Reproduction

Some males fly over or around flowers, literally pouncing on females in order to mate with them. Copulation lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes at most. A male will grasp the female with his legs and sometimes his mandibles in order to hold on while they copulate.

Many female bees only mate once, and males compete to get at them first. Some males even dig down into the soil to encounter a virgin female as she emerges from her larval cell. Most males bees are able to mate multiple times, although Meliponini and Apini male genitalia is torn away during copulation, after which the male soon dies. Some females that regularly mate more than once are found in the genus Panurgus.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous) ; eusocial

Most bee species are solitary nesters. The female makes a tiny bee-sized chamber for each of her offspring, lays one egg, and supplies the chamber with a ball of pollen and nectar for the baby bee to eat. Then she seals up the chamber and builds another one. Some bees, like bumble bees and honey bees, are more social and build nests or hives. In social bee species, a single queen lays the eggs, while most of her daughters don't reproduce but stay with their mother and help take care of more and more sisters (on average, 60 thousand). Some of the sisters are raised to be new queens, and they and their brothers fly away in the summer to mate and start new nests.

Most bees are solitary nesters. Solitary bees construct their own nests, stocking each brood cell with a ball of pollen and nectar before laying one egg, sealing the cell, and building another. Solitary bees generally dye or leave before their offspring mature. When solitary bees do not leave before their offspring mature, but continue to feed and care for them, they are called subsocial bees.

A colony is made up of 2 or more adult females, regardless of their social relationship. We usually think of a colony in terms of having many workers (all sisters), which do all of the foraging, brood care, guarding, and building, and one queen who is responsible for all egg laying. This is in fact the life of many honeybees (Apis, Trigona, Melipona), and they are considered to be highly eusocial. The queen is completely dependant on her workers, and new colonies are started by social swarms, which fly as a group to a new area never leaving a queen by herself.

Other bees live in much smaller colonies such as bumblebees (Bombini), sweat bees (Halictidae) and carpenter bees (Xylocopinae). Their colonies begin with a single reproductive female who carries out all tasks of nest maintenance including foraging, brood care, and egg laying. After the emergence of daughters, colonial life and a division of labor between the foundress (queen) and her daughters may arise. These colonies are called primitively eusocial colonies. Often, the queen is larger than her workers, but this is not a constant rule.

Bee nests are made up of brood cells, usually with one egg laid in each cell. Most Bombus species however, lay a cluster of eggs together in a wax cell. Cells are made of wax, or dug into wood, soil, plant stems, or mortar. The most complex bee nests are made by Meliponini species, where clusters (combs) of wax brood cells are surrounded by layers of wax or resin food storage chambers, which are further surrounded by layers of wax mixed with resin or mud to protect the colony inside.

Other types of colonies include 2 or more reproductive females who each provision their own egg cells. This is called communal nesting. Most species that make communal nests also have individuals who nest alone. Communal nests can be made up of many species. It is not uncommon to find both solitary bees and wasps nesting communally together. This is especially common in areas where suitable nesting habitat is difficult to find, so individuals nest together in the only suitable areas available. The largest recorded communal nest aggregation was 423,000 bees covering 1300m squared.

Solitary bees tend to line their brood cells with a waterproofing material to protect developing offspring. This material can be wax, pieces of leaves and petals, or varnish-like and made from saliva.

Breeding season: Spring or Summer

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous ; sperm-storing

Solitary female bees don't tend their babies after they close up their chamber. Bee species that form nests don't seal up the larvae, instead they feed and take care of them as they grow. Male bees never take care of offspring and do very little work.

Parental Investment: female parental care

  • Gauld, I., B. Bolton. 1988. The Hymenoptera. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Michener, C. 2000. The Bees of the World. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Ramel, G. 2005. "Gordons Solitary Bee Page" (On-line). Accessed July 05, 2005 at http://www.earthlife.net/insects/solbees.html.
  • von Frisch, C. 1950. Bees: Their Vision, Chemical Senses, and Language. Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Bees collect DDT: orchid bees
 

Some orchid bees are able to tolerate high concentrations of DDT, strategy unknown.

     
  "While studying the ecology of the malaria vector Anopheles  (Nyssorhynchus) darlingi Root along the Ituxi River, Amazonas, Brazil,  we observed aggregates of bees on the walls of houses that were  routinely sprayed with DDT. Several bees collected from DDT-treated  house walls in August 1978 were identified as male specimens of  Eufriesia purpurata (Moscary) of the tribe Euglossini (Hymenoptera:  Apoidae)These bees  were well known to the local residents as the insects that eat DDT and  we present here the first documentation that they (1) are attracted to  DDT, (2) actively collect large quantities of DDT from treated house  walls and (3) suffer no apparent insecticidal effects. We also found  that the frequency of house visiting is most intense during July to  September. Most bees arrive at houses before 12.00 h, remain 2−3 h and  return on subsequent days to collect more DDT." (Roberts et al. 1982:62)


"Brazilian bees of the species Eufriesea purpurata are known to  tolerate very high concentrations of DDT. As reported in the literature,  these bees have suffered no harm from as much as 2 mg/bee, which is in  the per-cent range of the body weight. In 1979, individuals of Epurpurata were captured as they collected DDT from walls of  remote, rural houses in Brazil. Reported herein are quantities and  identities of DDT, DDT metabolites, and other organohalogen compounds in  four samples of bees stored since 1979. The concentrations of DDT (sum  of p,p′-DDT, -DDE, and -DDD) ranged from 23 to 314 μg/bee  which is up to twelve fold higher than the LD50 value of DDT  in the honey bee (Apis mellifera) but significantly lower than  the no-effect concentration in E. purpurata.  Enantioselective determination confirmed the presence of racemic o,p′-DDT  in the four individual samples. GC/ECNI-MS investigation resulted in  the detection of low amounts (< 1 μg/bee) of PCA, lindane, and  chlordane. At higher retention times four unknown compounds were  detected with a proposed molecular ion at m/z 498, a  non-aromatic hydrocarbon backbone along with the presence of eight  chlorine substituents. Neither the structure nor the origin of these  compounds could be determined. Considering where and when the bees were  collected and considering the biology and ecology of the euglossine bees  themselves, we propose that the four unknowns are natural products and,  as such, are the most highly chlorinated natural compounds yet  discovered." (Vetter & Roberts 2007:371)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Roberts DR; Alecrim WD; Heller JM; Ehrhardt SR; Lima JB. 1982. Male Eufriesia purpurata, a DDT-collecting euglossine bee in Brazil. Nature Chemical Biology. 297: 62 - 63.
  • Vetter W; Roberts D. 2007. Revisiting the organohalogens associated with 1979-samples of Brazilian bees (Eufriesea purpurata). Science of The Total Environment. 377(2-3): 371-377.
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Functional adaptation

Plants enhance health: golden bee
 

Visits to nutrient-poor plants by golden bees may help protect from disease and parasites thanks to the collection of volatile oils.

         
  "Male golden bees seek out and collect 'fragrances' from orchids and other plants that contain no nutrients.41 Historically we have explained this attraction to strong odors in terms of pheromonal communication, or scent disguise. However, it is also possible that because volatile oils interfere with bacterial respiration and are commonly detrimental or repellent to arthropods and insects, rubbing in or collecting smelly substances could reflect an adaptive preference for compounds that enhance health." (Engel 2002:126)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Engel, C. 2002. Wild health: how animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 276 p.
  • Eltz, T.; Whitten, W.M.; Roubik, D.W.; Linsenmair, K.E. Fragrance collection, storage, and accumulation by individual male orchid bees. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 25(1): 157-176.
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Functional adaptation

Antennae detect individual orchid species: iridescent bees
 

The antennae of iridescent bees detect the scent of individual orchid species using especially sensitive chemoreceptors.

     
  In the forests of Central America, "Each of the twenty or so species of bucket orchid has its own brand of scent. Although human nostrils cannot distinguish between them, the iridescent bees that live in these forests certainly can. Each species of orchid attracts its own species of bee." (Attenborough 1995:108)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Relationships essential to pollination: Brazil nut tree
 

The Brazil nut tree relies on the orchid bee for pollination, which in turn relies on certain species of orchids for reproduction.

       
  "Efforts intended to create habitats are often unsuccessful. When farmers tried to grow Brazil nuts commercially, they cut down tropical rainforest and planted Brazil nut trees in rows, plantation-style. But these trees depend on orchid bees for pollination, and without the natural orchids of the rainforest, there were not enough orchid bees in the plantations. Hence no nuts were produced." (Forsyth 1992:41)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Forsyth, A. 1992. Exploring the World of Insects: The Equinox Guide to Insect Behaviour. Camden House.
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Functional adaptation

Collaborating for group decisions: honeybees
 

Honeybees collaborate when foraging, selecting a new hive through knowledge sharing.

     
  "Researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by principal researcher Feniosky Pena-Mora, are looking at ways to improve human collaboration during disaster relief efforts. They are attempting to draw inspiration from the collaboration patterns that honeybees use in their decision-making process when selecting a new hive or foraging, ants' behavior when they are under threat, and how infectious diseases spread among human populations. The team includes biological, computer, and social scientists, and civil engineers. The team believes that civil engineers should be a fourth group of first-responders at disaster relief efforts involving critical physical infrastructures. The researchers will develop ad hoc communication networks to spread critical information among first responders, similar to how a virus spreads. Models of collaboration based on study of ants and bees may be useful in understanding the basic principles and best practices when developing strategies to coordinate knowledge sharing in chaotic social settings." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
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Functional adaptation

Sensitivity encourages return to hive before storm: bees
 

Bees protect themselves from approaching storms by sensing electromagnetic waves.

       
  "Bees, for instance, are very responsive to electrical discharges in the air that occur just before a thunderstorm, ultimately causing lightning, which in turn generates electromagnetic waves. These waves stimulate bees to return swiftly to their hives and remain inside until the storm is over." (Shuker 2001:64)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 20207
Specimens with Sequences: 16459
Specimens with Barcodes: 14375
Species: 2613
Species With Barcodes: 2296
Public Records: 2680
Public Species: 464
Public BINs: 368
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Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 7
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Varroa mites are reducing bee populations throughout Europe and the Americas. Many bees are specialists, and the destruction of habitat coupled with the introduction of foreign honeybees is negatively effecting the polination of many plant species. Most bee species however, are not in danger.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Bees sting to protect themselves. They usually aren't dangerous, but large hives might sting a person enough times to endanger them, and some people are so allergic to bee stings that they can die from just one or a few stings.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings)

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Bees are very important to the production of fruits and vegetables, and other crops such as flax, cotton, alfalfa and clover. Without bees, most crops could not be grown. The pollination industry is worth millions every year.

Bees also provide wax, honey, bee pollen, propolis (used in cough syrups) and royal jelly.

Positive Impacts: food ; source of medicine or drug ; pollinates crops

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Wikipedia

Apidae

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Amegilla cingulata (one of the Australian blue banded bees), a typical digger bee, approaching a Tomato flower

The Apidae are a large family of bees, comprising the common honey bees, stingless bees (which are also cultured for honey), carpenter bees, orchid bees, cuckoo bees, bumblebees, and various other less well-known groups. The family Apidae presently includes all the genera that were previously classified in the families Anthophoridae and Ctenoplectridae, and most of these are solitary species, though a few are also cleptoparasites. The four groups that were subfamilies in the old family Apidae are presently ranked as tribes within the subfamily Apinae. This trend has been taken to its extreme in a few recent classifications that place all the existing bee families together under the name "Apidae" (or, alternatively, the non-Linnaean clade "Anthophila"), but this is not a widely-accepted practice.

The subfamily Apinae contains a diversity of lineages, the majority of which are solitary, and whose nests are simple burrows in the soil. However, honey bees, stingless bees, and bumblebees are colonial (eusocial), though they are sometimes believed to have each developed this independently, and show notable differences in such things as communication between workers and methods of nest construction. Xylocopines (the subfamily which includes carpenter bees) are mostly solitary, though they tend to be gregarious, and some lineages such as the Allodapini contain eusocial species; most members of this subfamily make nests in plant stems or wood. The nomadines are all cleptoparasites in the nests of other bees.

References

  • Borror, D. J., DeLong, D. M., Triplehorn, C. A.(1976) cuarta edición. An introduction to the study of insects. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York, Chicago. ISBN 0-03-088406-3
  • Arnett, R. H. Jr. (2000) Segunda edición. American insects. CRC Press, Boca Ratón, Londres, New York, Washington, D. C. ISBN 0-8493-0212-9
  • Michener, Charles D. (2000) The bees of the world. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Londres. ISBN 0-8018-6133-0
  • O'Toole, Christopher, Raw, Anthony (1999) Bees of the world. Cassell Illustrated. ISBN 0-8160-5712-5
  • Mitchell, T.B. (1962). Bees of the Eastern United States, Volumen II. North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station. Tech. Bul. No.152, 557 p.
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