Want to learn more about the Texas bees that visit your plants? You’ve come to the right place!
Start by downloading my free printable PDF of 10 Texas Bees & Wasps. You can keep this handy one-pager by your garden!
Did you know that 80% of our flowering plants can thank pollinators (and especially bees) for their existence? That includes 60% of our crops. Without bees, there would be very few plants…and food!
Our 800 different native Texas bees play a vital role in plant pollination. However, most of us are only familiar with the common European honeybee, which was imported to the U.S. in the 17th century.
Let’s change that! There are some amazing native Texas bees that we can start to identify and protect.
Non-Native Texas Bee Species
Let’s start with the ubiquitous honeybee, because that is the one you are most likely to think of when a bee comes to mind.
These frequent garden visitors are not Texas natives. They were introduced to North American in the 16th century to help pollinate crops. They are important pollinators, however honeybees can negatively impact native bee species by increasing competition for forage.
1. European Honeybee
Also called Western Honey Bees, European Honey Bees are the bee I most commonly spot here in San Antonio. They tend to have golden-yellow, hairy bodies with brown bands on their abdomen.
How to Identify European Honeybees:
- Medium-sized bees that are slow flying.
- Look for legs hanging below them as they flay.
European Honeybee Facts:
- Lots of different subspecies – it turns out Italian Honey Bees are the preferred bee of commercial beekeepers. Who knew?
- These are the bees that tend to sting – they sting because they are protecting their colony!
- A honeybee colony consists of worker bees / scout bees (females), drones (males), and a Queen bee.
- A single colony contains large numbers of bees – between 20,000-80,000 bees in a hive!
- Honeybees collect pollen on their hind legs to take to the nest site to feed their babies
2. Africanized Bees
Also called “Killer Bees,” Africanized Bees are a hybrid between European / Western Honey Bee and Africanized bees from Brazil. They are found throughout southern United States and came to Texas in 1990s.
They are nearly identical to European Honeybees. The “Killer Bee” name comes from their propensity to be more aggressive stingers.
Top 5 Native Texas Bees to Know
The European Honeybee gets all the attention, but the native bees are where it’s at! There are over 4,000 species of bees native to North America, and over 800 bee species in the state of Texas.
Fun Facts about Texas Native Bees
- Most native bees don’t sting! Most are solitary bees, meaning they live on their own. Since they don’t defend a nest, you are much less likely to get bee stings from them.
- Not all native bees are alike. Their looks can vary drastically by the type of bee.
- Native bees don’t make honey. They use the pollen from foraging to feed their larvae.
- Around 30% are specialist pollinators, meaning they only pollinate a specific native plant species. If that plant species would disappear, so would the bee species that pollinate it.
Here are 5 common native bee species you’ll see in Texas:
1. American Bumblebees
My favorite bee is this native species – the fuzzy Bumblebee!
How to Identify American Bumblebees:
- Large hairy bodies with dark black and yellow stripes.
- Lots of hair on top and back of abdomen.
American Bumblebee Facts:
- Similar to honeybees, they are social bees that live in hives. However, there are only around 500 bees in a bumblebee hive (vs. thousands in a honeybee hive).
- The Bumblebee Queens emerge first in early spring to secure a nest site.
- They are generalist pollinators, meaning they will visit a variety of flowering plants.
- They pollinate by “buzz pollination.” They vibrate their wing muscles to release pollen.
How to Attract American Bumblebees:
- Plant native Salvias, especially Mealy Blue Sage. Bumblebees love this plant!
2. Mason Bees
Mason bees are super pollinators, visiting up to 2,000 plants in a single day! You want these guys in your yard. They blow European Honeybees away with their pollinating efficiency.
How to Identify Mason Bees:
- Look for black body that can have a metallic sheen.
- Their entire bodies are often covered in pollen!
Mason Bee Facts:
- Super efficient pollinators – one Mason Bee can pollinate as many plants as 500 European honeybees!
- They lay their eggs in small holes or tunnels. Mason bees do not create holes, they only find existing holes made by beetles, humans, etc.
- There are over 100 species of Mason Bees native to North America.
How to Attract Mason Bees:
- Make a “bee hotel” – drill holes into pieces of wood. Or purchase one like this bee hotel (affiliate link).
- I absolutely love this idea for a bee hotel at the Tucson Botanical Garden. I would like to have sculptures like this in my garden someday!
3. Carpenter Bees
Carpenter Bees are solitary bees that make their nests in wood. These large bees can resemble bumblebees, especially the large Eastern Carpenter Bees. However, as entomologists say “Look for the shiny hiney” to identify them!
How to Identify Carpenter Bees:
- Large bee around 1″ long
- Look for a shiny abdomen (body), usually black metallic with a blue or green sheen.
- Look for hair on head.
Carpenter Bee Facts:
- Carpenter Bees can cause (mostly cosmetic) wood damage to buildings.
- They overwinter in nests made in holes in the wood.
4. Leaf Cutter Bees
Ever seen a leafcutter (or leafcutting) bee in action? It is pretty amazing to watch!
How to Identify Leaf Cutter Bees:
- Leaf cutter bees are similar in size to European Honeybees.
- However, look for pollen on their abdomens instead of their legs. Their rear ends are often yellow with pollen!
Leaf Cutter Bee Facts:
- Leafcutter bees can make perfect circles in a plant. Typically about 1/4″ to 1/2″ wide.
- Similar to Mason Bees, they find an existing cavity to make a nest. This could be in dead plant stems, a tunnel carved by a beetle, rotting wood, etc.
- They make a package of cut leaves and pollen and lay their egg inside. An instant food source for the larva once it hatches!
5. Sweat Bees
Sweat bees are some of the smallest native Texas bees you’ll see visiting your garden. Some species are only about 1/4″ inch long.
How to Identify Sweat Bees
- Look for tiny bees on your flowers that may even be look like a small fly.
- Many have a metallic color that varies by species. I love the metallic green ones!
- Some have striped abdomens, and some don’t.
Sweat Bee Facts
- Sweat bees get their name from their propensity to be attracted to sweat. They “drink” it for its nutrients! However, they are very unlikely to sting.
- Some sweat bee species are parasitic. They lay their eggs in another bee’s nest.
- There are over 500 species of Sweat Bees in North America!
Download the Free PDF: 10 Native Bees & Wasps
How to Help Texas Bees in Your Yard
Our awesome native bees aren’t only found in our natural areas and Texas parks! As a property owner, you can play an important role in providing habitat for these essential pollinators.
Growing Texas native vegetation is the best way to support our native Texas bees. They have coevolved with these plants and often seek the flower nectar and pollen from specific native species.
How to protect our native Texas bees:
- Don’t use pesticides – using pesticides on your yard or garden kills not only pests but beneficial insects such as bees and butterfly caterpillars.
- Plant a variety of native plants – choose Texas native plants with different bloom times from March through October.
- Plant the same species in groups of three, as some bees like to visit several of the same type of plant in one foraging trip.
- Check out my list of top 15 Texas native plants to grow in your yard!
- Leave bare ground – many solitary bees build their nests in the soil. Leaving patches of bare dirt will provide this important habitat for them.
- Create a wood pile for wildlife – make a pile of logs and branches for native bees to build nests. This will also provide habitat for small wildlife.
- Leave woody plants up through late winter or spring of the following year. Many bees will nest over winter in dead stems. Wait to cut back your garden until spring, when temperatures are regularly above 50 degrees. By then most bees will have emerged from their winter homes!
Learn About More Texas Insects and Wildlife!
Welcome to Native Backyards! I’m Haeley from San Antonio, Texas, and I want to help you grow more natives.
I have seen firsthand how the right plants can bring your yard to life with butterflies, bees, and birds. I’ve transformed my yard with Texas natives and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you.
Join my newsletter here! – each week I’ll send you helpful tips to make your native plant garden a reality!