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Varieties of Bees

Just as humans have different nationalities and cultures in humans, there are also different varieties of bees! The most well known are probably the honeybee and the bumblebee. Some live in colonies, whilst others live solitary lives. Bees can be found anywhere on this planet except for in Antarctica because they need flowers to survive.

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Bees, bees, bees…

Worldwide, there are over 20,000 different varieties of bees. Of those, over 4,000 species alone live in the U.S!  Bees can live in swarms of up to 80,000 bees but most wild bees live a solitary life.

Did you know that only ‘social’ bees, i.e. those that live in swarms build hives? Another amazing fact is that of all the different varieties of bees in the world only 10% live in swarms and just a small percentage of those build beehives.

Stingless Melipona Bee
Stingless Melipona Bee By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryla

It’s not just the living arrangements that make them different from each other. Did you know that not all bees sting? Although the only bees that can sting are female bees, there are 500 species of stingless bees worldwide that can’t sting at all.   

Honey Making Types of Bees

When you think “bee”, you probably automatically think about honey. That all bees make honey is a myth; only less than 5% of bees can actually make honey! The only bees that produce enough honey to harvest are honeybees and stingless bees.



The world´s largest honey producing bee is the Himalayan giant honeybee.

Of these seven honey making species, only four are kept commercially.

Dwarf and giant honeybees practice open-air nesting, making it difficult to keep them in man-made hives.



  1. Giant honeybee, (Apis dorsata), Body Length .87-.98 in (2.2 – 2.5 cm)
  2. Western honeybee, (Apis mellifera), Body Length .81-.85 in (2.01 – 2.16 cm)
  3. Asian honeybee, (Apis cerana), Body Length .39-.75 in (0.99 – 1.90 cm)
  4. Koschevnikov’s bee, (Apis koschevnikovi), Body Length .71-.75 in (1.80 – 1.90 cm)
  5. Philippine honeybee, (Apis nigrocincta), Body Length .43-.74 in (1.09 – 1.88 cm)
  6. Red dwarf honeybee, (Apis florea), Body Length .57-.61 in (1.45 – 1.55 cm)
  7. Black dwarf honeybee, (Apis andreniformis), Body Length .57-.61 in (1.45 – 1.55 cm)

Bees are Extraordinary Architects…

Most domesticated honeybees live in apiaries (Latin, Apis = bee). These are ‘houses’ built or bought by beekeepers where honeybees build their hives. They often look like colorful boxes. Wild bees don’t have the luxury of a ‘ready-built home’; they have to find a suitable place to build their own close to food.

Wild Bee Nest in Palm tree

Did you know that most bee nests are not actually called hives? The majority of wild bees are solitary ground-nesting species. They use different materials to build their homes like mud, rocks, stones, and whatever they can find to build a home.

Solitary Bee near her Nest

Wild bees that live in swarms also like to build their nests in trees, and in natural or man-made cavities. Some, like the ‘common’ western honeybee build hexagonal honeycombs but other species can create hives that resemble spiral towers that rise from the ground, while others hang from steep cliffs like the Himalayan giant honeybee (apis dorsata).

One of the Australian stingless bee species (Tetragonula carbonaria) construct hives that look like spirals shaped towers (brood combs). Being stingless, their defense lies in their home that can have 10 to 20 layers when finished. Invaders lose their way and get killed by a mixture of wax, mud and plant resin.

stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria
Brood comb construction by the stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.

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