Native Bees

Apis mellifera

Honey Bee

Apis mellifera, or the common honey bee is 'naturalized' to Nova Scotia.  A transmigrated species from Europe several centuries ago, this bee species has established itself within the woods and fields of the province, through its reproductive method known as swarming and has become effectively an indigenous species.

Honey bees are considered the apex social bee, building very large nests during the summer which may house as many as 80,000 individuals at its peak.  There are three primary inhabitants of the colony.  The 'queen' which is the only fertile, laying female within the entire colony.  The ‘worker’ bees which are infertile females (hormone suppression) that build the combs, collect pollen and nectar, feed the young (brood), and act as stinging guards for the colony.  Lastly, there are the ‘drones’ or male bees.  They do not produce any food or wax for the colony, and exist for the sole purpose of mating with a virgin queen.

The worker honey bee is the smallest at approximately 15 to 17 mm in length.  The drones are larger, thicker and wider approximately 16 to 18 mm in length.  The queen is the largest member of the colony at approximately 20 to 22 mm in length.

Honey bees have a variety of colours depending on their 'race' and can be yellow, orange, black or blonde in various combinations.  They are often striped laterally across their abdomens.



Bombus impatiens

Bumblebee (common)

Bombus impatiens is the most common, and often the largest, bumblebee in eastern Canada.  Bumblebees are sub-social insects that produce annual nests that are smaller than Apis spp, (in population).  All bumblebees have the three castes of queen, worker and drone.  Colonies are built in abandoned nests of mice usually on or below the ground.  They produce wax for brood cells and lining their nests.  They feed honey and pollen to their young but produce no surpluses.

Bumblebees are very effective and efficient pollinators using a technique called ‘buzz pollination’.  A large, loud bee they are 20 plus mm in length and 10 mm in width.


Bombus impatiens

Bumblebee Picture: Bumblebee


Bombus ternarius

Bumblebee (tri-coloured)

Bombus ternarius is an abundant, medium sized bumblebee.  Also known as the Tri-coloured bumblebee.

It too is an effective and efficient pollinator especially for Vaccinium angustifolium (blueberries).


Bombus ternarius

Tri-Coloured Bumblebee Picture: Tri-Coloured Bumblebee


Bombus vagans

Bumblebee (half-black)

Bombus vagans or the Half-black bumblebee is very similar to the Bombus impatiens.  The Half-black bumblebee will use abandoned birds’ nests above the ground to establish their colonies.


Bombus vagans

Half-Black Bumblebee Picture: Half-Black Bumblebee


Megachile inermis

Leafcutter Bee

Megachile inermis is a large, gregarious solitary bee.  It is a very common ‘leafcutter’ bee.  Using its large, strong mandibles it will cut oval shaped pieces of specific plant leaves (usually Rosa spp.) and carry them in its jaws back to its nest site.  Primary nest sites are tunnels, approximately 3/8" (8 mm) diameter, left abandoned by wood boring beetles, woodpeckers and other creatures.  Here the Leafcutter female (queen) rolls the leaves to line the tunnel.  This is followed by an egg, a clump of honey and pollen and then the ‘cell’ is sealed.  She follows this routine until the tunnel nest is full with approximately 10 to 12 cells.  The pupae in the cells remain there through the winter and emerge in the springtime.

Megachile spp. have most of their pollen hairs on the underside of their abdomens.  They are quick and efficient pollinators using a ‘swimming’ motion across most flowers.

While visiting many blooms in a short time they are localized such that they do not travel far from their nest site, no more than 100 meters.


Megachile inermis

Leafcutter Bee Picture: Leafcutter Bee



Mason Bee

Osmia is a very small, discreet solitary bee, 5 mm in length.  They are brightly coloured in metallic greens and blues.  Also known as Mason bees due to their use of mud to seal the cells of their tunnel nests.  They also use abandoned spaces in wood and hollow reeds and stems.  Their tunnels are smaller than those used by Megachile spp.  Mason bees are often seen in the early spring foraging on the blossoms of fruit trees, and are an excellent pollinator for this crop.



Mason Bee Picture: Mason Bee


Ceratina calcarata

Carpenter Bee (Tiny)

Ceratina calcarata is a tiny carpenter bee, 5 to 7 mm in length.  The carpenter bee, also a solitary bee excavates their nest tunnel in softened wood and the pith of plant stems.  They are active early in the season and visit many types of flowers.


Ceratina calcarata

Tiny Carpenter Bee Picture: Tiny Carpenter Bee


Xylocopa virginica

Carpenter Bee (Large)

Xylocopa virginica is a large carpenter bee, 16 to 18 mm in length.  Its behaviour and proclivity is consistent with Ceratina, preferring larger tunnels similar to that of the Megachile species.

Solitary bees do not have ‘worker’ bees (infertile females) in their dominions, only females (queen) and males.


Xylocopa virginica

Large Carpenter Bee Picture: Large Carpenter Bee