wild bees and native bees

Anthophora terminalis: the orange-tipped wood digger bee

The orange-tipped wood digger, Anthophora terminalis, is a bee I never saw until I ran into this feisty fellow. I was working in my garden during the last week of June when something quick and loud began bugging me. At first I thought it was a bumble bee. But unlike a bumble bee, it would hover in front of me—eye to eye—before darting away, it’s white face glinting in the sunshine. The behavior reminded me of certain Habropoda bees I had seen, but the timing was wrong. The end of June was too late for the Habropoda bees I knew.

This bee is fast and skittish. It took two days for me to capture a photo because whenever I got close enough, it was gone. Even spotting it was hard, but it was noisy enough that I could track it by its loud buzz. It foraged alternately between the sage flowers and the catmint, although it seemed to prefer the sage. I finally focused my camera on a single sage flower and waited for it to come back. Success!

Lifestyle of the orange-tipped wood digger

What I’ve since learned about these bees is almost nothing. It’s very hard to find information on them. After I sent my photos into BugGuide.net for identification, they added the state of Washington to the distribution map for this bee. So cool! I am honored to assist!

This long-tongued bee is in the large Apidae family along with honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, and orchid bees. In fact, the genus Anthophora is only one of about 200 genera in the Apidae family. The Anthophora bees in general are fast and noisy and forage on a wide variety of flowers.

Anthophora terminalis prefers deep, tubular flowers such as the sage blossom shown below. They are unusual because instead of nesting in the ground like most other Anthophora, they build their nests in hollowed out pithy stems or in rotting wood—hence the name “wood digger.”


The orange-tipped wood digger occurs across much of the US and Canada, and since it was previously found in British Columbia, it’s not surprising to find it here in Washington. It must be one hardy bee because it has also been found in the Yukon territory. All of the BugGuide sightings across North America occurred from May through September.

Nearly all the photos I have seen of this bee were females with a distinctly orange-tipped abdomen. My specimen doesn’t appear to have an orange tip, and I don’t know if only the females have the orange coloring or if these bees have variations in color patterns like bumble bees. I’m going to be on the look out for a female but, so far, this is the only individual I’ve seen.

Once again, I wish to thank John Ascher and the other folks at BugGuide.net for identifying my bee.

Honey Bee Suite

The orange-tipped wood digger, Anthophora terminalis, forages on a sage flower in my garden.

A male orange-tipped wood digger, Anthophora terminalis, forages on a sage flower in my garden. © Rusty Burlew.

Between foraging on the sage flowers, this orange-tipped digger bee resting on a lamb's ear leaf, returning to the same spot each time.

Between foraging on the sage flowers, this orange-tipped digger bee rested on a lamb’s ear leaf, returning to the same spot each time. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Thank you again Rusty for an interesting posting. I like how you are not just honey but ALL bees inquisitive. Great pictures!

  • Another helpful and interesting post, Rusty. Before last year I had never seen one like this here on the Canadian prairies but this year I have seen a few in my garden. I have tried to identify them with online information but to no avail. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • Neat-o! I saw one of these here in Thurston County a couple weeks ago. Hit the net to search for a ”black bumblebee” without success.

    Thank You Rusty! Great timing!

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