wild bees and native bees

Nomada bee loafing in the park

Milton-Freewater, Oregon has a great little town park with a playground, swimming pool, and a steep trail leading up a hill that overlooks miles of countryside. I was staying near there last week at a bed-and-breakfast where I knew the proprietors from last year.

After a long day of trying to photograph alkali bees in nearby Lowden, Washington, a few moments away from my camera sounded like a good idea. The proprietors’ six-year-old son, Arden, offered to show me the park, and I gladly went along. (You may remember Arden from last year when he took an amazing photo of a yellowjacket.)

As luck would have it, we ran into an enormous patch of yellow composite flowers that was just loaded with bees. Many were species I couldn’t identify, but among them were some brilliant green metallic Agapostemon. I don’t have good photos of these bees, so I instantly regretted not bringing my camera. I was so frustrated, in fact, that I reached out and snatched one right out of the air.

I kid you not—I actually caught it. You have no idea how impressed I was with myself: I had snagged a bee in flight and now it was vibrating crazily in my hand. I had seen it for just long enough to know it was male, a minor fact I did not share with my companion who worried I might get stung. Yes, I know, not fair.

Nevertheless, Arden was not one bit impressed with my feat of lightning agility. Instead, he seemed to expect it of me, which was no fun at all. When I let him peek at my prize—and it flew away—he asked me to catch another. Right.

Even though I knew it was pointless, early the next morning before heading home I once again hiked up the trail—this time with camera in hand—in search of the flower patch. Sure enough, no dazzling Agapostemon lit up the petals, but I did manage to photograph some other creatures.

At the time, I thought the image below was a wasp, but when I reviewed the shots, I was pretty sure it was a bee in the genus Nomada, and it turns out that (for once) I was right .

The genus Nomada (or nomad bees) is a large group of cleptoparasitic bees in the Apidae family (the same family as honey bees). They are known as cuckoo bees because, instead of collecting pollen to feed their young, they wait for some other bee to do all the work and then lay their eggs on top of the prepared pollen ball. They especially like to parasitize bees in the genera Andrena, Agapostemon, and Eucera—all of which I saw on that one group of flowers. As you can see, it is not surprising that Nomada bees are frequently mistaken for wasps.

Oddly enough, when I got home I was sitting on the patio when an Agapostemon landed on my leg. I stared in disbelief while my camera—still packed in the truck—once again was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Photographing one of those metallic wonders is becoming an obsession.



Nomada bee on composite flower. © Rusty Burlew. Thanks to John Ascher and BugGuide.net for i.d. assistance.


  • Rusty, where can I get a field guide to all of these bees, so that I can identify the ones that frequent my backyard?

    • Honestly, I don’t know of a comprehensive field guide, which is why I use a variety of sources. A good beginner guide is “Field Guide to The Common Bees of California including Bees of the Western United States.” It is not comprehensive, but it will teach you a lot about what to look for when you are trying to identify the different groups.

    • Aram –

      In what part of the country / world do you live? Some regions have pretty comprehensive guides. If you are in the Western USA, I agree with Rusty’s suggestion.

      Glen Buschmann

  • Ant Moat

    My hive sits on a low table with narrow metal legs.
    these sit in plastic cups of water.
    So far, no ants!!
    I live in So.California and maybe motor oil would
    work better in the warmer climes.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m a new beekeeper. I started a new hive mid-April. I stopped feeding my bees about 3 weeks ago and should have taken out the gallon jar but I was on vacation. Today I went to check on my honey bees and take out the jar that was in the 3rd deep. I was going to check the frames in the 2nd deep to see how full it was getting. I was soon going to put on another deep with frames.

    I opened the lid. My bees have built a massive burr comb all over the jar and it has almost filled the deep up. I could not even see the jar. I am so surprised. This hive is so strong and seems to be growing so fast that I’m afraid that the queen bee may be there also. I will now go buy a new box and frame asap.

    Should I remove the deep box? Or gently put some the frames in it? Or get get a new deep with frames? I am so afraid for my queen ♡

    Laurie. Eugene, Oregon

    • Laurie,

      First, find your queen. If she is in the top box, catch her. Next, put a queen excluder between the second and third box, and release the queen into the lower boxes if she isn’t already there. This will allow the brood in the third box to hatch naturally and will stop any more eggs being laid up there. The problem is that you will have to release the drones manually because they can’t get through the excluder. I would open it up every couple of days to let the drones out.

      Once the super is empty of brood, you can harvest the honey for yourself or save it for the bees. If you keep it, use the crush-and-strain method to get it out. If you save it for the bees, you can put it above an inner cover, and they will move the honey down into the main nest. I would wait and do this during a nectar dearth. For now, best to keep your bees bringing in nectar rather than moving it around. If you are going to do it later, though, you should freeze it overnight before storing it because it may get wax moths.

      Someone else may have a more elegant solution to the problem. Anyone with an idea?

  • Thanks Rusty. My neighbor master beekeeper came to the rescue. We cleaned it up. We put frames in the 3rd deep. I feel bad I waited too long; I was told I should have been checking my hive 2 times a week. It got way out of hand and I accidentally killed a lot of eggs and bees♡ that could have filled one or two of the frames. Most were drones. It is a very tough lesson to learn. I just hope my queen survived … Stay tuned … Laurie

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