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The green bees of Washington State

Updated: Feb 28


Give a child a set of crayons and a blank sheet and ask them to sketch out a bee scene. It's likely you'll see them use the green crayon—just for the flower stems. In contrast, the yellow and black crayons will get worn down to the nubbins, stripped of their wrappers, and probably cracked, trying to vigorously color the bees.  


It seems as though sometime long ago it was decided that bees wore black and yellow stripes and not much else. Despite strong and easily-accessible evidence to the contrary, this stereotype is stuck so tight that even the honey bee, one of humanity's most familiar farmyard companions, a creature colored orange and brown, has been portrayed in art, logos, and even in Hollywood as owning a wardrobe made of danger tape.  


So this may come as a shocker to folks young and old: There are green bees. Tons of them. And they wear it well. So well, that I'd say green is the new black and yellow. So, let's go on a photographic adventure through Washington State's verdant pastures so you can see for yourself, and maybe you'll never see bees the same again. 


Metallic Green Bees (Agapostemon spp.)


An agapostemon metallic green sweat bee on the petals of a dandelion. Photo by Joe Dlugo
The finest green you've ever seen!

Let's cut to the chase with perhaps the most common and easily recognized of all the greenies: the metallic green sweat bees. For many, these are the "gateway" bees to a fascination with native pollinators. All it takes is having dandelions or sunflowers around and then having the good gumption to check out any winged creature that’s visiting. It won’t be long until one is as sparkling virescent as a lime dipped in glitter. As a bonus, the males of these species boast the stereotypical black and yellow banding, so there’s a little of the familiar going on. 

Three green agapostemon bees in profile, A. texanus female, A. virescents female, A. virescens male. Images by Joe Dlugo
Three metallic green sweat bee profiles

Green Mining Bees : Andrena

A green mining bee appearing to be scratching her head while alighting on a petal of cat's ear calochortus. Photo by Joe Dlugo
Green mining bee on cat's ear calochortus - near Leavenworth, WA.

Depending on where you are, mining bees could be the most common bees you’ll find in the springtime. As their name suggests, they spend their lives doing a lot of digging to create the perfect place to lay their eggs. Most mining bees are a mix of gray or tan, but on occasion you’ll find a species that’s the color of an almost-ripe avocado. When you do, examine it very closely, because these bees try very hard to look and behave like mason bees (most of which are green), making ID tricky. Don’t let yourself be tricked! A mining bee's eyes spread far apart with impressions on their inner edges. Mining bees also carry pollen on their legs. You’re most likely to find green mining bees in good number on the prairies of the South Puget Sound during June, where they appear to enjoy the large morning-blooming native dandelion, Cut-leaf Microseris. 


A green mining bee on the large cut-leaf microseris dandelion. Image by Joe Dlugo
T - Wolf Haven Prairie, Tenino

View of green mining bee on a white background by Joe Dlugo
Green mining bee

Small Carpenter Bees - Ceratina spp.

A shiny green small carpenter bee strikes an action pose on globe gilia flower. Photo by Joe Dlugo
Green polished chrome...

Small carpenter bees are very small bees, and to most observing eyes appear black. This is misleading. The careful, close observer will get a chance to see something extraordinary: a bee that appears to wear armor of green, polished chrome. Their reflectiveness is accentuated by a body with minimal hair. You may find it delightful to watch such a gem work the wildflowers, and a nearly irresistible urge to take out the Turtle Wax. 

Small carpenter bee on white background. Image by Joe Dlugo
Deep green!

Dark Bees - Stelis spp.


Two dark bees, male and female, on white backgrounds. Image by Joe Dlugo
Two dark bees, male and female, being green together

Dark bees are kleptoparasite bees that can be found in several colors depending on the species. In areas where they parasitize mason bee nests, you may come across these mason bee look-alikes, complete with their pine-needle green sheens. As kleptoparasites, they sneak into mason bee nests and drop an egg into the provisions, leaving the mason bee mom to do the work of building the next generation of a species not her own. It's not easy to tell the difference between these and the bees they parasitize, and maybe that's the point. Keep an eye out for those little white spots on the abdomen as a sure-shot field mark. 


Sweat bees - Lasioglossum spp.

Lasioglossum sweat bees, male and female, on white backgrounds. Images by Joe Dlugo
A most common and interesting green bee

In many places, these are the most common bees around. Got an old ballfield with a few dandelions? You've got sweat bees. At a gas station with a crack in the sidewalk? Yep, sweat bees. They may be ubiquitous, and that's a good thing—because they are some of the most fun bees to watch. Hidden in plain sight, they go about their pollen collection like an artisan, intricately interacting with the flowers with gentle micro-movements to extract and collect the grains. They are also bees of beautiful proportions, and a pleasing modest green iridescence. The next time you spot a tiny dark dot in a dandelion, take a closer look—it's likely a sweat bee. 

A tiny green lasioglossum sweat bee appears to chew the pollen off a stamen in the colorful inside of a mariposa lily. Image by Joe Dlugo
Her greenness inside Washington's most beautiful flower, sagebrush mariposa lily

Mason Bees - Osmia spp.


Five mason bees on white background showing the range of green coloring they display. Images by Joe Dlugo

The crowning glories of the green bee world, mason bees are found in every hue, from emerald to olive, aquamarine, and chartreuse. If you can dream it, there's a mason bee species that covers that part of the spectrum. They are the eye candy of any garden, living laser beams of light, and their looks are just the start. As spring pollinators, they are exceptionally critical to ecosystems and have been found to be useful in agricultural pursuits. If you're going to grow the finest cherries, apples, or raspberries in town, why not employ the services of these fine-looking bees? 

Osmia aglaia nectaring from a raspberry flower. Image by Joe Dlugo
Osmia aglaia - the raspberry mason bee. Is there a more beautiful bee in this world?

There you have it! Green bees are all around us. If you truly want to be stunned by nature, or even if you just want to intrigue your friends at a garden party, they are worth keeping an eye out for. The next time your kid draws a bee, be sure to suggest the bees wear trendy new green attire.


-JD


Joe Dlugo is a founding member of the Washington Native Bee Society and currently serves on the Board as webmaster. He lives in rural Tenino, WA, where he raises children and many types of native bees. Even after watching bees for years, he still thinks the coolest thing about them is that they can be green (and red, orange, blue, purple...).

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