Life Cycle of Bees

Identification and Life-cycles of Native Bees


There are  an estimated 4,000 species of bees considered to be native to North America, with the individual identification of each of these many species being a very complex and difficult process which is best left to the specialists and professionals of the field. Native Bees are classified into main family groups with many family sub-groupings based on their physical features and nesting / foraging behavior differences.

This “Beefriendly” guide will use the bold type names shown below for each of the main bee family groups and sub-groups. The six main family groups of native bees are as follows;

{Social Bees} (Apidae) – {Honey BeesBumble Bees} and Small Carpenter Bees

Leaf-cutting, Mason Bees (Megachilidae) - Orchard Bees, Mason Bees, Resin Bees, Carder Bees

Mining Bees (Andrenidae) - Mining Bees

Sweat Bees (Halictidae) - Green Bees, Sweat Bees, Orchid Bees

Plasterer Bees (Colletidae) -

Oil Bees (Melittidae) -


Native bees have various nesting behaviors which are also used to help to identify their species. There are both Ground and Cavity nesting types of bees, and each of these types can be further classified into Solitary, Communal and Social types.

The most numerous of our indigenous types are the Ground Nesting bees, belonging to all of the main family groups, and commonly found throughout most areas of North America. Ground Nesting  bees have many complex nesting systems adapted to various soil types or ground conditions, and can be found in a very wide range of landscapes and garden areas.

Cavity Nesting bees are the types that use the existing tunnels or chambers found within their habitat, usually tunnels bored out of wood  by other insects or dens and nests created by other animals. Cavity Nesting bees are not usually equipped to do the tunnel boring or chamber building themselves so take advantage of what can be found within it’s local habitat and are often discovered making use of man made structures and artificial nest boxes.


Bees are a type of “insect” meaning that they all have an exoskeleton, three body sections, (unlike spiders) and 6 to 10 legs. Bees have four basic life stages  which are common to all insect types, egg stage, larval stage, pupal stage and adult stage.

insect_lifecycleA large number of our local indigenous bees are classified as having a solitary life-cycle and share a similar system of reproduction which follows a variable timetable throughout the year depending on the species of bee. A typical example of a solitary bee life-cycle is that of the commonly known Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia Lignaria) which begins its active adult life stage in late March to mid April each year when it emerges from its overwintering cocoon. The Orchard Bee males are the first to emerge from their nesting tunnels and begin to forage on nectar to gain strength and energy so they will be ready for mating when the females emerge to begin their annual activities. The female Orchard bee emerges from her nesting tunnel and will quickly mate with the short lived males who expire after their mating cycle is complete leaving the now fertile females to complete the life-cycle of their species alone. The fertile females will now begin to forage on the available nectar for energy and the local pollen sources to stock her chosen nesting site with a supply of pollen for each egg she will lay. The fertile females deposit between 4 to 30 eggs into her nesting tunnel, each within it’s own egg chamber, during her adult life which lasts for only six to eight weeks. Each deposited egg will soon hatch as a small larva, consume the food stores left by it’s parent, begin to spin a cocoon inside of which it meta-morph into an adult bee that remains dormant until the following spring.

copy of osmia_life_cycle_chart