Common Bees in Illinois


Bees are among the most diverse insects in our ecosystem, with more than 3,000 members, several dozen of which are native to Illinois. They serve as the most prolific pollinators in the gardening world. Pollination plays an essential role in maintaining proper plant reproduction and overall health. Without bees, a large number of flower and tree varieties would go unfertilized, reducing fruit production and hardiness and causing possible extinction. The environment of Illinois is hospitable to a variety of bee species, a few of which are more prominent than others.

Solitary Versus Hive Bees

  • Most people are familiar with hive-dwelling bee species. These include common honey bees, which are the most widespread pollinators in Illinois and the country. Hive bees are a social species. They live with hundreds, sometimes thousands of other bees, including one or more queens. Hive colonies also include worker bees that undertake everyday tasks and raise larvae. Social bee colonies are a more significant threat to humans because of their numbers. If the hive is threatened, an entire colony will attack, which can cause serious injury or death. Solitary bees, on the other hand, live alone to raise larvae, and will defend their nests by themselves. Though they sting, and may cause injury, death is unlikely.

Honey Bees

  • Honey bees, or Apis mellifera, are perhaps the most widely recognized bee species in the country. They have brown bodies that are approximately a half-inch long and covered with hair. Colonies can include upwards of 50,000 bees and will survive during the winter, even in Illinois. The hive houses one queen. Queen bees are larger than other bees and are able to sting more than once, lay approximately 1,500 eggs per day and live for up to 2 years. There are also just a few hundred drones in the hive at any given time. Drones are male bees that usually only live a few weeks and have the responsibility of mating with the queen. Worker bees make up the largest percentage of the hive population. They are sterile females in charge of construction, caring for larvae and caring for the queen.

Bumble Bees

  • Bumble bees, or Bombus lapidarius, are larger than honey bees and feature a familiar black-and-yellow striped body. They are a social species that live in a hive with a queen, workers and drones, though in much smaller numbers than in a honey bee hive. Bumble bee nests often house fewer than 50 members, primarily due to their larger size. Most species prefer cooler climates, including those found in Illinois, though a few types are found in subtropical and tropical areas.

Carpenter Bees

  • Unlike honey or bumble bees, the carpenter bee, or Xylocopa, is a solitary species. Its physical attributes are similar to the bumble bee, including black-and-yellow coloring. There are a few differences in their appearance, including the lack of the hair common in other bees, and an abdomen that is solid black instead of striped. Females of the species are responsible for the nest, which is generally a hole chewed into a piece of wood, which contains several inches worth of tunnels, where eggs are laid. Males serve as protectors, and, though quite aggressive, are unable to sting. Homeowners should beware, as the sting of a female may be painful, and nests may cause serious damage. To prevent nesting, homeowners should paint any exposed wood around the home. Paint is preferable to staining, and serves as an effective deterrent. Additionally, pesticides may be sprayed to eliminate existing or potential problems.

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