Bees are descended from wasps and are part of the Hymenoptera order (which also includes ants). They diversified during the Cretaceous period, basically switching diets to a newly abundant food source: pollen. In this sense, bees are herbivorous wasps. They evolved hairs on their bodies, called scopa, to better transport pollen back to their nests. The majority of bees are ground-nesters. They excavate tunnels in soil, building brood cells in which they deposit pollen balls. In each cell they lay a single egg that will hatch into a larvae the consumes the pollen provisions. Other bees nest in wood or pitchy stems, they are known as trap-nesters. Some bees are cleoptoparasitic- they lay their eggs in other bees’ nests much like cuckoos birds usurp nests. Because of this, this group of bees is referred to as cuckoo bees. Bees are incredibly diverse: there are at least 20,000 worldwide, with some estimates reaching at least twice that! They come in a variety of colors and sizes, ranging from the minute Perdita species to large, more familiar bees such as Bumble bees and Carpenter bees. Check out Rolin Coville’s amazing pictures to get a sense of their vast variability.
Honeybees are actually incredibly unique. Most bees don’t make honey- instead they make pollen balls, or “bee bread,” a mixture of pollen, nectar, and secretions. In addition, the vast majority of bees are solitary- each female makes her own nest and lays her own young. The hallmarks of what we classically think of as bees are missing: no queens, no division of labor, no honey. Yet native bees are still important pollinators. They have been shown to be more efficient than honey bees. With Colony Collapse and other diseases continuing to threaten the honey bee supply, native bee conservation is of increasing importance in both natural and agricultural systems. To learn more about specific conservation actions, I suggest exploring the information provided by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.