Bee Wonders on Public Lands

Last edited 9/22/2021

North America boasts more than 4,000 species of bees. A fact that keeps Sam Droege and his team plenty busy, as they run the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. The lab provides an important function, allowing scientists to survey, process and collect bee data -- but what may surprise many is that they’re also responsible for hundreds of exceptional bee and other insect portraits. Through specialized photography, the lab helps illuminate the glorious colors, textures, shapes and sizes of our native bees.

The loveliness and diversity of bees will astound you, mirroring the diversity of the many flower species they pollinate. Here are just a few bees collected on national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands across the country.

Two-spotted bumble bee
Bombus bimaculatus 

Location: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia 
Photography by Sam Droege, USGSBIML
Found in the eastern half of the U.S., these social bumble bees get their name from the two yellow spots on their abdomen.

Two-spotted bumble bee covered in pollen

Black-tailed bumble bee 
Bombus melanopygus

Location: Yosemite National Park in California 
Photography by Anders Croft
Another bumble bee species, this male is restricted to the western half of the country and the far north. 

Close up of black-tailed bumble bee face with a clear view of eyes and antenna

Hunt’s Bumblebee 
Bombus huntii

Location: Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Photography by Sam Droege, USGSBIML
Native to the western half of the U.S. these bees are experiencing declines because of how they are susceptible to similar things that honey bees are facing. They feed on plants like thistles, sunflowers, rudbeckias, clovers and rabbitbrush.

Profile view of a bumble bee with yellow and orange on the abdomen

Mason Bees (Osmia)

Mason bees are how we describe the species of bees in the genus Osmia. Named for using “masonry” products, they use mud and twigs when building their nests.  These bees span from having drab to stunning metallic colors.  


Osmia aglaea

Location: Yosemite National Park in California 
Photography by Anders Croft
Found in western North America, these mason bees show off some brilliant metallic greens, blues, and purples.

Metallic colored brilliant green and blue mason bee

Western Glinting Osmia
Osmia bruneri

Location: Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Photography by Elizabeth Garcia and Wayne Boo
Males of this species tend to be greener in color and is one of a series of metallic green mason bees found in the western part of the country.

Profile of full western glinting osmia bee - a metallic green

Osmia inspergens

Location: Cape Cod National Seashore 
Photography by Brook Alexander
Known as a dune loving bee, these bees are often associated with sandy areas. 


Close up of the face of the bee with light brown hair

"Billy Idol" Melecta Bee
Melecta Spp

Location Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming
Photography by Sam Droege, USGSBIML
With no official common name, this bee has been affectionately deemed the Billy Idol Melecta by the Bee lab and National Wildlife Federation. 

Face of a bee with bright orange hair above the eyes

Colorado striped-sweat bee
Agapostemon coloradinus

Location: Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Photography by Wayne Boo with help from Ben Smith
A species of sweat bee that's tricky to tell apart from others. 

Face of a metallic sweat bee with bright green and amber colored front legs

Snowy Miner
Andrena nivalis

Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan
Photography by Wayne Boo
These bees usually prefer sandy soils for a nesting site or under shrubs or cover for protection.

Male snowy miner bee face, with light yellow hair

Dianthidium curvatum

Location: Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina
Photography by Sam Droege, USGSBIML
These bees construct cells of pebbles glued together with resin and placed on twigs, roots underground, or in any available burrows.

Orange and black face of the Dianthidium curvatum bee

Closer Look at Bees

Created from multiple images (often more than 100 individual frames) combined digitally, the intense detail our naked eyes never see unveils a loveliness in bees that demands a closer look. This blog showcased just a few photos of the bees, all collected from national parks and national wildlife refuges to whet your appetite.

These pictures are all public domain and can be downloaded from Flickr. Be sure to follow the Bee Lab on Instagram and Tumblr, where tales of the exotic lives of bees and insects are illustrated with insect portraiture.