VAL Wild Bee Survey Adds 37 New Species for Vermont

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December 14, 2020 by Julia Pupko

Bees are extremely important to our ecosystems, benefitting nearly 90 percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of agricultural crops. In total, bees are estimated to provide $3 billion in economic value each year. Many studies thus far have focused on bumblebees, and have found widespread declines across the world. From 2012 to 2014, VCE’s Vermont Atlas of Life (VAL) completed the Vermont Bumblebee Atlas, with the help of over 50 trained citizen scientists. The Vermont Bumblebee Atlas accrued over 10,000 bumblebee records, in addition to the 2,000 historic records already in existence in Vermont. Of the 17 known species of bumblebee in Vermont, 4 were not found, 4 were found to be in serious decline, and 3 species were listed as Threatened or Endangered in Vermont (with one listed Federally) as a result of this work.

Cranesbill Miner ©Heather Holm

The findings of the Vermont Bumblebee Atlas may not be representative of trends experienced by other types of bees in Vermont, and was only the first step to gaining a better understanding of these important species in our state. In 2019, VAL began the Vermont Wild Bee Survey (VTBees), with the main objectives of the project being to:

The VTBees project is the next important step of determining the conservation status of Vermont’s bee fauna. In 2019, bee records were accepted from across the state, but efforts were focused on the systematic survey of Chittenden County, resulting in the collection of 9,026 bee specimens. Despite COVID-19, efforts continued in 2020, expanding the VTBees project to emphasize collection of bees across Vermont. Surveys in 2020 were focused on habitats that had few prior bee surveys to determine which species exist there. Additionally, efforts to digitize historic public and private bee collections continued .

Using the citizen science model that has had great success for other projects run by VAL (including the Vermont Bumblebee Atlas), the 2020 season showed great promise for the power of citizen scientists to find and map Vermont’s wild bee fauna. We collected 3,480 bee specimens during 67 bee bowl trapping days, 187 timed netting sessions, a malaise trap open 22 days, and incidental captures. Staff field technicians and biologists repeated 10 roadside bumble bee survey stations that were first completed in 2012-2014 during the Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas. Additionally, with a concerted effort to recruit people to survey their backyards and neighborhoods during COVID-19 restrictions, we had 512 volunteers photograph and share 4,907 bee observations on the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist project in 2020, nearly doubling 2019 numbers. This represented 83 confirmed species (many confirmations were done by John Ascher and Spencer Hardy).

Goldenrod Cellophane Bee ©Spencer Hardy

Specimen collections between 2019 and 2020 revealed 35 new bee species in Vermont. One of the coolest parts of these discoveries was that many were made very close to people’s houses. Visiting a Montpelier backyard where he was staying, our lead project biologist turned up Vermont’s first record of the Constrained Cuckoo Carder Bee (Stelis coarctatus). This species is a nest parasite of resin bees (Heriades), which nest in old beetle holes in dead wood. By leaving a pile of logs and brush in their backyard, the homeowners may have unintentionally created perfect habitat for both of these native bees.

Researchers analysed all 770 species of bees known from eastern North America, and found only 37 species that had not been documented between 1990 and 2010. Amazingly, two of these species were discovered by VTBees. The Canadian Cellophane-cuckoo Bee (Epeolus canadensis) was found in Colchester. The Sixteen-spotted Cuckoo Carder Bee (Stelis permaculata) was collected by Leif Richardson in August 2007 in Cornwall Swamp WMA and remained unidentified in his collection until now. Additionally, we confirmed the leafcutter bee, Megachile rugifrons, a G2 ranked species, from Addison County malaise trap in 2019 and a 1995 Rutland County specimen in a private collection, which are the only known New England records. This species could be described as a prairie species with Great Lakes and coastal plain extensions. The Splendid Sweat Bee (Agapostemon splendens) is a sand specialist that so far has been found only in a few Winooski River sand deposits. It occurs broadly across North America from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast and is limited by the availability of deep sand, which it needs as a substrate for excavating its nests. Ground-cherry Perdita (Perdita halictoides) is a Physalis (genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family; Solanaceae) specialist and requires sand for nesting. It is primarily known from the midwest. We found it to be abundant in a crop row of Tomatillos at the Intervale Community Farm, but has not been found anywhere else in the state.

We have documented 13 introduced bee species in Vermont. These species could compete with native bees for food and nesting areas. It has long been believed that cultivated and escaped Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) colonies compete with native pollinators for food resources and can spread disease. Recently, researchers found that two species of mason bees recently established in the mid-Atlantic region U.S., one which now occurs in Vermont (Osmia cornifrons), may be responsible for declines of native bee species, perhaps from disease spillover and competition. All native species showed substantial annual declines, resulting in cumulative catch losses ranging 76–91% since 2003.

There are certainly more species that have avoided detection. For example, there are two genera that have been collected in most of our neighboring states that we are going to make a concerted effort to find. The genus Mellita contains three rare species in the Northeast, all of which are pollen specialists, including one that requires Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), which occurs sporadically in southern Vermont. The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa) is another Vaccinium specialist that likely reaches the northern extreme of its range in southern Vermont.

The checklist of Vermont bees currently has 301 species in 36 genera. With many more specimens to identify from previous field seasons and historic collections, coupled with targeted field work in 2021; we now estimate that there are likely more than 350 wild bee species in Vermont. With our knowledge of wild bees and their conservation in Vermont in its infancy, the information we garner over the next year will help serve as a guide for research and conservation strategies for these amazing insects far into the Anthropocene.

Visit the Vermont Wild Bee Survey to get involved and learn more.

New bees discovered and confirmed by the Vermont Wild Bee Survey so far. For more information on each species, click the links to visit their iNaturalist accounts.

Scientific Name Common Name
Andrena braccata
Andrena distans Cranesbill Miner
Adrena ceanothi
Andrena erythronii Trout-lily Mining Bee
Andrena ziziaeformis
Ceratina strenua Nimble Carpenter Bee
Coelioxys modestus Modest Cuckoo Leaf-cutter Bee
Coelioxys octodentatus Eight-toothed Cuckoo Leaf-cutter Bee
Colletes solidaginis Goldenrod Cellophane Bee
Epeolus bifasciatus Two-banded Cellophane-Cuckoo
Epeolus canadensis Canadian Cellophane-cuckoo Bee
Halictus parallelus Parallel-striped Sweat Bee
Hoplitis anthocopoides Viper’s Bugloss Small-Mason
Hoplitis pilosifrons Hairy-fronted Small-Mason
Hoplitis truncata Truncate Small-Mason
Hylaeus nelumbonis Nelumbo Masked Bee
Lasioglossum abanci
Lasioglossum fuscipenne Dark-winged Sweat Bee
Lasioglossum gotham Gotham Sweat Bee
Lasioglossum oenotherae Evening Primrose Sweat Bee
Lasioglossum platyparium
Lasioglossum timothyi Timothy’s Sweat Bee
Lasioglossum weemsi Weems’s Sweat Bee
Megachile rugifrons Rugose-fronted Resin Bee
Melissodes apicatus Pickerelweed Long-horned Bee
Melissodes bimaculatus Two-spotted Long-horned Bee
Melissodes dentiventris Tooth-bellied Long-horned Bee
Nomada denticulata Denticulate Cuckoo Nomad Bee
Nomada tiftonensis Tifton Nomad Bee
Nomada xanthura Yellow-banded Nomad
Osmia georgica Georgia Mason
Osmia taurus Taurus Mason Bee
Paranthidium jugatorium Sunflower Burrowing-Resin Bee
Stelis coarctatus Constrained Cuckoo Carder Bee
Stelis permaculata Sixteen-spotted Cuckoo Carder Bee