Cellophane Bees are generally large, hairy bees most likely to be confused with Honey Bees (Apis melifera) and Mining Bees (Andrena). They are found statewide from early spring till the last asters die in the fall, though no one species is active for more than a month or two. Many are specialists on obscure plants, making them rarely detected.
As of January 2021, 9 species in the genus Colletes have been recorded in Vermont, 5 of which have been confirmed through iNaturalist. The Unequal Cellophane Bee (Colletes inaequalis) is ubiquitous early in the spring, and about the time they finish flying, several rare pollen specialists emerge, followed by a group of Asteracae specialist that fly during the goldenrod and aster bloom.
Genus level ID
While superficially similar to several other genera, Cellophane Bees have multiple distinctive features that will clinch the genus-level ID if they are visible in a photograph. The second recurrent vein (highlighted in red) is S-shaped in this genus and straight in all others. Additionally, look for a slightly heart-shaped face, similar to a Honey Bee, that eliminates most of the Mining Bees (Andrena), which also have hairy facial fovae (females only).
Species level ID can be challenging from photos, but is greatly aided by knowing the date and flower the bee is visiting. The grid below is in rough phenological order.
Vermont's Field Identifiable Cellophane Bees
Unequal Cellophane BeeColletes inaequalis
Blueberry Cellophane BeeColletes vallidus
Broad-footed Cellophane BeeColletes latitarsis
Williston's Cellophane BeeColletes willistoni
Goldenrod Cellophane BeeColletes solidaginis
Spine-shouldered Cellophane BeeColletes simulans
Aster Cellophane BeeColletes compactus
Unless otherwise specified, photos in the grid are courtesy of Margarita Miklasevskaja at PCYU with funding from NSERC-CANPOLIN.
Species not included:
Colletes impunctatus – Known from a single specimen from the Northeast Kingdom.
Colletes americanus – Found occasionally in the fall, primarily on goldenrods
Kincaid’s Cellophane Bee (Colletes kincaidii) – No recent records have been confirmed yet, but a likely kleptoparasite (Epeolus canadensis) was photographed at a Colletes nest in 2019.
Colletes banksi – A holly (Ilex) specialist that is yet to be confirmed for the state, but may occur sporadically where this summer blooming shrub is abundant.
Kindred Cellophane Bee (Colletes consors) – No confirmed recent records. A northern species.
Please note that many of our datasets have not been published yet, so the maps are incomplete.