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 March 2021, 10 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. Many of the species are communal ground nesters that can form large colonies – look for the “ant hills” with bigger holes.
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
Many species of Cellophane bees can be challenging to ID to species, but knowing the date and flower the bee is visiting can be helpful. The most common spring and fall species can usually be identified with a clear view of the face and thorax.
Spring Cellophane Bees (April + May)
Summer Cellophane Bees (June + July)
Fall Cellophane Bees (August – October)
Unless otherwise specified, photos in the grid are courtesy of Margarita Miklasevskaja at PCYU with funding from NSERC-CANPOLIN.
Species not included:
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.
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.