Plasterer Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

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Plasterer bees, also known as cellophane or polyester bees, are solitary bees that emerge each spring. They are black in color, with pale setae around their thorax and setae forming pale bands on their abdomen, making them similar in size to honey bees but with distinctive features, such as bare eyes without hairs.

These bees play an essential role in pollination, but unlike social bees like honey bees and bumble bees, they don’t live in large colonies. Each female plasterer bee excavates her own nest without the help of other bees, making them unique and interesting creatures to study. Understanding their nesting habits, floral preferences, and behavior can help us appreciate their significance in our ecosystem.

Plasterer Bee Basics

Identification and Physical Features

Plasterer bees, also known as Colletid bees, are typically black in color, with pale setae (hairs) adorning their thorax and abdomen. Their size is similar to that of honey bees, but one distinguishing feature is their bare eyes.

Here’s a comparison table of various features for plasterer bees and three other common bees:

Feature Plasterer Bee Carpenter Bee Leafcutter Bee Mason Bee
Color Black Black Black/Brown Black
Size Similar to honey bee Larger Similar to honey bee Smaller
Eyes Bare Hairy Hairy Hairy
Solitary or Social Solitary Solitary Solitary Solitary
Nesting Material Own secretions Wood Leaf pieces Mud

Behavior

Plasterer bees are solitary, with each female excavating her nest without assistance from other bees. They have one generation per year, emerging each spring. As such, their behavior is quite different from social bees like honey bees and bumble bees.

As an example, when it comes to nesting, plasterer bees use their own secretions to form a smooth, waterproof lining for their nest cells, unlike:

  • Carpenter bees which nest in wood,
  • Leafcutter bees that use leaf pieces for their nests, and
  • Mason bees that use mud for nest construction.

Life Cycle and Nesting

Nesting Habits

Plasterer bees, also known as colletid bees, are a group of solitary bees typically found in native habitats like scrub, pineland, and sandhill areas1. These fuzzy bees are known for their unique nesting habits, which involve creating individual nest cells for their offspring2.

  • Solitary bees
  • Often found in native habitats
  • Unique nesting habits

Nest Construction

When constructing their nests, plasterer bee females create burrows in sandy soil or small holes found in the environment. They then line the nest cell walls with a cellophane-like material to protect the brood3. This material provides:

  • Waterproofing
  • Protection from parasites4

Reproduction

During reproduction, male and female plasterer bees mate, and then the females create nests for their offspring5. After collecting pollen and nectar for their young, the females seal the nest cells, leaving a single egg in each one6. The life cycle typically takes a year, with new bees emerging every spring7.

  • Mating occurs
  • Females create nests
  • Pollen and nectar collected
  • One egg per nest cell
  • Yearly life cycle

Ecological Importance and Pollination

Pollination Process

Plasterer bees, also known as cellophane bees, are part of the Colletidae family and are important native pollinators. They are black with pale setae around the thorax, and they are about the size of a honey bee. These bees emerge each spring and excavate their own nests without the help of other bees.

The pollination process of platerer bees involves visiting flowering plants, such as fruits, vegetables, and wildflowers, where they collect nectar and pollen. For example, blueberry bees, which are part of the Hylaeus family, are known to be efficient pollinators of blueberry plants.

Significance to Ecosystems

Pollinators like plasterer bees play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystems. Almost 80% of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world require pollination by animals. This benefits not just humans, but also other species that depend on those plants for food and shelter.

Native pollinators such as plasterer bees are essential for the pollination of various flowering plants. These bees are typically more efficient pollinators than honey bees, and contribute significantly to the overall health and diversity of ecosystems.

Comparison of Plasterer Bees (Cellophane Bees) and Honey Bees:

Feature Plasterer Bees (Cellophane Bees) Honey Bees
Size About the size of a honey bee Larger
Nesting Solitary nesting Social
Pollination efficiency Higher Lower

To sum up, plasterer bees, including cellophane bees and other native pollinators, are vital to the health and diversity of ecosystems. Their pollination process ensures the survival of various flowering plants, which in turn supports a multitude of other species, as well as human food and industrial resources.

Geographical Distribution and Habitat

Native Habitats

Plasterer bees, also known as Colletidae, are native to various parts of the world, including the United States, Australia, and Wales. In the United States, some species like the giant scrub plasterer bee Caupolicana floridana are found in Florida. These bees prefer habitats with sandy soils and are often found in gardens. Some digger bee species belonging to the Colletidae family are native to Texas.

Adaptation to Different Environments

Plasterer bees show ecological diversity across their various habitats. For example:

  • Ivy bees, found in Wales, are specially adapted to forage on ivy flowers
  • Some species in Australia are adapted to thrive in the unique flora of the region
  • In the United States, they can be found in environments ranging from Florida’s rain-prone areas to arid Texan landscapes.

Characteristics of plasterer bees include:

  • Wingspan varying between species
  • Gender-specific markings or body structures
  • Use of various native plants for foraging and nesting

Comparison table:

Habitat Native Bee Species Adaptations
USA (Florida) Giant scrub plasterer bee Sandy soil habitats
Wales Ivy bee Specialized foraging on ivy
Australia Australian colletid species Unique flora adaptations
USA (Texas) Digger bees Soil digging for nesting

These bees are capable of adapting to different environments and are an essential part of the local ecosystems, acting as pollinators for various plant species. Their habitats often reflect their feeding and nesting preferences, such as sandy soil conditions or specific plants like ivy.

Interaction with Other Insects

Predators and Threats

Plasterer bees, part of the family Colletidae, face various predators and threats in their environment. Some common predators include:

  • Wasps: These insects often prey on bees, including plasterer bees.
  • Ants: They may attack bee nests, consuming larvae and damaging the structure.
  • Birds: Some bird species feed on bees, picking them off flowers or catching them in flight.

In addition to these predators, plasterer bees face threats from other insects that can harm the bee population:

  • Honeybees: Although not aggressive, honeybees can compete with plasterer bees for pollen and nectar resources.
  • Hornets and Bumblebees: As stronger competitors, these species may outcompete plasterer bees for food sources.

Mimicry and Coexistence

Mimicry is a common strategy among insects for survival and coexistence. In the case of plasterer bees, some fly species are known to mimic their appearance to avoid predation. For example:

  • Flies: Some flies resemble plasterer bees, having similar body shapes and colors, which can provide protection from predators.

Additionally, plasterer bees coexist with other insects involved in pollination, such as butterflies and beetles. These insects may share the same flowers for gathering nectar and pollen. An example of coexistence:

  • Beetles: In cantharophily, beetles are pollen chewers that contribute to pollination and can share the same plants visited by plasterer bees (source).

Different pollinator groups often have distinct preferences and roles, which allows for a harmonious coexistence without excessive competition. In turn, this diversity benefits plants by attracting a variety of pollinators, boosting their chances of successful pollination.

Species Role in Pollination Mimicry Predation
Plasterer Bee Solitary bee, collects pollen N/A Yes
Honeybee Social bee, collects pollen N/A No
Fly Pollinator, mimics plasterer Yes No
Beetle Pollen chewer N/A No

Conservation and Practical Applications

Conservation Efforts

The conservation of plasterer bees, which belong to the Colletid family, is crucial as they play a significant role in pollination. Despite being less known compared to honey bees, they contribute to the pollination of various plants and wildflowers. To support their conservation, efforts should be made to:

  • Preserve their natural habitats such as scrub, pineland, and sandhill environments
  • Protect nesting sites in the soil or in adjacent open areas
  • Plant pollinator-friendly wildflowers and plants that provide their key resources like pollen and nectar

Role in Agriculture

Plasterer bees, also known as cellophane bees or polyester bees, can be beneficial to agriculture and gardens. They are efficient pollinators and possess certain traits that make them desirable, such as:

  • Docile nature: Unlike some aggressive species, plasterer bees are not aggressive and rarely sting, which makes them suitable for areas close to human activity.
  • Nesting habits: These bees create nests in the soil or other suitable locations, which allows for easier control and management in agricultural settings.

Gardens

The presence of plasterer bees in residential gardens can significantly improve the pollination of various plants and flowers. Homeowners can attract these bees by planting native wildflowers that are known to be favorable for them, such as those belonging to the Megachilidae family and yellow-faced bees. By doing so, gardeners can benefit from the increased pollination, resulting in more vibrant and fruitful gardens.

Footnotes

  1. Florida Museum of Natural History

  2. Colletid Bees

  3. Nests for Pollinators – UMN Extension

  4. Nesting Habits of Solitary Bees – OSU Extension Service

  5. Life Cycle and Biology – Bumble Bees of Wisconsin – UW-Madison

  6. Nests for Pollinators – UMN Extension

  7. Colletid Bees

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Plasterer Bee

 

unknown bee
I’ve attached an image of a bee I encountered in northern Georgia next to a lake. It appeared to be excavating a hole in a sandy wall, nearby there were hundreds of these holes, I assume also by these bees. I looked on your site and thought for a second it could be a plasterer bee. Any idea?
Anthony

Hi Anthony,
We agree that this is a Plasterer Bee in the family Colletidae. According to the Audubon Guide: “The Plasterer Bee lines its underground chambers with a thin, delicate, cellophane-like coating of saliva, suggesting its common name.”

Letter 2 – Plasterer Bee

 

What’s that bee?
Hello buggers,
My parents have a whole mess of these little guys/gals in their front desert-scaped yard. The small hills of dirt covered with crushed granite now have some dirt exposed, with little burrows about 3/16ths of an inch in diameter all over. These “bees” fly like cutter bees in that they zip around hurriedly, pausing to hover here and there, while they try to find their burrow entrance. They often land and check out a burrow, somehow realize it isn’t theirs and resume the search. They aren’t cutter bees though, as they don’t look much like them, and didn’t have any noticeable leaves in tow, nor any in the burrow that we excavated. They evidently aren’t aggressive either since I was sitting inches away from this one, with a macro lens pointed at it for a good 5 minutes, while I waited for the little ADHD bugger to hold still long enough to get a shot off. If you could please help with identification and any suggestions on getting rid of them since they have become a nuisance due to the shear number of them… without simply slathering the colony with insecticide preferably. Thank you once again for your help,
Ryan Ingraham

Hi Ryan,
We are confused. You state that the bees are not aggressive yet you want to slather them with insecticide. These are native Mason Bees in the family Megachilidae, that according to BugGuide, includes Leaf-cutter Bees, Mason Bees and allies. Perhaps one of our readers can provide a genus or species. These native bees are important pollinators, and they should not be exterminated. We would suggest that if your parents cannot bring themselves to cohabitate, that they simply cover up the exposed soil with additional decomposed granite.

Hi, Daniel:
One minor correction:
The “mason bees” in the xeriscape garden are actually “plasterer bees” in the genus Colletes, family Colletidae. At least, that is what the insect imaged is. They often nest in dense aggregations, but each female maintains her own burrow. Their activity usually lasts only 3-5 weeks, and then they are gone. They do not feed their offspring progressively, like social bees, but provision each cell in the burrow, then close off the burrow and leave, job done. Colletes are also valuable pollinators, and there are fewer and fewer places for them to nest as we pave-over and plow-under ever more land with urban sprawl. Unless you physically grab one of these bees, or step on one in bare feet, you will not get stung.
Eric

Update: (05/22/2008)
Daniel,
Right, that’s why I said: “without simply slathering the colony with insecticide preferably.” But you would have me burry them alive? The point is, and should have been clear, that I don’t want to harm them, otherwise that picture might have been different and on the carnage page. I did mention sitting with a macro lens trying to snap a shot, what kind of bug killer does that? I love nature, and would rather spray the area with something harmless yet mildly offensive to the little bees so they’ll go find new homes. Thanks for the concern, but I’m not a swatter-carrying member of that blatantly abusive pack of simians you often hear from. Please let me know of any natural and effective way of driving them away, or if you know of a resource for that kind of information. My parents are trying to sell their house, and I’ve asked them to give me a chance to get rid of the bees for them without spraying them with insecticide.
Thank you,
Ryan Ingraham

Hi Ryan,
Thanks for setting us straight. We didn’t want you to bury the poor Plaster Bees alive. We just thought that the garden, as it is, seems so inviting to the bees. It was more of a long term solution, that if the Plaster Bees were nesting in exposed soil, covering the exposed soil would help in the future. We don’t have any other suggestions, sadly, since we would like to offer your parents a solution. The irony of the situation when it comes to people selling houses and other things is that they never know what the buyer really wants. I would hate to think that your parents might spend unnecessary dollars on an exterminator, only to find that the one interested buyer, a nature lover who might be willing to offer more than the asking price, might decide not to buy if there are no pollinating insects in the garden. We are sure you are aware that insecticide is not species specific, and butterflies and other creatures will also be affected. Also remember that Eric Eaton indicates that this activity should only last 3-5 weeks of the year and it is probably about to end.

Update: (06/03/2008)
Hi Daniel,
Thanks for the info. and advice. Update: The bee larvae are cozy in their burrows, and all the mama bees split after burying their offspring alive. We added some more gravel, careful not to destroy the burrows. No insecticide was used… and my parents got an offer the day after they listed the home. Karma? Maybe. Ironic that the bees in my mom’s front yard split when their child rearing duties were through, and now I’m grown with a wife and kids and my parents are moving out of state leaving me buried alive in the dirt of the Arizona desert? … and that I didn’t have to use any pesticide? Definitely.
Ryan Ingraham

Letter 3 – Plasterer Bee

 

ground burrowing bug
Hello!
I was just curious if someone could tell me what this little guy (or gal) is? Is it a bee, wasp, hornet, neither? He (or she) plays peek- a-boo with me whenever I walk by, scurrying down into it’s little hole in the ground when I get close, but when I got out the camera to try and sneak up on it, it seemed to pose for these pictures. Anyway, I live in Wilmington, NC and would appreciate any info. Thanks!
TC

Hi TC,
This is one of our native Digger Bees, but we don’t feel comfortable with providing you with the tribe nor species. We will contact Eric Eaton to see if he can provide additional information.

Update: (03/25/2008)
Hi, Daniel:
Ok, to answer your questions. the digger bee from North Carolina is a “plasterer bee” in the genus Colletes. They are solitary, each female digging her own nest burrow, but they often nest in dense aggregations that make it appear they are social. The bee secretes a type of organic plastic with which she lines each cell in her burrow. The nectar and pollen she stores for her offspring are in a more liquid state than in most bees, so the plastic “baggie” helps keep it fresh and fungus-free. She suspends one egg from the ceiling of each cell, over the pool of food. The larva that hatches then consumes the meal. Colletes are important native pollinators of many flowers and trees, like redbud.
Keep up the great work, but don’t forget to rest, too.
Eric

Letter 4 – Plasterer Bees

 

need help identifying a bug
Help! We must have 100’s of what looks like anthills in our yard , but instead of ants coming out of them, we have these flying insects. They are good flyers and at this point, about 1 cm. Photo 2 is the whole
creature and 1 is a close up of the head. We live in Northern Virginia outside DC. Any help would be appreciated.
Jerry

Hi Jerry,
We wrote to Eric Eaton for some clarification on this, and he gave us this lengthy response:
“Neato! This person is privileged to be hosting large numbers of plasterer bees, genus Colletes, family Colletidae. They are solitary, each female excavating her own burrow, which branches into several cells underground. The bees get their common name from the fact that the female bee secretes from her body a natural polymer (that’s right, PLASTIC), with which she coats the inside of each cell. She makes a nectar and pollen “soup” that pools in the bottom, and she suspends a single egg from the ceiling. The larva that hatches feeds on the soup, which is kepf fresh and mold-free in the plastic baggie! Cool, huh? Colletes are among the many, many species of native, solitary bees we have in the U.S., and they are extremely valuable in pollinating wildflowers, as well as crops like alfalfa, cranberries, blueberries, and squashes that the non-native honey bees do not pollinate as efficiently, if at all. Plasterer bees are only locally common, so your “colony” may be the only one for miles, certainly the only one in the neighborhood.
Eric”
Hope that helps.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Plasterer Bee

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