Metallic Green Bee: Quick Guide to Our Shiny Pollinator Friends

The Metallic Green Bee, also known as Agapostemon virescens, is a striking bee species that can be found in gardens throughout the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. With its vibrant green color, this eye-catching insect is not only a fascinating creature to observe but also a vital pollinator for various plants in your garden.

These green bees have a fascinating life cycle, with preferences for specific flowers and a remarkable appearance. Their beautiful metallic hue and dark, transparent wings make them stand out among other bee species. The Metallic Green Bee contributes to the ecosystem and encourages biodiversity by pollinating different types of flowers.

Basic Characteristics

Size

Metallic green bees are generally small to medium in size, typically ranging from 0.2 to 0.5 inches (5 to 12 mm) in length. Their compact size aids them in accessing a variety of flowers for nectar and pollen foraging.

Color

These insects exhibit bright, striking colors that set them apart from other bees. Their hues include:

  • Metallic green: A stunning and common color variation found in many species, like the Augochlora pura.
  • Blue: Some metallic green bees may have slight bluish undertones or even appear almost blue in certain lighting conditions.

Appearance

These bees are not only captivating in color but also have distinct physical features.

  • Bodies: Metallic green bees have a compact body structure with noticeable hair, giving them a fuzzy appearance.
  • Sexual dimorphism: There are some differences between males and females. Males often have longer antennae and slimmer bodies, while females are more robust and have structures for collecting pollen on their hind legs.

Metallic Green Bee vs. Bumblebee

Feature Metallic Green Bee Bumblebee
Size 0.2 to 0.5 inches (5-12mm) Larger, up to 0.9 inches (23mm)
Color Metallic green, blue Dark brown, black with bright yellow or orange stripes
Appearance Compact, fuzzy body Round, fuzzy body

Appealing Traits of Metallic Green Bees:

  • Striking coloration
  • Efficient pollinators
  • Diverse habitat preferences

Species and Distribution

North America

Metallic green bees are found throughout North America, particularly in the United States. One common example is the Agapostemon virescens, a striking green bee which mainly inhabits the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the country, but can be spotted coast to coast.

Another North American species is the Agapostemon melliventris, found across the United States and parts of Canada.

South America

In South America, one notable metallic green bee species is the Augochlora, which belongs to the family Halictidae.

Central America

Similarly, Central America is home to various metallic green bee species. The green carpenter bee, found in tropical regions, is one example.

Here’s a brief overview of these bee species:

Region Species Example Bee Family
North America Agapostemon virescens Halictidae
North America Agapostemon melliventris Halictidae
South America Augochlora Halictidae
Central America Green Carpenter Bee Halictidae

Some key features of metallic green bees are:

  • Bright metallic-green coloration
  • Varying sizes, often similar to or slightly smaller than a honeybee
  • Found in diverse habitats, including gardens and tropical regions

Distinctive characteristics include:

  • Ground-nesting or twig-nesting behaviors
  • Attraction to various flower types for pollination
  • Interaction with other insects and plants in their ecosystems

Habitats and Interactions with Plants

Preferred Habitat

The metallic green bee, also known as Agapostemon virescens, is found predominantly in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. However, there have been sightings from coast to coast. They reside mainly in gardens, meadows, and open woodlands.

Flowering Plants

These bees have a liking for native flowering plants, including:

  • Aster flowers
  • Goldenrod
  • Bee balm

Their attraction to flowers, rich in nectar and pollen, makes them essential pollinators.

Pollination Roles

The metallic green bee plays an important role in the pollination of various flowering plants. They help in:

  • Plant reproduction
  • Genetic diversity improvement
  • Increased fruit and seed production

A quick comparison of metallic green bees to honeybees:

Comparison Aspect Metallic Green Bee Honeybee
Habitat Gardens, meadows, open woodlands Beehives, apiaries
Pollination Role Strong pollinators of native plants Generalist pollinator
Social Behavior Solitary pollinator, single nests Lives in colonies
Behavioral Difference More likely to visit a variety of plants Less plant variety

Being solitary pollinators and visiting numerous plant species, metallic green bees contribute uniquely to plant and flower diversity.

Social Structure and Nesting

Solitary vs. Social Behavior

Metallic green bees are solitary bees, meaning they do not form colonies like honey bees or bumble bees. Each female metallic green bee is responsible for her own nest and offspring. This differs from social bees, which have a division of labor among worker bees, drones, and the queen.

Nest Construction

Solitary metallic green bees construct their nests underground in soil, creating tunnels that contain multiple cells. Each cell houses a single developing larva. Nest building is an essential part of the metallic green bee’s life cycle and involves excavating soil and burrowing into the ground.

Mating and Reproductive Habits

  • Female bees mate once and store sperm for their entire life.
  • Male bees primarily look for females to mate with.
  • Males are territorial and protect their chosen flowers.

Female metallic green bees lay eggs in the cells of their nests. Before sealing up each cell, the female provides a mixture of pollen and nectar, which serves as food for the developing larva. Once the larva has consumed this food, it will pupate and eventually emerge as an adult bee with fully developed wings.

Comparing Solitary and Social Bees:

Feature Solitary Bee Social Bee
Nesting Individual nests Shared colonies
Mating Mate once; females lay their own eggs Division of labor among caste members
Behavior Non-aggressive Territorial

Threats and Conservation

Predators

Metallic Green Bees (Agapostemon virescens) have various predators, including:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Praying mantises

These predators can significantly impact bee populations.

Pesticides and Human Impacts

Exposure to pesticides, particularly those used in agriculture, poses a significant threat to Metallic Green Bees. For example, neonicotinoids can negatively affect the bees’ ability to forage and reproduce.

Human activities, such as habitat destruction and urbanization, also contribute to the decline of bee populations.

Impact Example
Pesticide Neonicotinoids
Human Activity Habitat Destruction

Benefits to Ecosystems

Metallic Green Bees are crucial to ecosystems. They are:

  • Effective pollinators
  • Contributing to the growth of vegetables and fruits
  • Support biodiversity in meadows and other environments

Entomologists and other scientists recognize the need for conserving these beneficial insects.

Comparison to Other Bees and Wasps

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees are large, shiny, black, and yellow bees. They’re known for drilling holes into wood surfaces. Some key differences between carpenter bees and metallic green bees include:

  • Size: Carpenter bees are larger than metallic green bees.
  • Color: Carpenter bees are black and yellow, while metallic green bees have bright, metallic-green coloration.

For instance, sawdust piles below perfectly circular holes indicate the presence of carpenter bees, whereas metallic green bees don’t cause such damage.

Orchid Bees

Orchid bees, belonging to the genus Euglossa, are also bright metallic green. They share similar features with metallic green bees, such as:

  • Size: Both bees are roughly the same size, about 1.3 cm in length.
  • Color: Both have bright, metallic-green coloration.

However, orchid bees are rare and found mainly in Central and South America, while metallic green bees are found in the United States.

Mason Bees

Mason bees belong to the Osmia genus and are small, solitary bees often with metallic coloration. Differences with metallic green bees include:

  • Color: Mason bees can have a metallic-blue color, different from the green of metallic green bees.
  • Nesting: Mason bees build nests using mud or clay, unlike metallic green bees.

An example can be found in the blue orchard mason bee which is beneficial for pollination.

Differences in Aggression

Comparing aggression levels between bees and wasps:

Species Aggression Level
Metallic Green Bee Low
Carpenter Bee Low
Orchid Bee Low
Mason Bee Low
Wasps Moderate to High
Hornets High

Metallic green bees and other bee species mentioned are generally non-aggressive and focused on pollinating flowers. Wasps and hornets can be more aggressive, especially when their nests are disturbed. They have a smooth body, as opposed to bees’ hairy bodies, and the potential to sting multiple times.

Unique Features and Trivia

Salt Collection

Metallic green bees, like many other bee species, are known to collect salt from various sources, such as sweat or soil. They use their proboscis to drink salt-laden liquid, which provides essential nutrients for their body functions. Here are some examples:

  • Drinking sweat from human skin
  • Gathering salt from the soil surface

Atypical Bee Characteristics

Green sweat bees, such as the honey-tailed striped sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens) and Augochloropsis metallica, exhibit some peculiar traits that set them apart from other bees:

  • Generalists: These bees are not picky and can pollinate a wide variety of flowers.
  • Winter behavior: Unlike most bees that hibernate or die off during winter, some green sweat bees like Augochloropsis metallica can be found in Florida where they remain active throughout the winter months.
  • Parasitic bees: Some metallic green bee species are known as “cuckoo bees” due to their kleptoparasitic behavior, where they lay their eggs in the nests of other bee species.

Below is a comparison table of generalist and specialist bees:

Trait Generalist Bees (e.g. Green Sweat Bees) Specialist Bees
Flower preference Wide variety of flowers Specific types of flowers
Pollination efficiency May be less efficient Highly efficient for their preferred flowers

Expert Opinions

According to experts, metallic green bees exhibit striking physical features. The head, thorax, and abdomen of these bees are typically covered in vibrant, iridescent green or blue hues. The appearance of metallic green bees can vary slightly based on their species and location.

In conclusion:

  • Green sweat bees collect salt for their nutritional needs.
  • They differ from other bees in their generalist behavior, winter activity, and in some cases, parasitic lifestyles.
  • Metallic green bees have a unique, beautiful appearance with iridescent green or blue coloration.

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 – Metallic Green Bee

 

Agapostemon Texanus?
Hey there! Some internet research pointed to Agapostemon Texanus – does this sound right? I live in Portland, Oregon and have never seen these before. If it is, it looks like their range is nation wide. These guys appear to be somewhat common on your site.
Also, most sites I’ve seen have been primarily concerned with identification. I’m interested in a bit more, like where they nest, behavioral patterns, etc. Any good links you can recommend? Thanks!

This is a Metallic Green Bee in the genus Agapostemon, but we are not certain the species is texanus. BugGuide shows reports from the west coast of Canada, Washington state and California. Despite now having any submissions from Oregon, we would take an educated guess that Agapostemon texanus can also be found there. Hogue writes: “They nest in tubular burrows dug in the ground, often in clayh banks.”

Letter 2 – Metallic Green Sweat Bee

 

found this bee?
I am not sure what type or even if this is a bee, but was is a very pretty one, I have noticed them more and more lately, is it a coincidence that these bees(?) started showing up around my yard after for the most part all regular honey bees have pretty much stopped? I have lots of them around, my daughter loves looking at them, also I would like to know if I should be worried about her trying to catch one? Do they sting/bite
Sabrina

Hi Sabrina,
This is a Metallic Green Sweat Bee in the family Halictidae. They will sting, but it is very mild. We don’t know what to say about their recent appearance except perhaps you never noticed them before. We have gotten one request recently regarding why these green bees are attracted to purple flowers and your image is just one more example of this common occurrance. Eric Eaton provided this information: “The metallic green sweat bee is a male in the genus Agapostemon. They are common and widespread semi-social bees. Eric”

Letter 3 – Metallic Green Sweat Bee

 

Subject: Green Orchid Bee
Location: 76016 Arlington, TX
November 29, 2014 2:50 pm
This was taken today in Arlington, TX. We’ve seen several of these today humming around the garden. Temps are unseasonably warm, but will cool down tomorrow.
Signature: Lisa Parisot

Metallic Green Sweat Bee
Metallic Green Sweat Bee

Dear Lisa,
To the best of our knowledge, the Green Orchid Bee is not found in Arlington, Texas.  It is an introduced species and according to BugGuide it is a member of a:  “neotropical group, with 1 sp. established in so. FL and recorded from southernmost TX (Brownsville)”
  This is a Metallic Green Sweat Bee in the subfamily Halictinae, and you can read more about them on BugGuide where it states:  “Most species nest in burrows in banks or in the ground (Augochlora uses partially rotten logs). Some are primitively eusocial; in such cases usually a female guards the entrance to the burrow by plugging it with her head. Generally the main burrow is vertical; it sends horizontal branches, each branch ending in a solitary cell.”  It can be very difficult to identify Metallic Green Sweat Bees to the genus or species level from images. 

Letter 4 – Green Metallic Bee

 

wood eater / wood nester?
Good day Bugman,
I live in a log home. I recently found that one of the logs holding up one end of my front porch awning was damaged at its base. I started to pick away at the wood, thinking first it was water damage. As I continued to dig my fingers vertically up through the center of the log, I found a bunch of shiny, greenish, winged bugs with antani on their heads. They are a little over a 1/4" long and 1/16" wide. The look abit like one would think a "green hornet" would look. I thought they were termites, but I looked up termite on google and did not find a photo that matched my bug. Any idea what this bug is?
Thanks,
Robert Nieminen
Southbury, CT

Hi Robert,
We believe this is a Green Metallic Bee in the genus Augochlora, in the Halictid Family. According to the Audubon Guide: the “Female digs nest of many branching burrows in dead wood or uses pre-existing borrows of other insects. Female supplies each cell with pollen ball and nectar, and lays an egg on each ball. Larvae or pupae overwinter. Adults emerge in spring.”

Letter 5 – Metallic Green Sweat Bee and her Nest: Plagued by Cleptoparasitic Cuckoo Bee

 

Subject: Metallic Green Bee or Sweat Bee
Location: Toronto Canada
June 16, 2016 9:39 am
I have had a nest in my garden for about 6 years (it is a no dig zone). Thought I would share a photo with you. Great site! Have an awesome summer.
Signature: Scott Morrow

Metallic Green Sweat Bee and Nest
Metallic Green Sweat Bee and Nest

Dear Scott,
We love your image of a Metallic Sweat Bee hovering near her nest so much we are going to feature it this month.  According to BugGuide, Sweat Bees in the family Halictidae are:  “typically ground-nesters, with nests formed in clay soil, sandy banks of streams, etc. Most species are polylectic (collecting pollen from a variety of unrelated plants).”  We also want to commend you on your “no dig zone” which will protect the young that are developing in the nest.  We wish more of our readers were as sensitive to the environment as you are.

Wow…i am honoured!!
There is a ‘but’ though…I have been seeing small red and black bees landing on the nest site. To the best of my research they may be trying to attack the nest of the green bees (cleptoparasites I think they were called). I don’t like to alter how real life happens but I love my green bees…any suggestions?
Scott

Hi Scott
We are sorry to hear about your disappointment.  We are hoping you are able to provide an image of the “mall red and black bees.”  They sound like they might be members of the genus
Sphecodes, based on this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Cleptoparasites, usually of other Halictinae.”

My apologies if it came across as being disappointed. I am very happy in fact.
I will try to get a picture but they are quite small and fast to fly away.
Thanks again.
Scott

Hi Scott,
Sometimes electronic communication leads to misunderstandings.  We interpreted your love for your green bees to mean you were disappointed that they were being Cleptoparasitized by the black and red relatives.  On a positive note, we doubt that all of the Green Sweat Bee young will be lost.  We eagerly await a potential image of the Cleptoparasite.

Update:  June 24, 2016
Hi Daniel
This is the best I managed to get. The Green Bee guard is blurred but can be seen in the centre of the photo.
Even though I love my Green Bees I will not harm or harass the red ones as this is what nature does.
Be well and have a great buggy summer.
Scott

Cleptoparasite Bee
Cleptoparasitic Cuckoo Bee

Hi Scott,
Thanks so much for the update.  We are confident that the red bee is a Sweat Bee in the genus
Sphecodes which is well represented on BugGuide, though we would not entirely rule out that it might be a Cuckoo Bee, Holcopasites calliopsidis, based on the images posted to Beautiful North American Bees.  That would take far more skill than our editorial staff possesses, though according to BugGuide it is a diminutive “5-6 mm”.  We will contact Eric Eaton to get his opinion.  While we feel for your affection for the Metallic Green Sweat Bees, we do not believe the presence of the red cleptoparasitic  Bees will decimate the population of the green bees.  Nature has a way of balancing out populations, and when food is plentiful, populations flourish.  Your “no dig zone” is diversifying in its inhabitants.  To add further information on cleptoparasitism, we turn to BugGuide where it defines:  “cleptoparasite (also kleptoparasite) noun – an organism that lives off of another by stealing its food, rather than feeding on it directly. (In some cases this may result in the death of a host, for example, if the larvae of the host are thereby denied food.”

Correction Courtesy of Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The cleptoparasite is a Nomada sp. cuckoo bee.  The host bee is Agapostemon virescens, by the way.  Never seen a turret on their nest entrance that was so tall!  Nomada is a genus in the family Apidae (formerly Anthophoridae).
Eric

Ed. Note:  When we first responded to the Cleptoparasite response, we suspected we might be dealing with a Cuckoo Bee and we prepared a response with BugGuide quotes including “Wasp-like, often red or red and black and often with yellow integumental markings” and “cleptoparasites of various bees, primarily Andrena but also Agapostemon and Eucera (Synhalonia) (these are usually larger than the Andrena cleptoparasites). (J.S. Ascher, 23.iv.2008)  males mimic the specific odors of the host females and patrol the host nest site.”  We were going to console Scott with the information that his Green Sweat Bees were most likely being scoped out by male Cuckoo Bees who had not net mated with a female, the real cleptoparasite.  Next time we will trust our first impression.

 

Letter 6 – Metallic Sweat Bee

 

Orchid Bee in North Carolina?
April 21, 2010
Hi WTB!
I love your site! I can finally ask someone about the critters I’ve been photographing in my yard. This little green bee was crawling on a lighter on my table one day. It was beautiful and I just had to find out what kind it was. At first I thought it was a Green Metallic Bee, but it didn’t look exactly like one. Then I thought maybe it was an Orchid Bee, but I didn’t think they came as far north as Charlotte, NC. Could you please tell me what kind of bee this is? I’d love to see more of them in my garden. Maybe if I plant their favorite flowers they’ll stick around!
Thanks so much. This site is in my top 10 favorite sites ever!
Rebecca White

Charlotte, NC

Metallic Sweat Bee

Dear Rebecca,
This is a Metallic Sweat Bee, probably in the genus Augochlorini, though the family Halictidae is quite confusing for us.  We matched your bee to a photo on BugGuide.  BugGuide also indicates that it is difficult to differentiate between the three genera Ausochlora, Augochlorella and Augochloropsis.

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