Bee a community scientist: report sightings of cellophane bees!

Cellophane bees (Colletes inaequalis) herald spring in the eastern US. Bees emerge on the first warm day, when snow is still on the ground. They get right to work searching for flowers to feed on after a long winter. And, as spring comes earlier and earlier, bees are coming out earlier. We, pollinator scientists at Tufts University, want to learn more about how the annual schedules of bees are affected by climate change. And we need your help!

What can I do? Report any sightings of cellophane bees to iNaturalist or via this form (but not both).

How do I know I’ve found a cellophane bee? Cellophane bees live east of The Rockies and from North Carolina to Ontario. They are slender and macaroni-sized, ~0.75x the size of a honey bee. They are fuzzy with bold white stripes over a black abdomen and they have “cute” heart-shaped faces. Unlike similar sized mining bees (Andrena spp.), females do not have shallow, vertical grooves on their face.

female cellophane bee in nest entrance
Female cellophane bees sun themselves in nest entrances. Look for their “heart-shaped” faces without vertical grooves.
female cellophane bee (Colletes inaequalis) on prairie willow
Females have bold stripes on their abdomens and sand-colored hair on their thorax and face.

What do their nests look like? Cellophane bee nests look like tiny volcanoes of sand (think ant hill but with an entrance about the width of a pencil). They nest in aggregations, meaning one nest is surrounded by many others of similar size and shape. Aggregations often form in disturbed areas or sparsely vegetated ground on sunny slopes. Cemeteries, walking paths, and river banks are all good places to look!

cellophane bees nest in aggregations
Cellophane bees nest in aggregations on sparsely vegetated slopes. Look for volcanoes of sand!

What flowers do cellophane bees like? Shrubby willows (Salix), red maples (Acer rubrum), redbud (Cercis canadensis), plum (Prunus), and apple (Malus).

Females (left) are slightly bigger than males (right). Both visit flowers for nectar.

Do I have to worry about being stung? Don’t worry, cellophane bees are docile! Each female takes care of her own nest, which takes a lot of time and energy. She wouldn’t risk getting involved with a giant human.

Questions? Check out this video or send us an email.