There are few habitats in northeastern North America where one can escape the reach of the hyper-abundant exotic European honey bee (Apis mellifera). Contrary to popular impression, honey bees are not chubby and black-and-yellow-striped, but rather slender, with golden tones along abdomen. For the most part in the northeast, honey bees are managed by beekeepers for honey productions and crop pollination—that being said, you can still find honey bees on wild plants. We record honey bees in all but the most pristine natural areas.
Active from April through October in the northeast. Nests are perennial, and active colonies overwinter. Can occasionally be seen on warm days in mid-winter, when worker bees leave the colony for hygiene flights.
Widespread and hyper-abundant. In all but the most rural locations.
Size = honey bee
Workers: golden abdomen (though coloration can range from pale orange to dark rust/brown), flattened patch (corbicula) on hind legs for carrying pollen in wetted pellets, hairy eyes; all females are workers, queens remain in colony except when mating early in life high up in the sky
Males: rarely seen; like females but stockier, with longer antennae and huge bulging eyes
Unlikely to be confused with other species. Similarly-sized Andrena and Colletes do not carry wet pollen in corbiculae and lack hairs on the eyes. Apis mellifera is the sole species of Apis in North America. Hanging basketball-sized nests of bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are conspicuous and often attributed to honey bees, but this is a widespread misconception—honey bees are cavity nesters that do not build papery aerial nests.
Highly eusocial. Few feral colonies remain in New England; most nests are managed by professional and hobbyist beekeepers in boxes. Nests can reach impressive sizes upwards of 50,000 workers. Honey bees swarm in spring to search for new cavities when the old cavity is too small. Swarms—which look like a hanging ball of bees–can appear anywhere, from branches to rooftops to hotdog stand umbrellas.
Highly polylactic; visits basically any plant. Particularly common on clovers (Trifolium spp.), garden herbs e.g. lavender, rosemary, mints, milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), and goldenrods (Solidago spp.).
Parasitized by exotic Varroa mites, which have contributed to poor colony health in recent years.
Page last updated:
February 22, 2023