Ligated furrow bee (Halictus ligatus) and Poey’s furrow bee (Halictus poeyi) are among the most abundant backyard bees in the Western Hemisphere. If you’re near flowering plants—particularly Asteraceae—in North America any time between late spring and early fall, this species pair (which is currently not separable in the field) is bound to be present. Like bumble bees, H. ligatus/poeyi nest in eusocial colonies comprised of a reproductive queen and non-reproductive workers.
Active May through September in the northern part of its range, but can be found year-round in subtropical/tropical areas. Primitively eusocial, with multiple generations per year.
Widespread and abundant. H. poeyi replaces H. ligatus across the southeastern United States, from southern New Jersey to Florida and west along the gulf coast to Texas.
Size < honey bee
Females: medium, all-dark bee with matte integument (with queens being larger than workers). Best recognized by their disproportionately-large and boxy head, with a distinctive projection on the cheek (“genal tooth”; somewhat like that in Megachile pugnata). Tergites with bold apical hair bands along rims.
Males: small, dark bee with bicolored antennae (dark above, orange below), yellow-orange legs, and distinct hair bands on the rims of the tergites
H. ligatus cannot be reliably distinguished from H. poeyi in the field. These species are most reliably differentiated by mitochondrial DNA, but most Halictus north of northern New Jersey can be identified safely as H. ligatus.
- Female H. rubicundus have more slender heads and no genal tooth. Male H. rubicundus have all dark antennae.
- Lasioglossum sensu stricto (e.g., L. coriaceum) have basal hair bands.
Nests in a variety of disturbed soils, including along roadways, in backyards, and exposed banks. Nest entrances often concealed by leaves or, in one case, “basal rosettes” of dandelions and hawkweeds. Known to nest in aggregations, both with other H. ligatus as well as with other Halictids such as H. confusus and Lasioglossum zephyrum.
Eusocial. Overwintered mated females emerge in early spring and construct underground nests. Most individuals in the first generation of offspring each year are small, nonreproductive worker females. These workers assist the nest’s founding queen in foraging for a second generation of reproductive individuals, which emerge later in the season to mate; females of this second generation overwinter to found the following year’s colonies.
Can be found foraging on just about anything and everything, though asters (Asteraceae like yarrow Achillea millefolium, black-eyed susans Rudbeckia hirta/ R. fulgida, and sunflowers Helianthus) may be particular favorites.
Not known to host any cuckoo bees. Nests parasitized by bee flies bombyliidae, wedge-shaped beetles Rhipiphoridae, and satellite flies Miltogramminae. Adults are preyed upon by bee wolves Philanthus.
Michener C.D. and Bennett F.D. 1977. Geographical variation in nesting biology and social organization of Halictus ligatus. Univ. Kans. Sci. Bull. 51: 233-260.
Packer, L. and Knerer, G. 1986. An analysis of variation in the nest architecture of Halictus ligatus in Ontario. Insectes Sociaux. 33: 190-205.
Richards, M.H. and Packer, L. 1995. Annual variation in survival and reproduction of the primitively eusocial sweat bee Halictus ligatus (Hymenoptera: Halictidae). Can. J. Zool. 73:933-941.
Page last updated:
January 17, 2023