Bees are a significant part of agriculture as they serve as pollinators for the many crops, flowers and nuts that are important to Tennessee and produce honey. 


To know about bees that are obviously not bumblebees, but may resemble them, you may be concerned that these bees are causing some damage to your property, or are a danger to children and pets. Almost all of these are classed as solitary bees.

These bees are generally less hairy than bumblebees and usually, but not always, smaller. The colour and pattern of their hairs varies, but is rarely the yellow and black seen in the commoner bumblebee. Solitary bees fall into four main groups, miners, carpenters, masons and leafcutters.


Solitary bees

Mining bees

These bees generally nest in the ground, often in paths or lawns, and some of the lawn nesting species nest communally. The entrance to their burrows are often marked by a small mound of soil (see right). These bees are good pollinators of economically important plants such as fruit trees and alfalfa. In reasonable numbers these bees won’t harm your lawn.

Carpenter bees

These bees have powerful mandibles (jaws) that can dig tunnels in wood. Naturally a large number of carpenter nests in the structural support of a building will cause some damage, but this is unusual. One behaviour can be alarming though. The males compete with other males to mate with females. Humans in the way of all this may think they are under attack, they are not, they are just in the way. There is no danger as males cannot sting, so like much male mating behaviour it’s all bluster and show.

Mason bees

These bees will nest in almost any cavity which they can modify in shape with earth or other materials to suit their requirements. Some species specialise in nesting inside snail shells, and there is a tiny species that nests in the holes left by wood worm beetles. They are often found nesting in old nail holes and in the mortar of old walls. Others, construct cells using clay, sand, earth and chalk, and earth mixed with wood – whatever is at hand. Mason bees look like small, dark bumblebees, but has orange-coloured hairs on their hind legs. They are an important fruit pollinator.

Leafcutting bees

These are the bees that cut holes and semi-circles out of rose leaves, and other leaves, to line the cells in their nest. They nest in a variety of places, in the ground, under stones, in cavities in wood and stone, pithy plant stems, and in dead wood. In some areas they are raised to pollinate crops.


Other bees

Sweat bees

These are in the Halictidae family. Most are small – medium sized, and as with all bees feed on pollen and nectar, however they get their common name from their habit of licking the perspiration off human skin. Most species are solitary, but there are a few social nesting species.


Bumblebees are large, hairy social insects with a lazy buzz and clumsy, bumbling flight. Many of them are black and yellow. Queen and worker bumblebees can sting. You don’t often see stings as bumblebees are reluctant to use them.


The honeybee body has the typical bee shape. There are around 20 000 species of bee world wide. The colour of honeybees varies according to the species, but is usually brown and covered in brown/gray hairs. The honeybee is not nearly as hairy as the bumblebee. The body of the queen is similar to that of the workers, but she is a little larger.

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