Life in the Box: Green Bees


A strange thing happened to me after I wrote a blog piece about green birds. I discovered a bright metallic green bee species! Have you ever seen a green bee? Me neither!

This bee, actually two of them, must have wanted their pictures taken, because I was out capturing some lovely purple thistle blossoms at Saylorville Lake in Johnston, Iowa, and the mystery bees just showed up. At first I was annoyed because I was trying for a photo without bugs, but when it slowly dawned on me that these glossy interlopers weren’t beetles or horse flies, but bees, I decided they needed some focus. I snapped about ten shots before they took off.

After I got home, I googled green bees and found pictures of some Central American green bees called Green Orchid Bees (Euglossa Dilemma). But they didn’t live north of the Mexican border with the U.S. and I was in the Midwest.

So I emailed some photos to entomologist Donald R. Lewis at the Iowa State University Extension office, and he noticed that the bee’s back legs weren’t extra huge like they would be for the Orchid bees. He suggested the Insect Family Halictidae, a “sweat bee” family.

He told me there are 28 different families of sweat bees, and that many are green. He sent me a link [bugguide.net] and several of the photos posted there look like my mystery bees, including one from Florida called Agapostemon splendens. That one still lives about a thousand miles south of me.

I also looked at a central states bee called Augochlora pura, but its legs were black. My bees’ legs were brown and hairy.

The legs matched Augochloropsis metallica better, and that’s also found in the Midwest. So, that’s a strong contender.

In addition, there’s a similar Blue Orchard Bee, Osmia Lignaria, and since metallic blue-green color can look different depending on the light, that’s what this could be. But that description says the adult bees stop being active in the spring, and this was July.

Well, I found out that bee identification is all about the details. Experts weigh all sorts of differences, including the bee’s “facial sutures and the shoulder blades and whether the “hind tibia is longer than the tarsus.

I returned to my bees’ location maybe 5 more times in the following 2 weeks, but never saw them again.

Thank goodness I had my camera at the ready that first day, or I would have questioned whether I really saw green bees or not. I’m relieved that I didn’t discover a new species, and that entomologists are aware of these little busy-bodies.

Whether it’s an Orchid bee, an Orchard bee, or a common Augochloropsis metallica, I’ve gotten a little lift by looking into this mystery. Green bees, green birds, what next? I’ll keep my eyes open!

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site.

Family Halictidea 

Augochloropsis Metallica 

Orchid Bee’s Big Back Legs 

Green Birds Essay