Apidae Bee Family – An Essential Guide

A honey bee from the Apidae Bee Family

The Apidae bee family is the largest, comprising over 5,700 species worldwide. This bee collective is a prolific pollinator, playing vital economic and ecological roles. It includes well-known genera, like honeybees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees.

The Apidae family is distributed worldwide and found on every continent except Antarctica. Bees within this classification are typically characterized by their long-tongued mouthpart; their labial palpus has two long basal palpomeres with two shorter apical ones, often at right angles to the longer two.

DistributionEvery continent except Antarctica
Number of speciesAlmost 6,000
SubfamiliesAnthophorinae, Nomadinae, Apinae, Eucerinae, and Xylocopinae

Apidae bees are relatively large, robust, and hairy. They have a tongue-like proboscis used to collect nectar and pollen from flowers. Specialized structures on their back legs are designed to carry pollen.

The Apidae family faces many threats. Habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, disease, and pests like the varroa mite all play their part in reducing their numbers. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the survival of the Apidae family.

Apidae subfamilies

The Apidae family comprises the Anthophorinae, Nomadinae, Apinae, Eucerinae, and Xylocopinae subfamilies.

1. Anthopharinae

Bees in the Anthophorinae subfamily are primarily solitary, although a few social species exist. The subfamily includes contrasting genera such as Anthophora and Habropoda.

Anthophora furcata on a green leaf

Anthophorinae bees are often characterized by their robust bodies, hairy appearance, and rapid flight speed, which has earned them the colloquial name of “digger bees” or “fast bees.” 

They typically nest in burrows in the ground or wood, and many species exhibit unique mating and nesting behaviors. 


  • Anthophora
  • Deltoptila
  • Elaphropoda
  • Habrophorula
  • Habropoda
  • Pachymelus
  • Protohabropoda
  • Varthemapistra

2. Nomadinae

The Nomadinae subfamily contains members known as “nomad bees.” They are notable for their kleptoparasitic lifestyle, laying eggs in the nests of other bee species.

Closeup of Black and white Cuckoo Bee (Epeolini) on a yellow flower

Once the Nomadinae larvae hatch, they consume the host bee’s pollen and nectar provisions and the host larvae themselves.


  • Ammobatini
  • Ammobatoidini
  • Biastini
  • Brachynomadini
  • Caenoprosopidini
  • Epeolini
  • Hexepeolini
  • Neolarrini
  • Nomadini 
  • Townsendiellini
Detailed closeup of a male Gooden's Nomad bee, Nomada goodeniana

3. Apinae

The Apinae subfamily comprises some of the most well-known and studied groups of bees. Honey bees, bumble bees, stingless bees, and carpenter bees are all a part of this classification. 

These bees are diverse: honey and stingless bees are highly social, living in large colonies with a complex caste system. Bumble bees also form social colonies but on a much smaller scale. Carpenter bees are typically solitary or display simple social behaviors. 

Many Apinae bees do an excellent job of pollinating particular plant species and crops. They have great economic importance, producing resources like honey, propolis, and beeswax.


  • Ancylaini
  • Anthophorini
  • Apini
  • Bombini
  • Centridini
  • Ctenoplectrini
  • Emphorini
  • Ericrocidini
  • Eucerini
  • Euglossini
  • Exomalopsini
  • Isepeolini
  • Melectini
  • Meliponini
  • Osirini
  • Protepeolini
  • Rhathymini
  • Tapinotaspidini
  • Tarsaliini
  • Tetrapediini
  • Teratognathini

4. Eucerinae

Bees within the Eucerinae subfamily are commonly referred to as long-horned bees thanks to the notably long male antennae. They are globally distributed and quite diverse, comprising many genera. The Eucera is a common genus that’s easy to spot in the garden.

Eucerinae bees, like many other bee groups, are primarily solitary. Females often construct individual nests in the ground; however, nesting habits vary widely among species. 

Many Eucerinae species are specialist pollinators, preferring to collect pollen from a single plant family or plant species. This plays a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity.


  • Eucera
  • Peponapis
  • Xenoglossa
  • Melissodes
  • Svastra
  • Tetraloniella

5. Xylocopinae

Xylocopinae is a subfamily of the Apidae family of bees, commonly known as the carpenter bee. Their name derives from their nesting behavior, where they burrow into wood to lay eggs. 

The most well-known genus within this subfamily is Xylocopa, which includes large, robust bees often mistaken for bumblebees due to their size and the male’s aggressive, territorial behavior. 

Closeup picture of a tropical carpenter bee (Xylocopa latipes) on a plant

Despite this, male carpenter bees, like all male bees, are harmless as they lack a stinger. Females do have a stinger, but they are usually docile unless provoked. 

Carpenter bees are typically solitary bees. The female excavates the nest and stores nectar and pollen for her offspring.


  • Allodapini
  • Ceratinini
  • Manueliini
  • Xylocopini 

What is the importance of Apidae bees?

Apidae bees are essential for pollination (skip down to the research). Farmers rely heavily on pollen-collecting bees to grow vegetables, nuts, and fruits. 

These bees are also important pollinators of wildflowers and other non-commercial plants, helping to maintain biodiversity in many ecosystems.

In addition to their economic and ecological importance, Apidae bees have cultural significance in many indigenous cultures. In Australia, the local Aboriginals have used honey for thousands of years as medicine and for trading and gift-giving.

Habitat and distribution

Apidae bees are found in various habitats around the world in warm and temperate regions. They are highly adaptable and will build their homes in cities, forests, grasslands, and deserts. Some species of Apidae bees will travel long distances to forage – they can live virtually anywhere safe.

The distribution of Apidae bees varies depending on the species. Some species are found in specific climates or locations, while others have a wide distribution.

The bumblebee species (Bombus) is in North America, Europe, and Asia. Stingless bees (Meliponini) are more common in tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

In addition to their natural habitats, Apidae bees are also commonly found in managed habitats, such as agricultural fields and orchards. 

What is a corbiculate?

Corbiculate describes a group of bees within the family Apidae. They have structures on their hind legs called corbiculae, which are used to collect and transport pollen. Corbiculate bees include honey bees, bumblebees, stingless bees, and orchid bees.

9 fun facts about the Apidae family

  1. Some Apidae bees, like honey bees, perform a waggle dance to communicate the direction and distance of food sources relative to their hive.
  2. The largest bee species in the world, Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto), belongs to the Apidae family. It measures up to 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length.
  3. Bumble bees can buzz their wings at a frequency that matches the resonant frequency of certain flowers. This releases pollen through a process called buzz pollination.
  4. Many members of the Apidae family have hairs that collect and distribute pollen as they move from flower to flower.
  5. Indigenous cultures have prized some species of stingless bees for centuries. Their honey was used for medicinal purposes, gifting, and trading. Source.
  6. Carpenter bees are known for their ability to drill perfectly round holes in wood, which they use as nests.
  7. The honey bee is the only insect that produces food humans consume in significant quantities, such as honey and beeswax.
  8. Some Apidae species, like the Africanized bee, have gained notoriety for their aggressive behavior and tendency to swarm when disturbed.
  9. The Apidae may have existed 115 million years ago. This family includes the oldest known fossil bee.

Interesting research

We included some useful research related to the Apidae family. Read our summary by clicking an article below. We’ve also included a link to the full research paper.

Khalifa SAM, Elshafiey EH, Shetaia AA, et al. Overview of Bee Pollination and Its Economic Value for Crop Production. Insects. 2021;12(8):688. Published 2021 Jul 31. doi:10.3390/insects12080688

Pollination plays a vital role in maintaining the natural balance of ecosystems and is the cornerstone of crop production. This researchers in this review aim to highlight the role of the bee in plant pollination and its impact on the economy.

5–8% of all global crop production would be lost without the pollination services provided by bees. This would necessitate changes in the human diet and the expansion of agricultural lands to resolve shortfalls in crop production.

Bees are faced with many challenges, including shifts in land use, climate change, pesticides, genetics and cultivation management.

Concerns regarding the decline of domestic and wild bees have increased the need to encourage the use of wild pollinators on agricultural lands.

For the cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana Linn), western honey bees’ pollination improved the equatorial diameter by a mean of 13.3%, fruit mass by 30.3%, seed variety by 7%, and seed mass by 8.4% compared with self-pollination. The use of honey bees for almond pollination increased fruit set by 60% compared with bee-remote trees, which translated into a 20% increase in yield.

The use of insecticides and pesticides is damaging to human health because both crops and bee products become contaminated with agrochemicals that humans must eventually ingest.

Read the research here.

Kelber, A.; Somanathan, H. Spatial Vision and Visually Guided Behavior in Apidae. Insects 2019, 10, 418.

Apidae is the largest bee family and, besides Halictidae, has the largest number of social species. This includes almost 500 species of stingless bees, eight species of honeybees, and approximately 270 species of bumblebees.

Social bees have attracted more attention than solitary bees. Most studies on visual behavior and adaptations have focused on just two species, the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) and the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).

The researchers aim to summarize the current knowledge on spatial vision for social Apidae. They will then relate it to their flight activity and visually guided behaviors, and compare it to what is known from other bees.

While most bees are active during the daytime, few species have extended their activity into the night, requiring high absolute eye sensitivity.

These findings suggest bees can store and recall nest-centered views during learning and return flights.

Ommatidial diameter and the number of ommatidia in each eye are correlated with body size. The small stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) can only detect flowers from the background when they have almost a 10° visual extension. This means they can only see a 1cm diameter bloom at a distance of 6 cm.

Read the research here.

Further reading

  • If you enjoy learning about bees, check out our article of the seven bee families.
  • The BugGuide has some great pics of Apidae.
  • Borror, D. J.; DeLong, D. M.; Triplehorn, C. A. (1976). An introduction to the study of insects (4th ed.). Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Mitchell, T. B. (1962). Bees of the Eastern United States. Vol. 2. North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station. Tech. Bul. No. 152
  • Michener, Charles D. (2007) The bees of the world. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Londres.]
  • O’Toole, Christopher, Raw, Anthony (1999) Bees of the world. Cassell Illustrated.

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