Colletidae Bee Family – An Essential Guide

Colletidae Bee Family

The Colletidae bee family is a large and varied group made up of over 2000 species. With nine distinct subfamilies, it contains short-tongues, primitive species. Colletids range greatly in appearance, including tiny bees, insects resembling wasps, or fat, furry bumblebee-like species.

Interestingly, Colletids all line their nests with a cellophane-like material. They are also known as polyester bees, plasterer bees, or cellophane bees.

DistributionWorldwide except Antarctica. Mostly Australia and South America
Number of speciesOver 2000
SubfamiliesColletinae, Colletes, Xeromelissinae, Hylaeinae, Euryglossinae, Paracolletinae, Neopasiphaeinae, Callomelittinae, Scraptrinae

Did you know? We summarize all seven bee families here.


1. Colletinae

The Colletinae subfamily is predominantly found in South America. There are four genera comprising nearly 550 species. These bees have a penchant for nest-building, particularly in the ground or hollow branches.

Notable genus:

  • Colletes
Closeup image of a Colletes daviesanus bee on a leaf
Colletes daviesanus.

2. Diphaglossinae

This Diphaglossinae subfamily is well-known for its large, hairy bees. It is spread across the Americas with around 130 species.

Notable genera:

  • Caupolicana
  • Diphaglossa

3. Xeromelissinae

The Xeromelissinae subfamily feature small bees with minimal hair. They are typically located in Central and South America.

Notable genera

  • Chilicola
  • Geodiscelis
  • Xeromelissa

4. Hylaeinae

Known as masked bees, the Hylaeinae are speedy flyers. They are often adorned in bright metallic colors. Australasia houses the majority of these seven genera.

Notable genera:

  • Hylaeus
  • Meroglossa
Macro image of a Hylaeus meridionalis (Masked Bee) on the ground
Hylaeus meridionalis (Masked Bee).

5. Euryglossinae

Euryglossids carry pollen in their crop, or foregut, instead of relying on scopae. They are typically small, bald, and pale. Over 400 species live in Australasia, mostly known for nesting in the ground.

Notable genera:

  • Euryglossa
  • Pachyprosopis

6. Paracolletinae

Paracolletinae stands out as the smallest Colletid subfamily. With only one genus and eight species, Paracolletes is the lone ranger of this group.

Notable genus:

  • Paracolletes

7. Neopasiphaeinae

The Neopasiphaeinae subfamily is a diverse collection of almost 450 ground-nesting species, primarily found in Gondwana.

Notable genera:

  • Lonchopria
  • Neopasiphae

8. Callomelittinae

This small subfamily is known for its striking red and black appearance. Bees in this subfamily are found in Australia and New Caledonia.

Notable genus:

  • Callomelitta

9. Scraptrinae

The Scraptrinae is made up of one genus with 70 species. They have a preference for ground nesting and are mainly found in South Africa.

Notable genus:

  • Scrapter

Commonly asked questions

What is the Colletidae bee family?

The Colletidae family is a large and diverse group of bees, encompassing over 2,000 known species across nine subfamilies. They range in appearance from tiny, delicate bees to robust, furry insects resembling bumble bees.

Where can I find bees from the Colletidae family?

Colletidae bees have a global distribution but are commonly found in regions across the Americas and Australasia. They have adapted to various environments, from forests and grasslands to urban settings.

How do Colletidae bees differ from other bee families?

One distinctive feature of Colletidae bees is how they line their brood cells (where larvae develop). These bees use a cellophane-like material, creating a protective barrier against pathogens. This has earned them the nickname “cellophane bees.”

Are Colletidae bees social or solitary?

Colletidae bees are solitary, although many will nest in aggregations. The nesting habits can vary significantly among different species and subfamilies.

Do Colletidae bees sting?

Like most bees, female Colletidae bees are capable of stinging when threatened. However, they are generally not aggressive and prefer to go about their pollination activities undisturbed.

What do Colletidae bees eat?

Colletidae bees, like most bees, feed on nectar and pollen from various plants. Some species are generalists, feeding on many different types of plants, while others may specialize in pollinating specific plant species.

What’s unique about the way some Colletidae bees carry pollen?

Colletidae bees in the Euryglossinae and Hylaeinae subfamily carry pollen internally in their crop (honey stomach) rather than on their scopae.

Why are some Colletidae bees called “masked bees”?

Some members of the Colletidae family are called “masked bees” due to characteristic facial markings that give the appearance of a mask.

Zoomed up photograph of a Ivy bee (Colletes hederae) emerging from its nest in the ground
Ivy bee (Colletes hederae).

10 fun facts about colletids

  1. Architectural masters: The Colletidae bees line their brood cells with a unique cellophane-like material, earning some species the nickname “cellophane bees” or “plasterer bees.” They smooth the nest walls with secretions from their mouths.
  2. Vast family: The Colletidae family is incredibly diverse, with about 2,000 known species spread across nine subfamilies.
  3. Cosmopolitan distribution: These bees can be found across the globe, from the Americas to Australasia, demonstrating their adaptability to different environments.
  4. Size spectrum: The Colletidae family spans a broad range of sizes, from tiny bees no larger than a few millimeters to larger, more robust species that resemble bumble bees.
  5. Unique pollen collection: Some Colletidae bees carry pollen in their crop instead of on their legs.
  6. A taste for solitude: Many Colletidae bees are solitary, with females creating individual nests instead of living in large colonies.
  7. Ground dwellings: Colletidae bees prefer to nest in the ground, although some choose hollow twigs.
  8. Daytime flyers: Colletidae bees are typically diurnal or active during the day.
  9. Hair patterns: These bees often have characteristic hair patterns, particularly on their faces, which can help identify different species and genera.
  10. Pollen feeders: Most genera provide liquid or semiliquid pollen masses for their larvae to feed on as they develop.

Recommended reading

Hedtke, S.M., Patiny, S. & Danforth, B.N. The bee tree of life: a supermatrix approach to apoid phylogeny and biogeography. BMC Evol Biol 13, 138 (2013).

Slattery, P.S., Parslow, B.A., Lee, M.S.Y., et al. Disparate continental scale patterns in floral host breadth of Australian colletid bees (Colletidae: Hymenoptera). Apidologie 54, 17 (2023).

Qing-Song Zhou and others, The First Draft Genome of the Plasterer Bee Colletes gigas (Hymenoptera: Colletidae: Colletes), Genome Biology and Evolution, Volume 12, Issue 6, June 2020, Pages 860–866,

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