Melittidae Bee Family – An In-Depth Guide

Melittidae Bee Family

The Melittidae bee family is small group consisting of three subfamilies, fourteen genera, and just over 200 species. They are found in North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Melittids are oligoleges that prefer a narrow range of pollen sources. This characteristic has resulted in a family lacking diversity compared to larger bee families.

  • The Melittidae family mostly ranges from small to medium-sized specialist bees. They are short-tongued with an exposed mid-coxa and a pointed glossa.
  • Melittids are all solitary, nesting in burrows tunneled into sand or soil.
DistributionNorth America, Asia, Europe, and Africa
Number of SpeciesOver 200
SubfamiliesDasypodainae, Meganomiinae, Melitttinae,  

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


1. Dasypodainae

The Dasypodainae comprise seven genera in North America, Africa, and the Palearctic.

Notable Genera:

  • Dasypoda: these bees have long hairs on their hind legs to collect pollen. They nest in sandy soil and may build long elaborate tunnel systems. Some species in this genus have adapted to living in city streets.
  • Samba: a genus of 11 species of ground-nesters found in eastern and southwestern Africa. They have a unique spur on their midlegs, combining with their mandibles to open flowers.
Macro shot of a Pantaloon bee (Dasypoda hirtipes) on a flower
Dasypoda hirtipes (Pantaloon bee).

2. Meganomiinae

A subfamily of bees that have no apical mandibular tooth in females. They have four genera and 11 species.

Notable Genus:

  • Meganomia: A genus of large bees that can grow to over ¾” (2cm) in length. Four of the five species look similar to wasps with yellow markings, while the other is entirely black.
Close up nature photograph of a Rozen's Giant Bee (Meganomia gigas)
Rozen’s Giant Bee (Meganomia gigas), by adamjmtz, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Meganomiinae are only found in Africa and are large insects, measuring up to 22mm long. They are black with well defined yellow markings.

Some species look a lot like the common hover fly.

Zoomed in photograph of a hoverfly on a pink bloom
The hoverfly is remarkably similar to some members of the Meganomiinae family.

3. Melitttinae

The Melittinae subfamily is only found in Madagascar, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. Three genera are classified by having at least one subapical mandibular tooth.

Notable Genera:

  • Melitta: a genus of 51 species typically found throughout the northern hemisphere. They are solitary ground-nesters that will build nests in diverse habitats.
  • Rediviva: this group of 33 species has relatively long legs with dense hairs that extract floral oil from plants. The oil is used to feed their babies instead of nectar.
  • Macropis: a collection of 16 species that collect oil as a food source and for waterproofing their brood cells. These bees enjoy building nests in damp soil.
Detailed photo of a Melitta nigricans bee
Melitta nigricans.

Commonly asked questions

How do Melittids reproduce?

Melittid females mate with males on plants and then find a suitable location to build a nest. Once the brood cell is constructed, she adds pollen or floral oil and then lays a single egg. The larva consumes the food source after emerging, then overwinters and pupates the following spring.

What is the Melittidae bee family?

The Melittidae bee family is a group of bees that is relatively small compared to other bee families. The family is ancient, with most species specialized as short-tongued bees that gather pollen and oil from a restricted range of plant families.

Where can I find bees from the Melittidae family?

The Melittidae family of bees live in various parts of the world. They are more prevalent in Africa and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

How do Melittids differ from other bee families?

Melittid bees are mostly oligolectic, gathering pollen from a restricted range of plants, often within a single family. This differs from polylactic bees, which collect pollen from various plant species.

Are Melittid bees social or solitary?

The Melittidae family is made up of solitary bees.

Do bees in the Melittidae family sting?

Like most bees, Melittids have a stinger for defense. However, these insects are not aggressive and will usually only sting if threatened.

Closeup image of a Macropis europaea on a yellow flower
Macropis europaea.

5 fun facts about Melittids

  1. Some species within the Melittidae family have developed a specialized morphology allowing them to collect floral oil.
  2. Some Melittids enjoy collecting oil and pollen from Loosestrife (Lysimachia) flowers.
  3. The Dasypoda hirtipes is also known as the Pantaloon bee, thanks to its long hairs on the rear legs that look like ‘pantaloons.’
  4. Melittid bees are one of the earliest branching lineages of bees, making them a primitive group.
  5. Most Melittidae bees are solitary creatures. Each female bee mates, builds a nest, lays eggs, and feeds her offspring independently.
A sand burrow and a Pantaloon bee emerging from the entrance
The burrow of a Pantaloon bee.

Recommended reading

Michez, Denis (2008). “Monographic revision of the melittid bees (Hymenoptera, Apoidea, Melittidae sensu lato” (PDF). Proc. Neth. Entomol. Soc. Meet. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2019.

Hedtke, Shannon H. (2013). “The bee tree of life: a supermatrix approach to apoid phylogeny and biogeography”. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13 (138): 138. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-138. PMC 3706286. PMID 23822725.

Michez, Denis; Patiny, Sébastien; Danforth, Bryan N. (2009). “Phylogeny of the bee family Melittidae (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) based on combined molecular and morphological data”. Systematic Entomology. 34 (3): 574–597. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3113.2009.00479.x. ISSN 1365-3113. S2CID 85429197.

Michez, Denis; Patiny, Sébastien; Rasmont, Pierre; Timmermann, Kim; Vereecken, Nicolas J. (23 January 2008). “Phylogeny and host-plant evolution in Melittidae (Hymenoptera: Apoidea)” (PDF). Apidologie. 39 (1): 146–162. doi:10.1051/apido:2007048. S2CID 39528269.

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