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Beneficial Pollinators: Honey Bees and Bicolored Striped-Sweat Bee

Written with contributions by Shelby Pritchard, former SDSU Extension Pest Management Specialist.

Originally Submitted: May 27, 2022

With temperatures slowly increasing in South Dakota, expect to see an increase of beneficial pollinators that will be searching for blooming plants. Both non-native and native insects contribute to the process of pollination that is critical for many of the fruits and vegetables we consume. This article will highlight two important pollinators, including the introduced honey bee, as well as the local bicolored striped-sweat bee.

Honey bee (Apis mellifera)

A hairy, golden-brown bee with dark brown and orange stripes on its hind end and a large orange oval of pollen on its back leg. It is perched on a flower with many purple petals and bright orange stamens.
Figure 1. Adult honey bee worker with large pollen sacs on the hind legs. Courtesy: Amanda Bachmann

Honey bees are a non-native species that were brought into North America from Europe in the 17th century. Since their introduction, they have played a major role in pollinating everything from agricultural crops to backyard gardens. Honey bees are small, winged insects that are golden brown with dark brown bands across the abdomen (Figure 1). Dense buff-colored hairs cover the head, thorax, abdomen and eyes. The hair helps with the collection of pollen while foraging from flower to flower (Figure 2). Honey bees are social insects that have large perennial colonies, reaching upwards of 60,000 individuals later in the growing season. Every honey bee colony consists of three unique castes (workers, drones and a queen). Workers range in size from 11 to 15 mm, are all female, and make up the majority of the colony (Figure 1). Worker bees are also solely responsible for looking after young and foraging for food. Drones are all male, lack a stinger and have large eyes that touch at the top of the head (Figure 3). The queen has a long abdomen that extends past the wings, is the largest bee in the colony at approximately 20 to 25 mm in length and can live up to four years (Figure 4).

A close up view of a fuzzy insect with yellow flecks of pollen all over its body. It is sitting on a yellow flower.
Figure 2. Adult honey bee covered in pollen. Courtesy: Patrick Dockens,
A top view of a black and golden-yellow bee. The bee has large black eyes that touch at the top of its head.
Figure 3. A dorsal view of a male honey bee, otherwise known as a drone. Courtesy: Brandon Woo,
A yellowish-amber and brown colored insect with transparent wings and a long abdomen. It is resting on a hexagonal comb surrounded by worker bees.
Figure 4. A queen honey bee with an elongated abdomen. Courtesy: Division of Plant Industry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,

Bicolored Striped-Sweat Bee (Agapostemon virescens)

A bright green, metallic, bee with a black and yellow striped abdomen and yellow legs. The bee is sitting on a red-orange flower.
Figure 5. The native bicolored striped-sweat bee on a sunflower. Courtesy: Woodworker,

The bicolored striped-sweat bee is just one of many native bee species found in South Dakota. They have a bright, metallic-green head and thorax with a striped black and white (female) or yellow (male) abdomen (Figure 5). They forage on a wide range of flowers, but are commonly found on coneflowers, asters and sunflowers, where pollen is collected on their hind legs (Figure 6). Bicolored striped-sweat bees do not have large colonies like the honeybee, but they do have small aggregations, where each female is responsible for her own young. Nests are constructed in the ground in sparsely vegetated areas, which can include bare spots in yards, as well as garden beds. There are two generations of females and one generation of males each year. Mated females from the previous year emerge in the spring and begin to construct a nest and lay eggs. The second generation of females and males emerge in late summer, where mating occurs, males die off and the females overwinter in their natal nests.

Metallic green bee with black and yellow striped abdomen covered in light yellow pollen on a purple flower.
Figure 6. Female bicolored striped-sweat with metallic green head and thorax foraging for food. Courtesy: Michael Battenerg,


When a honey bee colony becomes too large or crowded, the queen will lay eggs that will eventually become new queens, and she will promptly leave the hive, taking a large portion of the workers with her. This mass exodus event is known as swarming, and its sole purpose is to start a new colony. Most of the time a honey bee swarm will go unnoticed, but occasionally they can occur on houses, or even on a person’s car. In this case, it is best to call local apiarists (beekeepers) to have the swarm safely removed and relocated. Swarming honey bees are generally docile, however it is always possible to get stung. If an allergic reaction occurs, seek medical attention immediately. Honey bees and bicolored striped-sweat bees are both beneficial insects and provide extremely important pollination services in both agricultural and residential areas. Therefore, no management is needed (besides planting more flowers for them to pollinate!).