Diversity and identification
More than 20,000 species of bees have been described by scientists around the world, with 2,000 of them present in Europe and about 400 species in Belgium, from the coast to the Ardenne! In our country, they vary from a few millimeters to more than two centimeters long, all different in shapes, colors and hairiness!
The Brussels-Capital Region alone, with its green spaces (gardens, parks, nature reserves, etc.) hosts more than 150 species of bees in addition to the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). They are organized into 28 genera and six families: Andrenidae, Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae and Melittidae.
Unless you're an expert in the field of wild bee identification, and there are very few such experts in Belgium, their identification to the naked eye or on the basis of a single photograph is not easy! Apart from some easy species such as the honeybee, the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) or the tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva), it is difficult to identify a bee without a pinned specimen.
Many characters come into play for the identification of bees, including:
presence, size and color of brushes to collect pollen
shape and length of antenna articles
color and size of bristles on different parts of the body
shape of mandibles
number, shape and color of spots on the head, thorax and abdomen
presence of pads between the claws of the feet
And much more!
This is why in many cases it is necessary for the experts to catch a few bees to identify them to the species, conduct genetic and toxicology analysis, and many more in-depth studies. These captures are necessary, important and there is currently no alternative to carry out our research. A study has shown that lethal sampling didn't have an impact on the abundance, diversity and population composition of wild bee communities.
If you want to learn how to recognize bees, the SAPOLL project has developed tools to help identify bees of Belgium, you can download this document for free (PDF, about 7MB). You will quickly realize that the identification on the basis of photos is not simple and that often specimens will be required to observe all the characters necessary for the identification of the genus and the species!
The following 20 photos by Prof. Nicolas Vereecken give an overview of the diversity of shapes and colours found in wild bees in Belgium. The main genera are represented but this is only 10% of the diversity expected in Brussels!