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Tirepeolus remigatus Cuckoo Bee - (c) Copyright 2016 Sharp-Eatman Photo


Triepeolus, Epeolus, Nomada, Sphecodes & Stelis 

CUCKOO BEES:   The small universe in which wild bees live contains, among other features, parasitic bees that have evolved over time inextricably linked to the species on which they prey.  Examples are the Triepeolus, Epeolus, Nomada, Sphecodesand Stelis cuckoo bees shown here. Female cuckoo bees enter the underground nests of other bees to lay eggs.  Sometimes, the cuckoos devour the eggs of the host bees that built the nests.  More commonly, the cuckoos depart the nests, leaving behind both their own eggs and their hosts'.  When the cuckoo eggs hatch, the cuckoo larvae destroy the host bee's eggs or kiil off the host larvae.  The cuckoo hatchlings then feed on pollen and nectar the host parent deposited in her brood cells for her own offspring.  In the world of entomology, such a cuckoo bee is called a brood parasite or cleptoparasite.

Cuckoo bees do not gather pollen from flowers, because they obtain it instead by plundering other bees' nests.  As a result, female cuckoo bees do not have scopae, or pollen-collecting hairs. To the naked eye, cuckoo bees often appear hairless and sleek-bodied like wasps.  Cuckoos sometimes have spade-shaped abdomens or other traits that allow them to dig into other bees' nests, and cuckoos generally act differently than their hosts -- many cuckoos spend much of their time skulking around near the ground, looking for their hosts' nests, rather than visiting flowers.


Cuckoo bees nonetheless do drink nectar from flowers.  They often gather on the very blossoming plants that their hosts prefer.  Each cuckoo species tends to target a particular bee group.  Thus, Triepeolus usually target long-horned bees and Epeolus usually target cellophane bees. Nomada pilfer stores principally from the brood cells of Andrena mining bees; Sphecodes cuckoos tend to target sweat bees; and Stelis cuckoos usually parasitize the nests of resin bees.  Some cuckoo bees choose their hosts from within their own tribe or even genus.  For example, cuckoo leafcutters (shown earlier in this guide), belong to the same bee tribe as the leafcutter bees on which they prey.  Cuckoo bumblebees belong to the same genus Bombus as the bumblebees whose colonies the cuckoos invade and conquer.


Squash longhorn cuckoo bee

Triepeolus remigatus

1/2" (medium-sized)

Triepeolus cuckoo bees invade the nests of long-horned bees and deposit eggs in brood cells intended for long-horned bee eggs. When the Triepeolus young hatch, they kill off the long-horned larvae and feed on the pollen stores left for them by the host bee parent.

Triepeolus are less common in the park than the bees they prey on.  Despite their striking appearance, they may be hard to discover, since they have no nests or homes of their own.  Thus, they do not form colonies or aggregations; when sighted, they are usually alone, sipping nectar from a flower, or you may find them on the ground, stalking the long-horned bee world, looking for a good nest to invade.


There are approximately 13 species of Triepeolus cuckoo bees in New York State.  ​The species shownhere, Triepeolus remigatus, parsitizes the tests of the hoary squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa), a species of long-horned bee prevalent in Stone Barns' squash beds.  Triepeolus remigatus cuckoos are also known to target the tests of large squash bees (Xenoglossa strenua); Centris oil-digger bees; and Dieunomia heteropoda sweat bees.

Female Triepeolus remigatus cuckoos do not collect pollen from flowers. They do, however, drink nectar from a variety of plants, among them squash and melon flowers, ironweed, mountain mint, catmint, clover, bee balm and various flowers of the aster family.

Triepeolus remigatus frequent the cut-flower fields and bee gardens of Stone Barns in middle and late July, when squash flowers are in full bloom and squash bees appear in large uckoo bees at Stone Barns are most often found nectaring on blue cornflowers, orange cosmos and sunflowers.  These bees appear occasionally in the Visitor Garden of Rockefeller State Park Preserve, feeding on coreopsis. 

Identification Information:   Most New York Triepeolus species have striking black-and-white stripes on their abdomens and black-and-white patterns on their thoraxes. The white markings on these bees are formed by short, appressed (dense, short) hairs.  Triepeolus remigatus has a distinctive black anchor-shape on its back, as shown in the photos here.  ("Remigatus" is Latin for "having oars," a possible reference to the anchor-shape, which might alternately be viewed as two joined oars.)  


Because Triepeolus remigatus females do not collect pollen, they lack scopal hairs on their legs and thus closely resemble their male counterparts.  As is true of female bees generally, female Triepeolus remigatus bees differ from males in having 12 antennae segments instead of 13 and 6 abdominal segments instead of 7.  The black-and-white pattern on the abdomen of the female Triepeolus remigatus thus differs somewhat from that of the male bee, as shown in the photo strip here.

The  wings of Triepeolus remigatus are transparent dark brown. The bee's eyes are dark gray.  Its head and antennae are black; in New York specimens, the antennae may have reddish basal segments.  In the Southwest, parts of the bee's head and thorax may be reddish as well.  In the Northeast, the legs of Triepeolus remigatus cuckoos are black, sometimes with dark-brown lower segments.  In the southwestern United States, the legs may be reddish.  

Triepeolus remigatus

A male Tripeolus remigatus cuckoo bee

Squash longhorn cuckoo bee

Tripeolus remigatus has a distinctive black anchor shape on its thorax.


Two-banded cellophane cuckoo bee

Epeolus bifasciatus
1/4" - 1/3" (small to medium-small)

Epeolus are a variety of cuckoo bee that parasitizes the nests of cellophane bees of the genus Colletes.  Cellophane bees protect their nests from moisture by lining their brood- cell walls with a plastic-like substance.  The female Epeolus bee has spikes on the ends of her abdomen that allow her to break through the walls' plastic seal in order to penetrate cellophane bee nests. The Epeolus then exudes a glue-like substance, which she uses to append her own eggs to cellophane bee brood-cell walls.  When the Epeolus larvae hatch, they feed on the pollen provisions left by the mother cellophane bee for her offspring.

There are about 100 species of Epeolus bees worldwide; 9 reside in New York State alone. The species shown here is the two-banded cellophane cuckoo bee (Epeolus bifasciatus).  Entomologist Charles Robertson noted in his 1926 publication, "Phenology of Inquiline and Nest-malting Bees," that he believed Epeolus bifasciatus cuckoos targeted the nests of broad-footed cellophane bees (Colletes latitarsis).  (These tomatillo pollinators are shown on the cellophane bee page of this guide.)

Epeolus bifasciatus feed on the nectar of an array of flowers, including, for example, black-eyed Susans, wild carrot, melilot, mountain mint, milkweed, thistles, catmint, goldenrod and coreopsis. The bee shown here was found foraging on black-eyed Susans in Stone Barns’ bee garden during the last week of July, 2017.  This is the single specimen of Epeolus bifasciatus documented at Stone Barns, although broad-footed cellophane bees are well-established at this location.

As noted in the guide entry above, Epeolus cuckoo bees are closely related to cuckoo bees of the genus Triepeolus.  Both Epeolus and Triepeolus are cleptoparasites belonging to the tribe Epeolini of the cuckoo bee family Nomadinae.  

Identification Information:  All 9 species of Epeolus cuckoos found in New York State are dark, with black abdomens that are boldly striped with pale bands of appressed (short, dense)  hairs. Several have red legs or red markings on their thoraxes or faces. New York Epeolus species often can be told apart by the positioning and form of their abdominal hair bands and the hair patterns ontheir thoraxes.

Epeolus bifasciatus has two distinctive bands of short, pale-yellow hairs on its primarily black abdomen.  These bands are located toward the base of the first abdominal segment (T-1) and toward the outer edge of the second abdominal segment (T-2).  The bee’s hind abdominal segments fold into one another in a plate-like way, a little like the body of a shrimp, as shown in the photographs here.  The bee’s wings are distinctively dark.

The two-banded cellophane-cuckoo's head and thorax are primarily black and heavily pitted.  The pronotal collar (at the front of the thorax) is pale yellow.  The bee also has various parts that are colored a striking dark red.  The two tubercules at  the front of the thorax are also dark rust-red, as are the tegulae (the plates where the wing attaches). The scutellum (the second segment of the bee)  and axillae (the toothlike projections behind it) are also a dark-rust color.  The basal portions of the bee’s antennae (the scape, pedicel and F-1 and F-2) are reddish; the remaining antennal segments are black. These details are highlighted in the photo strip here.

The individual bee shown here is somewhat unusual:  Epeolus bifasciatus of the northeastern and midwestern United States tend to have black legs, and a black labrum, clypeus, propodeum (the segment behind the thorax) and pygidium (abdominal tip). Conversely, these features tend to be red or orange on Epeolus bifasciatus of the southeastern and southwestern  United States.  Nonetheless, this New York bee specimen has legs that are primarily a dark reddish-orange; reddish mandibles; and a narrow reddish stripe on its face, located just above the mandibles.

Male and female bees of this species closely resemble each other.  The bee shown here is a male.

​TAXONOMY  -  Epeolus bifasciatus

Family:  Apidae
Subfamily:   Nomadinae

Tribe:  Epeolini

Genus:  Epeolus

Subgenus:  none

Species:  Epeolus bifasciatus

Epeolus bifaciatus

A male Epeolus bifaciatus


Nomad Bee

1/4" - 7/16" (small to medium-sized)

Nomad bees have the flashy appearance of custom-detailed race cars.  They have sleek bodies, often adorned with well-defined stripes and crisp markings, and are easily mistaken for wasps.  These cuckoo bees emerge in early spring in Rockefeller Park and Stone Barns and disappear at the beginning of summer.  They re-emerge again months later, when cooler September weather sets in. 

Nomada lay eggs in the nests of ground-nesting bees -- in our area, usually Andrena mining bees.  When the nomad eggs hatch in Andrena nests, the nomad larvae – which have large, sickle-like mouth parts -- kill off the Andrena larvae and eat the provisions stored in the nest by the Andrena mother.  According to The Xerces Society Guide to Attracting Native Pollinators, male nomad bees can imitate the scent of Andrena and have the capacity to transfer this scent to female nomad bees during mating.  This allows the females to sneak more easily into Andrena nests to hijack their food supplies. 

Some nomad bees are generalists that parasitize the nests of multiple Andrena species.  Other Nomada target specific Andrena species.  The neighborly nomad bee, for example, targets the nests of hairy-banded mining bees (Andrena hirticincta). The spotted nomad bee (Nomada maculata), preys on neighborly mining bees (Andrena vicina).  The beautiful nomad bee (Nomada bella) is a cleptoparasite of Andrena imitatrix. Some Nomada parasitize the nests of Agapostemon, Halictus, and Lasioglossum sweat bees.  Others target  Colletes, long-horned bees, or bees in the genus  Melitta.

Nomad bees drink nectar from flowers, but do not collect pollen, because their cleptoparasitic lifestyle renders provisioning their own nests with pollen unnecessary. Nomada in our area feed on a variety of flowering trees and wildflowers.  The bees shown here were found on willow, claytonia, bloodroot, fleabane, wild blackberries,  marsh marigold, winter cress, wild geranium, millkweed, goldenrod and the flowering fragrant herb valerian. 


Although Nomada are solitary, it is not unusual to see several nomada  flying low over the ground, near one another, in search of Andrena.  Generally, when you spot a nomad bee in the park, you soon will find Andrena in the vicinity.  At times, however, you may spy many nomad bees patrolling an area but not glimpse a single Andrena  -- this is because the Andrena are hidden in their nests under leaflitter, debris and dirt.  The nomad bees, which have no nests of their own, are scouting around for Andrena nest tunnels to steal into.

Species Identification Information:   Approximately 50 species of Nomada are found in New York State.   Most Nomada in our area have red or black heads, thoraxes and abdomens with yellow-and-red or yellow-and-black markings.  Many have reddish-brown antennae; red or green eyes; or reddish legs.  Female nomad bees have specialized hair patches on the tips of their abdomens.  The pygidial plate (abdomen tip) of male nomad bees is pronounced and often notched.

​​The six Nomada varieties shown here reveal the remarkable species variation among local nomad bees.  The first five belong to the species group known as red-horned nomad bees (ruficornis). The sixth, Nomada articulata, belongs to the closely related species group erigeronis.  When identifying individual Nomada species, entomologists consider a number of factors, among them size; color variations; and the region and time of year in which the bees emerge.

Nomad bee


Family:  Apidae

Subfamily:  Nomadinae

Tribe: Nomadini

Genus:  Nomada

Species Group:  Ruficornis
Species:  Nomada  vicina, N. bella, N. gracilis, N. luteoloides, N. maculata


Family:  Apidae

Subfamily:  Nomadinae

Tribe: Nomadini

Genus:  Nomada

Species Group:  Erigeronis
Species:  Nomada articulata

Neighborly Nomad Bee
Nomada vicina

Nomada vicina is a late-summer nomad bee.  It appears in  early and mid-September, when goldenrod is in full bloom -- during the same weeks when the cuckoo's andrena host, the hairy-banded minng bee, emerges.  The neighborly nomad bee shown here is predominantly black, with a black-and-yellow banded abdomen, dark antennae, reddish-brown eyes and red legs.  This bee is a male.  Females of the same species appear quite different -- they are predominantly red, with red legs and -- as the genus name red-horned nomad bee implies -- the bees have red antennae as well.  This trait is common to most nomad bees in the ruficornis species group.  Both male and female neighborly nomad bees have red tegulae (the plates where the wings attach) and red tubercules on the thorax. Males also have yellow markings on their faces and yellow scapes (the lowest segments of each antennae). The bee shown here was found drinking nectar from goldenrod -- the preferred plant of local hairy-banded mining bees.  Size:  males 7-10 mm (1/4-2/5"); females 9 mm (1/3").

Nomada vicina

A neighborly nomad bee  (Nomada vicina)  (male)

Spotted Nomad Bee

Nomada maculata

The female Nomada maculata is carnelian-red with distinctive gold markings on its red abdomen, red antennae and red eyes.  Males of this species look quite different -- they have predominantly black heads and thoraxes with red tubercules; abdomens with red, yellow and black markings; red-and-black legs; and dark red antennae.  Nomada maculata emerges between March and June in our area and parasitizes the nests of Andrena vicina.  This cuckoo can be found nectaring on dandelions, winter cress, willow, spurge, winterberry, shadbush, common milkweed and blueberry and apple blossoms.  Size:  males and females 8.5-11 mm (1/3-3/5")

Nomada maculata

Spotted Nomad Bee  (Nomada maculata)  (female)

Beautiful Nomad Bee
Nomada bella

Nomada bella is one of the earliest wild bees to emerge in spring in our area. The male bee shown here appeared during the first week of April, 2017, in woodlands where no plants other than willow trees were visibly in bloom. The bee was flying low to the ground above leaf-litter, presumably looking for signs of females of its species. Males of this variety of red-horned nomad bee are distinguished by broad yellow abdominal stripes and by an almost entirely black thorax without the colorful tubercules sported by typical nomad bees of our area.   Beautiful nomad bees also have distinctive silvery hair on their faces (on the labrum and clypeus) and green eyes.  The thoraxes of male bees are covered with pale hairs. Beautiful nomad bees, as noted above, parasitize the nests of Andrena imitatrix.  These nomads often forage on on willow blossoms and on dandelions in our area.   Size:  The male bee shown here is 6.35 mm (1/4"); females may be as large as 9-11 mm (1/3-3/5").

Nomada bella

A beautiful nomad bee  (Nomada  bella)  (male) 

Slender Nomad Bee

Nomada gracilis

Nomada gracilis is predominantly red with a black, red and yellow abdomen.  It has red antennae and red eyes. This is a small nomad bee that emerges as early as March, feeding on willow tree blossoms.  We could find no specific information regarding species targeted by this nomad bee.  We have seen slender nomad bees digging into the nests of unknown hosts in the gardens of Stone Barns during the spring (as shown in the photograph at right).  This nomad bee is discussed in earlier literature under its former name, Nomada inepta.  Size:  males  7.5 -9 mm (3/10-2/5"; females 8-11 mm (3/10-2/5"). 

Nomada gracilis

A slender nomad bee  (Nomada gracilis)  (female) 

Yellow Nomad Bee

Nomada luteoloides 

Nomada luteoloides is the most common spring nomad bee in the preserve. Male and female yellow nomad bees have black faces with yellow markings; a black thoraxes with yellow tubercules and markings; striped black-and-yellow-abdomens; predominantly yellow legs; greenish eyes; and dark reddish antennae.  Yellow nomad bees appear in the park in April and May and nectar on willow, apple, blueberry, trout lily, plantain and garlic mustard.  Entomologist John S. Ascher notes at that nomads are cleptoparasites of Andrena of the subgenus Melandrena, which includes, for example, Dunning's and Carlin's Andrenas, and neighborly, confederate and plum mining bees (shown on the Andrena page of this guide).  Size:  the male bee shown here is  12.5 mm (1/2").

Nomada luteoloides

A yellow nomad bee  (Nomada luteoloides)  (male) 

Articulated Nomad Bee
Nomada articulata

Nomada articulata a is member of the species group Erigeronis. The female articulated nomad bee is almost entirely red.  As shown in the photo strip below, the male bee looks quite different -- it has a mostly black head and thorax; red eyes; dark-red antennae; and an abdomen that is red with yellow markings. In our area, Nomada articulata is seen most commonly in June, when it feeds on a fairly broad range of plants, including, among others, willow, fleabane, ox-eye daisies, cinquefoil and strawberries.  This is the single nomad species shown here that does not target Andrena.  The articulated nomad bee parasitizes the nests of green striped sweat bees belonging to the genus Agapostemon.  Size:  males  8.5-9.5 mm (1/3-2/5"); females 8.5 mm (1/3") 

Nomada articulata

An articulated nomad bee (Nomada articulata) (female) 


Louisiana Painted-dark Bee

Stelis louisae

(Subgenus Dolichostelis)

1/3" (small to medium-sized)

Both Stelis cuckoos and the bees on which they prey belong to the bee family Megachilidae.  The species Stelis louisae specifically targets the bellflower resin bee  and other members of its subgenus. 


Stelis louisae cuckoos steal into resin bee nests after removing the resin seals those bees cement onto the entrances of their egg chambers. Once inside the nests, the Stelis louisae destroy the host eggs or larvae and lay their own eggs in the hijacked chambers.  According to entomologist Charles D. Michener's The Bees of the World, when Stelis louisae leave their hosts'  nests, the cuckoos replace the entrances' resin seals.  Upon hatching, the cuckoo larvae devour provisions left by the mother resin bee for her own slaughtered offspring.


Like the other cuckoo bees on this page, Stelis louisae do not gather pollen and are not endowed with scopal brushes for carrying pollen.  The bees do, however, sip nectar, and can be found foraging on sunflowers, wild indigo, mountain mint, fleabane,  goldenrod and other flowers.  The bee shown here was feeding on mountain mint and Joe Pye weed.


This cuckoo bee belongs to the family Megachilidae and the subfamily Megachilinae, which also include leafcutters and resin bees.  Stellis louisae cuckoos, however, belong to a separate tribe (Anthidiini), and do not gather leaves or resin for making nests in the manner of leafcutter and resin bees. 


Identification information:  Bees of the subgenus Stelis (Dolichostelis) have an elongate (slender) shape, and are black with pale or yellow markings and coarse punctures on their bodies.  Stelis louisae  specifically have yellow face markings edging their compound eyes; yellow lines tracing the rims of their thoraxes; and yellow stripes banding their abdomens.  The legs of Stelis louisae are reddish and their wings transparent brown.  The  reddish coloration of the bees' legs is less pronounced in New York specimens than in the bees' southern range.

Stelis louisae can be distinguished from other  New York cuckoo bees of the subgenus Dolichos by the broken yellow line on its second abdominal segment, (T2) as shown in the photo strip here. The yellow markings on Stelis louisae also tend to have an orangish tinge.  The bee shown in the photographs here is a female. Both females and males have broad yellow stripes along the inner rims of their compound eyes.  The male additionally has a thick yellow mark on its lower face that joins the two stripes. 



Stelis louisae

Stelis louisae cuckoo bee


Family:  Megachilidae

Subfamily:  Megachilinae

Tribe:  Anthidiini

Genus:  Stelis

Subgenus: Dolichostelis

Species:  Stelis Louisae


Sphecodes Cuckoo Bee

1/5- 2/5" (very small to moderate-sized)

Sphecodes means "like a wasp" in Greek.  Sphecodes bees' slender, relatively hairless bodies  lead many people to mistake them for wasps.  In fact, Sphecodes are solitary bees that are harmless to humans:  they do not swarm or build collective nests the way some aggressive wasps do. 


Sphecodes are brood parasites that invade the nests of Halictus, Lasioglossum and green metallic sweat bees – and occasionally bees of other genera as well (such as Colletes, Perdita and Andrena mining bees).  Sphecodes belong to the same family as Halictus and Lasiglossum sweat bees (Halictidae) but occupy a separate genus (Sphecodes).

Most of the cuckoo bees shown on this guide page lay eggs in their hosts' nests, confident that their cuckoo larvae will outcompete or destroy the hosts' larvae upon hatching.  Many Sphecodes bees, however, instead destroy the eggs of their hosts upon entering their nests to lay eggs. Occasionally, adult Sphecodes move into the nests of their hosts and cohabit with them.

Identification:  There are 72 recorded Sphecodes species in the United States and Canada.  In the northeastern United States, Sphecodes bees tend to be slender, with black heads; black thoraxes; and abdomens that are either black, red or a combination of black and red. The bees' bodies are often coarsely pitted and their thoraxes, abdomens and legs tend to be sparsely-haired.  Identification of individual species is problematic, because many Sphecodes (particularly males) have yet to be systematically documented and catalogued in keys and databases available to the rank-and-file naturalist.

Four species of Sphecodes bees are shown here:   the buttercup sphecodes is a spring bee that appears in the park in May, 2017, nectaring on raspberry blossoms. Johnson's sphecodes and Hercules sphecodes appear n the park in late summer, feeding on goldenrod.  The very small Sphecodes mandibularis was found in a railroad access nine miles from the park entrance during the same period, also feeding on goldenrod.  

Distinguishing Sphecodes bees from sweat bees:  Sphecodes cuckoo bees can be mistaken easily for small, dark sweat bees of the family Halictidae.  Sphecodes, however, differ from sweat bees in a few general respects:   (1) Sphecodes lack hairbands on their abdomens, a trait shared by many regional Halictus and Lasioglossum. (2) As is true of other female cleptoparasites shown on this guide page, female Sphecodes lack scopal hairs on their legs,  (3) Sphecodes males do not have yellow markings on the clypeus (the face-part above the mandibles, yellow in many sweat bee males).  (4) A final, fairly nuanced trait also distinguishes the Sphecodes:  the basal vein of the bee’s wing (shown in the last photo strip here) is strongly arched, and the bees’ wing veins generally are well-defined.

Sphecodes ranunculi

A buttercup sphecodes (male)


Family:  Halictidae

Subfamily:  Halictinae

Tribe:  Halictini

Genus:  Sphecodes

Species:  Sphecodes heracliei, S. Johnstonii, S. ranuculi, S. mandibularis


Johnson’s Sphecodes

(Sphecodes johnsonii)

Sphecodes johnsonii has been documented principally in New York and New England, although it has been found in the upper Midwest as well. Both females and males of this species are moderately large -- females are 9-10 mm (1/3-3/5").  The male shown here measured 7.5 mm (3/10"). 


Female Johnson's sphecodes have red-tipped black abdomens and black heads and thoraxes. Males are entirely black.  (Sexual dimorphism of this kind is a fairly common trait of Sphecodes cuckoos -- many females have abdomens that are red or partially red, while their male counterparts have black abdomens.)  Both male and female Johnson's sphecodes have roughly-textured thoraxes.  Their antennae are relatively short; the first flagellomere (the third antenna segment from the bottom) is broader than it is long.

The male Johnson's sphecodes was documented only recently in New York, during a 2014 survey conducted on Gardiners Island in Suffolk County, New York, by entomologist John S. Ascher, biologist Sarah Kornbluth and island resident Robert G. Goelet.  The male bee shown here was found in the park in September, 2016.

Johnson's sphecodes favor goldenrod, which flowers during this period.  These bees also have been documented feeding on wild carrot and buckwheat.  When not foraging for nectar, Johnson's sphecodes can be observed flying low over the ground, looking for the nests of host bees.

Sphecodes johnsonii

A Johnson's Sphecodes cuckoo bee  (female)

Hercules Sphecodes

(Sphecodes heraclei heraclei)

Sphecodes heraclei appears in the park in early fall, feeding on goldenrod.  This bee parasitizes the nests of Halictid sweat bees.  The male Hercules Sphecodes has distinctive scalloped antennae and a circular bump on its vertex (the top of its head), behind the bee’s ocelli (small eyes).  This last trait is diagnostic of the species.  The male bee shown here was a little more than 8.4 mm  (1/3” ) long.  

​Hercules specodes have been documented nectaring on such plants as goldenrod, heather, winged sumac, New Jersey tea, black-eyed Susans and wild carrot.  The male bee featured here was foraging on goldenrod along the edge of Rockefeller Park's Swan Lake in mid-September, 2016.  More Hercules sphecodes were discovered in the same area in mid-September, 2017.

There are two recognized subspecies of the Hercules sphecodes.  The one shown here is Sphecodes heraclei heraclei.  Males of this subspecies are entirely black. Females have black heads and thoraxes, and predominantly red abdomens with black terminal segments. Males of the second subspecies, Sphecodes heraclei ignitus, have abdomens whose upper surfaces are red.  Females have red thoraxes and black-tipped red abdomens.

Sphecodes heraclei

A Hercules sphecodes (male)

Buttercup Sphecodes

(Sphecodes ranunculi)

Sphecodes ranunculi is a slender bee, a little more than 1/3 inch long (9 mm).  Both males and females of this species have black heads and thoraxes, and narrow abdomens that are entirely red.  These bees are difficult to distinguish with the naked eye from several other Sphecodes species with red abdomens (among them S. clematidis, S. hydrangea, S. prosphorus, and S. aroniae).  As shown in the photo strip here, differences among species hinge on minute characteristics such as the length of the bee's first antennae segments and the width of its leg segments.  


Sphecodes ranunculi has been documented foraging on predominantly spring-blossoming plants such as American holly; members of the apple, plum and pear families; dewberry and wineberry; blueberry; red osier dogwood; black chokecherry; gooseberry; winter cress; and wild roses.  Despite its name, ranunculi (Latin for "of the buttercup") , this bee has not been observed feeding in the park on buttercups, which emerge in May in our area. The bee shown here was found in mid-May, 2017, nectaring on wild raspberries cultivated in hilltop fields at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Sphecodes ranunculi

A buttercup sphecodes (male)

Mandibular Sphecodes

(Sphecodes mandibularis)

Sphecode mandibularis is the smallest of the cuckoo bees shown here -- the male bee shown at fourth right is barely 1/5" long.  Females of this species have entirely red abdomens.  Males have black with partly red abdomens:  the male's first three segments are part-red and part-black; the remaining four are entirely black.  Both males and females have black heads, thoraxes, heads, legs and antennae.

Very little literature is readily available on this minute species. It was first documented by the entomologist Ezra Townsend Cresson in 1872.   Mandibular sphecodes have been recorded feeding on goldenrod, sumac, ox-eye daisies, narrow-leaf spiraea, wild hydrangea, members of the rose family, caneberry blossoms and the invasive Japanese knotweed.


The bee shown here was found in mid-September, nectaring on goldenrod in a sandy area bordered by a railroad access and a swamp, situated 9 miles north of Rockefeller State Park Preserve.  This area was heavily frequented by eight-spotted Perdita miner bees, ligated sweat bees and various Lasioglossum sweat bees. This Sphecodes species has not yet appeared in the park.

Sphecodes mandibularis

A bandibular sphecodes  (male)

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REFERENCES:  For a comprehensive list of references used in compiling this guide, click here:

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