Bumblebees of the Southwest

Yesterday, I posted about an opportunity for public participation in a bee and plant survey. Today, I want to share the 5 most common bumblebees in Arizona and New Mexico, according to iNaturalist.

American Bumblebee: Despite being on the verge of the endangered species list, it is the most common to see in our area. Females, especially queens, are large and have the most black bands on their backs of any species here.

Bombus pensylvanicus sharing Common sunflower with Svastra obliqua (longhorn bee) in Albuquerque

Sonoran Bumblebee is a close relative of the American and can be hard to tell apart. You are more likely to see them outside in the low desert around Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Cruces.

Picture © danabutters on iNaturalist.org

Morrison’s Bumblebee is the third most common of the large, black and yellow bumbles and closely related to the Nevada Bumblebee (6th most common). This species is almost entirely yellow and its conservation status is Vulnerable.

Bombus morrisoni enjoying a Prairie sunflower in author’s garden

Now we get to the smaller, red-belted species. First up is Hunt’s Bumblebee, which “is a striking species, consistently marked with deep colors except in faded individuals.”

Picture © Tom Kennedy on iNaturalist.org

The Great Basin Bumblebee is number 5 in our area. This species also has yellow hairs on its face, but a different pattern of black, yellow, and red than Hunt’s, with red and black hair bands touching on the abdomen.

Picture © Jessee J. Smith on iNaturalist.org

Please check out Bumble Bee Watch and Xerces Society for more information.

For more species and identification tips, The Bumble Bees of Colorado is the best guide around.

What should I plant for the most pollinators?

As much as possible! Okay, that’s not much of an answer.

First, which kinds of pollinators do you want to attract?

Hummingbirdsred tubular Penstemon and Acanthus flowers work great.

Beessunflowers are your best bet.

Butterflies and moths aren’t so picky, but you’ll want to provide host plants, like milkweed for Monarchs.

Left: Male longhorn bees (genus Melissodes) shelter overnight on sunflowers (Helianthus)

Right: Spiny goldenweed (Xanthisma spinulosum) volunteers in author’s yard

Where can I buy these plants? Check out our new page here: pollinatorweb.com/host-plants/native-plant-nurseries/

Also, don’t kill all the “weeds” in your yard. Many native plants are dispersed by wind and birds and will grow on their own if given a chance.