Bee No 5: The Stripy Halictid Sweat Bee, Agapostemon splendens

The delightful and inquisitive little sweat bee, from the family Halictidae.
Known as sweat bees because some of them have shown an interest in the saltiness of human sweat, more usually the dark species than this green and striped one.

There are more than 1000 types of sweat bees and they come in black, brown, red or green/blue, metallic and striped.

I use the excellent for much of my information.
The facts  CLASS: Insecta
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
SUPERFAMILY: Apoidea. Bees and some wasps.
FAMILY: Halictidae (Sweat Bees)
GENUS: Agapostemon (Metallic Green Bees)
SPECIES: Agapostemon splendens

Agapostemon sweat bees are regarded as solitary bees.

Females dig burrows deep into the ground and fashion small cells which they supply with provisions of pollen and nectar. In each cell she lays an egg. Each burrow will contain several cells.
Some sweat bees though do seem to share nesting sites and so are thought to be in between the true solitary bees and the very social honey bees.
The correct term is “eusocial”.
Communal nesting is advantageous as while some bees are away looking for food the others can be defending the nest site.

The Halictid family is ancient and species have been found in amber dating back over 40 million years.


This little fossil Halictus petrefactus, from Spain, is approx 20 million years old, (from  the American Museum of Natural History publication here.)

It is still a matter of debate as to when exactly bees evolved and which came first, bees or flowers.

Discoveries of bee nests in logs of the Petrified Forest in Arizona point to bees being in existence as far back as 220 million years ago, before the  arrival of flowering plants, which upsets the theory that flowering plants and bees evolved together.

If so what did the bees live on ? The bee nests indicate that the species was very similar to the Halictids.


Read more about this fascinating topic in the New York Times article from 1995 here.

I haven’t yet found any more recent information.

My model for this small study was very much alive and well.
They are inquisitive, quick moving and alert little bees, and completely captivating to watch. I will be back to this bee to make a larger painting soon.

These studies are only 3.5 inches and I am looking forward to exploring this particular bee in more detail, if my eyesight holds out.


Bee No 5 Agapostemon splendens

halictid agapostemon

Staring at Weeds

I took some time this week to go and and watch the few bees that are still flying. It’s completely fascinating, I have never before really observed bees with anything but a passing curiosity.
I circle the lake on the bike and screech to a halt at any patch of flowers that might yield up a few bees.
The joggers and dog walkers give me a wide berth and look away, not wanting to make eye contact with a mad woman who is standing transfixed, staring at weeds.
I have my obvious camera with me which helps but you have to be patient, stand still, watch and wait.

But I have been rewarded with sightings of a million more green and stripy Agapostemons and another beautiful blue/green metallic bee which I think is an Augochlora from the same Halictid family.
I have seen tiny Mining bees with yellow pollen laden legs on matching Indian Blanket flowers and the huge Carpenter bees who ponderously drift from flower to flower, making them easier to photograph than many

. carp

At Leu Gardens, it is more acceptable to stop and stare.
I have seen a honey bee taking time out to clean itself from an overload of sticky pollen. I have watched bees of different species disputing the nectar of the big hisbiscus flowers.

Here two fighting Agapostemon bees tumble out in a tangle of legs the metallic Augochlora in the background.

I spent a good hour in front of the Michaelmas daisies, watching bees and flies and beautiful thread waisted wasps.

miner bee sm

I sat in the butterfly garden mesmerised as I saw this lizard leap from its lookout post onto a nearby flower and devour one of my little stripy friends..but that’s life..

You can just see the body of the bee in the lizard’s mouth.

….and I did get some initial sketches done of my elegant little model from earlier in the week .. I hope he has not suffered the same fate.

Halictid bee: Agapostemon splendens

sketch sm

Waking up after chilling in the cooler..


col sketch small

A Live Model

I am frustrated if I can’t see the real thing when I am drawing. That is my preferred reference, a photo of my own is second best and then the last resort is searching through hundreds of reference photos of my subject, drawing it over and over again until I understand how it works and what  I am trying to do. It can be a long job.

Bee number 5 is to be the tiny little metallic green sweat bee.

One of the Halictid family. My biggest admission here is that I have never seen them before.. and that is only because I wasn’t looking or rather wasn’t seeing.  I also thought they would be bigger. Before I started this project, bees, to me, came in two sizes.. bumble and honey, but these are tiny, and look more like our UK hover flies.

To see them you have to adjust your focus and tell your brain to pick up on tiny things.. once you have done that you will see them (if you live in Florida anyway), literally thousands of them, all over horse mint, the daisies and the roses.

Yesterday I went to Leu Gardens to try to get a decent photo or two and by accident met my friend Robert who was photographing butterflies. I explained my frustration, lack of a decent camera etc etc .
“Well” he said, “what you need to do is catch one and pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes.” This literally chills them out enough for you to photograph them while they warm up.
This morning I went back to the horsemint on the lakeshore and tentatively captured a bee…it wasn’t difficult, they are too busy gathering nectar to notice.

I put a large plastic bag over a large head of mint and cut the stem, then took the bag, mint and bee home.

My model was still quite busy clambering about the mint, so it was not difficult to transfer it in a glass jar and to the fridge. I have to say I was worried about this.

I don’t want to kill anything even for my “art”.

But both the bee and I survived and an hour later I was able to let it go, back to the very same spot. It immediately continued gathering nectar as if nothing had happened.

The photos are not great by professional terms but I am so pleased.

Apart from the photos, I was able to watch the little stripy bee wake up slowly and give itself a good sprucing up which seemed to involve a lot of antennae preening.

I could see the beautiful black markings on its yellow legs and the glittering iridescence of its head and thorax. From what I can see this is Agapostemon splendens. I did take lots of photos, many were out of focus as I am having to use an enlarging ring to get close enough which is something new to me … but here are just a few of the reasonable ones:

bee in jar

Bee in jar with some Horsemint.

out of the jar

Coming out of the jar.

bee and ruler

Bee waking up .. see how very small he is

. bee preening

Bee sprucing up, he was using his front leg to wipe his face and antennae


Bee glaring at me …

back to work

and straight back to work ….