Augochlorella Aurata: The Tiny Green Gold Sweat Bee

This lovely tiny bee is only 1/4 inch long. Augochlorella aurata is another one of the  ancient family of Hallictid “sweat” bees but much smaller than my cheeky little Agapostemon from a couple of weeks ago.

I am sure I would never have seen it in the wild but this bee came to me in a fascinating selection of native research bees very kindly sent to me by Sam Droege who works at the excellent Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre in Maryland.

The centre is an important international research facility for wildlife science, helping improve the understanding of native species and natural resources.
Do visit their comprehensive and fascinating website that has so much information about wildlife in general and the interesting history of the centre, here.

We may think that concern about our native species and agriculture is fairly new but back in 1934 the centre was set up under the direction of the appropriately named Mr. J. N. Darling,

“The original idea of the station visualized a demonstration area stressing the importance of the relationship of wildlife to agriculture.”

Sam Droege is, amongst other things, involved in the development of online identification guides to North American bees and the development of monitoring programs for native bee species.
He contributes to the excellent Discover Life site who are also organising BEE HUNT next year… get involved if you can.

Some facts about the Augochlorella

CLASS: Insecta
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
SUPERFAMILY: Apoidea. Bees and some wasps.
FAMILY: Halictidae (Sweat Bees)
GENUS: Augochlorella
SPECIES: Augochlorella aurata

They are common throughout all of the USA and can be seen  from April-October. They are nesting bees, eusocial and will burrow in rotting wood or well drained soil.
To encourage them, grow native Dogbane Apocynum cannabinum, Fleabane Erigeron strigosus, Slender Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum tenuifolium and the Goldenrods Solidago odora, Euthamia graminifolia.

In return they will pollinate your peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelons The bees vary in colour considerably.
Sam’s bee is a fugitive dark bronze, clad in gold/green armour, looking black until it just catches the light and changing with every different direction you look at it.. aurata indeed!

What’s in a name… just for those like me who are fascinated by the etymological origins of the beautiful words that we give our biological and botanical friends :.. Aug.. to enhance, Latin; Chlorella from the Greek word chloros meaning green and ella, the diminutive; Aurātus ‘gilded, golden’, perfect passive participle of aurō ‘gild, overlay with gold’, from aurum ‘gold’.

How very beautiful…

A sketch for the pose..



Tiny Green Gold Sweat Bee: Augocholrella Aurata


augochlorella aurata

Watercolour on Arches HP. image size 3.5”

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 ….