Collections of wild bees

Collections of wild bees

Reference collection wild bees

How to recognize a bee?

 There are more than 970 species of bees in France, including Apis mellifera, the honey bee or also domestic bees - and about 2000 in Europe

This group of bees is collectively referred to as Anthophila (formerly Apiformes)
 The bees belong to the order Hymenoptera and are distinguished from other orders by:
 - two pairs of membranous wings apparently not hairy and with veins;
- posterior wings smaller than the anterior wings;
- anterior wings with few ribs;
- mouthpieces of the grinding or grinding-sucking type;
- tarses with four or five articles.
 Among the Hymenoptera, bees are distinguished by simple morphological characteristics:
 - the presence of branched hair, more or less branched and on all or part of their body according to species. For example, certain Cleptoparasite bees or "Cuckoo bees" such as the Nomads (Nomada spp.) Have a body with very little hair and can be confused with wasps. It is these branched hairs that make bees of pollinating insects particularly effective, since they allow them to carry large amounts of pollen on their bodies without their knowledge. This pollen is then deposited on the stigma of the flowers as they are successively visited. Pollination by bees is therefore a passive phenomenon;


- females generally have a harvest structure for pollen, also known as scopa, which may be present on the hind legs or under the abdomen (except for the "coucous" species). In Apinae (Apis mellifera and Bourdon Bombus spp.), Pollen is stored in aggregate form on the posterior tibias which are enlarged and form corbiculae;
- the pronotum (anterior part of the thorax) does not reach the tegulae (wing insertion zone) in upper view;
- Oral parts usually include a tongue (tongue) suitable for harvesting nectar;
- the wings are spread on the back at rest (whereas in the wasps, they are folded longitudinally).
 The Apiformes are divided into 6 families divided into two groups according to the size of the language:
                               Long-tailed bees: Megachilidae, Apidae
                               Short-tailed bees: Mellitidae, Halictidae, Andrenidae, Colletidae

What do they eat?

Their diet is phytophagous, bees feeding only on pollen, nectar or oils taken from forested plant species. Some species are very general like the honey bee which collects its pollen on several hundred plant species. On the contrary, many species of bees have a food specificity because they only use pollen from one or a few species of flowers of the same genus or from the same family to feed themselves. This is called monolectism (a single species such as Andrena florea which collects all its pollen on the diytic bryone Bryonia dioica) or oligolectism (as many halicates on asteraceae).

Andrena florea

Andrena florea sur fleur de Bryonia dioica (Photo : N. Morison)


In terms of nesting, 85% of the bee species nest in the soil, they are terrestrial species, whose nests can be gathered in villages or aggregations. The other species nest in marrow stems or cavities carved out of wood. These are known as rubicola or cavicole species. A few rare helicopter species nest in snail shells.
  The majority of the species of Apiformes are solitary, that is to say that each female builds its nest and brings food resources to constitute the bread of pollen on which it will lay. The successive generations do not cohabit, except in 2 genera of Apidae, Apis and Bombus, with the presence of a fertile queen and workers. Note that different levels of sociality exist in Halictidae, sometimes with the presence of several fertile females in the same nest.


What is a reference collection?

The identification of bees with the species generally requires the observation of morphological characters which are often very small and requires to observe the body of the bee under a binocular magnifying glass. This implies the capture and preparation of specimens according to the usual entomological rules. A reference collection is thus made up of pinned, dehydrated specimens, and duly identified by specialist taxonomists of the genus. Ten European experts are thus asked to identify the insects caught and prepared in the laboratory.

collection d'abeille

Why a reference collection?

Our collection aims to illustrate and better know the 930+ species present on the French metropolitan territory. Moreover, this collection has a double interest:
            • a pedagogical interest, since it allows to discover the diversity of the Apiformes (it is a training tool, like those organized for the teachers of agricultural colleges of the Apiformes network), but also the identification of new specimens;
            • a major scientific interest, since each insect is associated with labels containing biological (on which flower?), Phenological (when?) And geographic (where?) Data and a unique number that allows traceability of each specimen .
 State of play
Our collection currently has 549 species, each of which is possibly represented by 5 specimens of each sex. However, for certain species that are not widely present in the areas surveyed in our research activities (mainly agricultural or urban environments to date), it will be difficult to have the 10 representatives and others can only be obtained by Exchanges with other entomologists because they are infectious in very particular environments such as the swamps or even endemics of certain sites, where we do not catch.
            The specimens are stored in entomological boxes, stitched on a plate of foam called emalene. Those of the reference collection are presented in entomological cartons with glass lid so that they can show the biodiversity of the Apiformes to the visitors, the others are stored in wooden boxes, with an alphabetical classification of the genera.

emplacement collection

Over the past 20 years, nearly 75,000 specimens have been captured.
              The catch data on the labels placed under the insect was entered into a FileMaker Pro database. Each specimen has a unique identification number and a destination to find it in the collection room, an old cold room equipped with air conditioning (15 ° C) and a dehumidifier (50% RH). The conditions of temperature and hygrometry are thus controlled in order to prevent any development of molds or insects "museophages", capable of degrading the tissues of the pinned insects (Anthrenus spp., Dermestes spp ....)
              The collection room is therefore one of the strategic storage areas of the unit. Therefore, it is the subject of an Internal Emergency Plan (PUI) if a disaster occurs (fire, flood).

Skills and tools in the laboratory Bee Pollination and Ecology:

             - Capture and genus identification of non-Apis bee specimens (1 TR holder + temporary staff)
             - Capture equipment (colored nets and cups, poison boxes)
             - Mounting equipment for specimens (entomological forceps, pins, boxes ...)
             - 5 binocular loupes
             - 1 entomology laboratory (about 6 m of straw mattresses)
             - 1 collection room of 5.30 m2 (hygrometry and temperature controlled) with 30 m of shelves.

site de collection

         - 1 freezer of 400 L for the cleaning of boxes of specimens.

Future prospects

The supernumerary specimens are retained for morphological (inter-gap) or biochemical (DNA marker identification for species identification or viral RNA) analyzes. They can also be exchanged with other bee specialists, or allow biogeographic studies on different populations, or allow to observe the evolution of the phenology of both insects and plants .
             Moreover, the acquisition of a photographic system of the "Stackshot" type will enable us to illustrate all the species present in our collection.
             The continuation of the Apiformes network (involving the collection of specimens on farms in agricultural colleges by teachers) should allow us to abundantly collect our collection and to better know the distribution of certain species on the French territory.



Technician Research

Modification date : 20 June 2023 | Publication date : 27 January 2015 | Redactor : D Beslay