Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, compiled online species pages and distribution maps for more than 19,200 described bee species, showcasing the diversity of these essential pollinators. This new species inventory documents 2,000 more described, valid species than estimated by Charles Michener in the first edition of his definitive The Bees of the World published eight years ago.

"The bee taxonomic community came together and completed the first global checklist of bee names since 1896," says Ascher. "Most people know of honey bees and a few bumble bees, but we have documented that there are actually more species of bees than of birds and mammals put together."

The list of bee names finished by Ascher and colleagues was placed online by John Pickering of the University of Georgia through computer applications that linked all names to Discover Life species pages, a searchable taxonomic classification for all bees, and global maps for all genera and species. Ascher and colleagues recently reviewed all valid names from his checklist and from those of experts from all over the world for the World Bee Checklist project led by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and available online (www.itis.gov).

The bee checklists were developed as a key component of the Museum's Bee Database Project initiated in 2006 by Ascher and Jerome G. Rozen, Jr., Curator of bees at the Museum, and with technical support from Curator Randall Schuh. A primary goal of this project is to document floral and distributional records for all bees, including now obscure species that may someday become significant new pollinators for our crops. The vast majority of known bee species are solitary, primitively social, or parasitic.

These bees do not make honey or live in hives but are essential pollinators of crops and native plants. Honey is made by nearly 500 species of tropical stingless bees in addition to the well-known honey bee Apis mellifera. Honey bees are the most economically important pollinators and are currently in the news because of colony collapse disorder, an unexplained phenomenon that is wiping out colonies throughout the United States.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

Explore further: Endangered hammerhead shark found migrating into unprotected waters

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How mutualisms evolve in a world of selfish genes

Nov 11, 2014

Reproduction for a female fig wasp can be a nightmarish process. When she is ready to lay her eggs, she leaves the fig in which she was born and became pregnant and searches for another. After she finds it, ...

Protecting Africa's bees for world food security

Nov 05, 2014

Scientists in a new, world-class laboratory in Kenya will work to protect Africa's bees and help farmers produce top-quality honey and wax for international markets. Located at the International Centre of ...

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

41 minutes ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

2 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

3 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.