Researcher identifies 11 new sweat bee species

November 15, 2011 By Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell University

Newly identified sweat bee species, L. Gotham, collected in New York City, emerges from a nest entrance. Image: Louise Lynch
( -- When a scientist discovers a new species, one of hardest tasks is naming it. A Cornell researcher faced this challenge many times over when he discovered 11 new U.S. sweat bee species (subgenus Lasioglossum [Dialictus]) that live east of the Mississippi and mostly in the Northeast.

"It's one of the most challenging aspects of the job, since the name lasts forever," joked Jason Gibbs, a postdoctoral associate in the field of , who published his findings Oct. 28 in the . Overall, the study provides a revised classification of 97 metallic species of Lasioglossum (Dialictus) found in eastern North America.

"When you have 2,000 species of , that means there are 2,000 names you can't use," he added. Four of the species were found in the New York City area, one of which Gibbs named L. gotham.

The fact that these bees were found in New York "highlights how little we know about this group of insects that are known to be extraordinarily important for and agriculture," due to their services as , Gibbs said.

Also, four of the new species, like Lasioglossum izawsum (rhymes with awesome), are so-called bees, or parasitic bees, that have lost the for nest building and pollen collecting and instead invade nests and lay their own eggs, which are then reared by the host colony.

L. Gotham, female. Image: Jason Gibbs, courtesy of Magnolia Press

To identify these new species, Gibbs had to familiarize himself with all the known sweat bee species in the region. For years he scoured sweat bee from collections across Canada and the U.S., including the and Cornell's Insect Collection, which has extensive holdings of sweat bees from the Northeast. A major contributor to the Cornell bee collection was the late George Eickwort, a Cornell professor who specialized in sweat bees. Gibbs named one of the new species, Lasioglossum georgeickworti in his honor.

L. Gotham, male. Jason Gibbs, courtesy of Magnolia Press

Using DNA and morphological data, and his knowledge of bees, he was able to identify the 11 new species from the collections. A species can be defined by an inability to interbreed with other species, but since so little is known about the biology and breeding habits of these bees, DNA analysis provides the most direct evidence.

"These bees are morphologically and genetically distinct enough that you can say with confidence that they are their own species," Gibbs said.

Overall, there are some 20,000 bee species, nine of which are honeybees. Sweat bees are smaller than honeybees, nest in the ground (including lawns) and in rotten logs, and can vary in color from brown to black to dull metallic green and bright iridescent. They are mostly harmless, though people may get stung when the bees get brushed off as they lick salt on people's skin on hot days. They are also predominantly social, with some solitary and several parasitic species.

"This kind of study forms the basis of all additional studies of the biology of bees," said Gibbs. "If you want to know what is pollinating crops, you have to know what species of bees there are. This study will be used by pollination, conservation and socio-biologists," he added.

Explore further: Researcher finds new bee in downtown Toronto

Related Stories

Researcher finds new bee in downtown Toronto

August 31, 2010

A York University doctoral student who discovered a new species of bee on his way to the lab one morning has completed a study that examines 84 species of sweat bees in Canada. Nineteen of these species - including the one ...

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

June 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 ...

Native bees are better pollinators than honeybees

October 25, 2011

( -- The honeybee has hogged the pollination spotlight for centuries, but native bees are now getting their fair share of buzz: They are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful ...

History of 'cuckoo bees' needs a rewrite, study says

September 13, 2010

( -- The evolutionary history of the bee family Apidae -- which has the largest number of species and includes honeybees -- may need a major revision, according to a new Cornell study published online in the Proceedings ...

Halictid bees' social behavior studied

March 13, 2006

Cornell University scientists say the social behavior of many species of sweat bees evolved simultaneously during a period of global warming.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


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.