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Bees of the Munich Botanical Garden

Within these 21.2 hectares, you can see thousands of plant species. In addition to the diverse flora, you will also encounter an assortment of insects! An inventory in 1998 documented 78 species of bees in the Botanic Garden, although there are likely even more, yet to be recorded. If you would like to observe bees on your own, this guide will provide you with useful advice.
You will be introduced to seventeen remarkable bee species of different genera, including the most common bumble bee species. You will also learn how to identify those species and where you can find them in the garden. Have fun!

Bees

The most famous bee – the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)


Time of flight: March till October

With 11 – 13 mm body length, the honey bee is a rather large bee. Honey bees are extremely polylectic. This means they may collect pollen and nectar from a wide range of flower types and plant species. The honey bee is eusocial and lives in colonies of up to 80,000 workers plus one queen.
In the Botanic Garden you can learn more about this fascinating insect at the honey bee board, but we will focus even more on the 571 other species of wild bees.

Wild bees

European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum)


Time of flight: June till September

With a body length of 11 – 12 mm, the female wool carder bee is almost as big as the honey bee. Males are even larger, 14 – 18 mm. They are easily recognized by their conspicuous wasp-like black and yellow coloration, and fast, hummingbird-like flight pattern. Wool Carder Bees mainly collect on plants of the pea family, labiates and some of the snapdragon family and are thus restrictedly polylectic. The nests of the wool carder bee consist of collected plant wool and are built in various hollow cavities.



In the garden you can observe the wool carder bees in the Ornamentals, in the “Garchinger Heide” and in the Systematic Garden, especially on wooly hedgenettle. In the Ornamentals there is also an information board.

Brown-footed Leafcutter Bee (Megachile versicolor)


Time of flight: May till September

The Brown-footed leafcutter Bee can reach sizes of 10 – 12 mm. Their hair is yellow-brown, and at the bottom of their abdomen, they have a red pollen brush with a black tip. These bees build their nests in dead wood and pithy stalks. To create breeding cells, they use pieces of leaves from various plants, such as roses, hornbeam, and sloes.
Brown-footed Leafcutter Bees can be observed cutting leaves on the roses in the Rose Garden.

Megachile ericetorum


Time of flight: June till August

Sweat Bees (Lasioglossum / Halictus)


Time of flight: March till October

Sweat bees are classified within two closely related genera, Lasioglossum and Halictus. They are small (4 – 15 mm body length), slim and difficult to tell apart in the field. Females have a furrow on the last segment of the abdomen. Males of the Lasioglossum-species have an especially slim body.
As opposed to the majority of bee species which live solitarily, sweat bees live in communities and may even be primitively eusocial. This means that several bees dig their nests together and occasionally have a caste system with queens and workers.


The bees hotel opposite to the insects pavilion.
In the Botanic Garden you can observe sweat bees in the “Garchinger Heide” and below the bee hotels, where they have their nests.

Halictus scabiosae


Time of flight: April till October

Yellow-face bees (Hylaeus)


Time of flight: May till October

Like sweat bees, yellow-face bees are rather small (4 – 9 mm bodylength). They are named after the typical white or yellow mask-shaped markings on their face. However, not all Hylaeus species have this, and it is often not present in females. Yellow-face bees are black and have no hair, and consequently might not be easily identified as bees. In the field, the different species are difficult to distinguish, but the plants they use as pollen-sources may provide clues. For nesting sites, yellow-faced bees make use of already existing hollow spaces, such as cracks in the ground or holes made by beetles in wood. Alternatively, they may gnaw tunnels into the pith of dried plant stems.
These bees may be found on various composites in the Systematic Garden.

Blood bees (Sphecodes)


Time of flight: March till October

Blood bees are easily discriminated from most other bee species, by their small body (4 – 15 mm bodylength), black head and breast, and shiny red, almost naked abdomen. They are similar in appearance to small sphecoid wasps. Blood bees are cuckoo bees, meaning they do not build nests or collect pollen for their offspring. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees (mainly sweat bees), where their larvae kill the host bees' offspring and feed off their pollen.
Therefore, they are easiest to spot at the nest locations of sweat bees - the bee hotels and the “Garchinger Heide” during the spring in the Botanic Garden.

Scarce Long-horned Bee (Eucera nigrescens)


Time of flight: April till June

In late spring, you can observe the 13 – 15 mm long Scarce Long-horned Bees on plants of the pea family, especially bush vetch. They are called long-horned bees due to the remarkably long antennae of the males, which can sometimes equal or exceed their entire body length.
It is worth checking the bush vetches in the Systematic Garden for this rare bee.

Violet Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea)


Time of flight: March till September

The biggest bee that you can find in the Botanic Garden is the Violet Carpenter Bee. This bee can easily be recognized it by its large body size (20 – 30 mm, as big as a big bumblebee queen) and blackish or metallic blue coloration. The carpenter bee is polylectic and prefers plants of the pea and borage family, labiates, and composites. It gnaws its nest tunnel into aged or rotten wood.
A good place to observe the carpenter bee is the flowering Wisteria sinensis, which grows along the walls of the lecture hall of the botanic institute.

Red-tailed Mason Bee (Osmia bicolor)


Time of flight: March till June

The Red-tailed Mason Bee has a black thorax and a red abdomen and reaches a size of 8 – 10 mm. It builds its nest in empty snail shells. The bee will first collect sufficient pollen, then it will lay an egg in the shell. The bee then closes the entrance of the shell with plant material and stones. Afterwards, it camouflages the nest with plenty of pine needles or dried twigs. The Red-tailed Mason Bee also sleeps in empty snail shells. It is very polylectic and will even make use of wind-pollinated species like plantains or sedges.
There are many empty snail shells in the entire garden, but mainly in the “Garchinger Heide”. Can you spot a Red-tailed Mason Bee building its nest?

Hornfaced Mason Bee (Osmia cornuta)


Time of flight: March till May

The Hornfaced Mason Bee is very similar in appearance to the Red-tailed Mason Bee, however it is slightly bigger, with a body length of 10 – 15 mm. The head and breast is black and the abdomen is red. Females have horns, while males have striking white hair on their head. The Hornfaced Bee builts its nests in hollow spaces and is polylectic.

Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis)

Time of flight: March till June

Both the Hornfaced Mason Bee and the Red Mason Bee can be found at our two bee hotels in the spring. Males patrol the nesting areas frequently in order to mate with the newly hatched females.

Thick and furry – bumble bees in the Munich Botanical Garden

Bumble bees are also members of the bee family. They are usually easily recognized by their large size, dense hair, and prominent black and yellow pattern. However some species may be more difficult to differentiate. Bumble bees form colonies like honey bees and are thus social insects. Contrary to the honey bee, however, their colonies only last one summer. At the end of the season, only the new queens survive, by protecting themselves in the earth. In Germany, there are 41 native species of bumble bees. This guide will introduce you to the four most common of the Botanical Garden.

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)


The Common Carder Bee has a very variable coloration, but generally the entire body is reddish to brownish with a white tipped abdomen.

Buff-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris)

White-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus lucorum)


The White-tailed Bumble Bee can be recognized by two yellow stripes and a white tip of the abdomen. Females of both species are difficult to differentiate.

Garden Bumble Bee (Bombus hortorum)


The Garden Bumble Bee has a similar coloration to the buff-tailed and white-tailed bumblebee, but its second yellow stripe runs along the entire waist, covering both the bottom of the thorax and the top of the abdomen

The Early Bumble Bee (Bombus pratorum)


The Early Bumble Bee often has a yellow collar and an orange tipped abdomen.

Red-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus lapidarius)


The Red-tailed Bumble Bee is black and has a red-orange tipped abdomen. There are some similar, but rarer, species.

Literature

Falk, Steven (2015): Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. Bloomsbury, London, NY.

Westrich, Paul (2011): Wildbienen – Die anderen Bienen. Verlag Friedrich Pfeil, München.

Amiet, Felix & Krebs, Albert (2012): Bienen Mitteleuropas: Gattungen, Lebensweise, Beobachtung. Haupt-Verlag, Bern, Stuttgart, Wien.

Bellmann, Heiko (1995): Bienen, Wespen, Ameisen – Die Hautflügler Mitteleuropas. Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart.

Text: Michaela Hofmann, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society
Photos: Andreas Fleischmann, Botanische Staatssammlung München

Publications

Hofmann M.M., C.M. Zohner, and S.S. Renner (2019): Narrow habitat breadth and late-summer emergence increases extinction vulnerability in Central European bees. Proc. Roy. Soc. B [DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0316, 6 March 2019]

Schindler M., M.M. Hofmann, and S.S. Renner (2018): Courtship behaviour in the genus Nomada – antennal grabbing and possible transfer of male secretions. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 65: 47 – 59.

Hofmann M.M., A. Fleischmann, S.S. Renner (2018): Changes in the bee fauna of a German botanical garden between 1997 and 2017, attributable to climate warming, not other parameters. Oecologia 187:701 – 706 [Article]