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New bees on the block

In a time when so many species are disappearing, Dr. Jason Gibbs of Cornell University was able to describe eleven new species of bees. The new names and descriptions appeared in the October 28 issue of the journal Zootaxa[1]. All the bees are in the genus Lasioglossum and all are from the eastern United States.

The bees are not really new, of course, just previously unidentified. Many of the Lasioglossum bees are very small and nearly impossible to distinguish from others in the genus. Only by using DNA barcoding and other digital techniques was it possible to identify the bees as separate species.

The Lasioglossum bees, commonly known as sweat bees, live in underground nests and feed on pollen and nectar. The moniker “sweat bee” comes from their apparent attraction to the sweat of animals, including humans. The sweat bees are important native pollinators, most of which go unnoticed because of their small size.

The species attracting the most attention was first discovered in 2009 by bee researcher John Ascher of the American Museum of Natural History. He found the rice-sized bee in the Brooklyn (NY) Botanic Garden and later sent a specimen to Dr. Gibbs for identification. Three of the other new bees are also from the New York region, one each from Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau Counties. Surprisingly, New York is home to at least 200 species of bee.

The photo below of John Asher’s bee, now known as Lasioglossum gotham, is by Jason Gibbs.

Rusty

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Lasioglossum gotham. Photo by Jason Gibbs, Cornell University.

[1] Gibbs, Jason. 2011. Revision of the metallic Lasioglossum (Dialictus) of eastern North America. Zootaxa 3073: 1-216.

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