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Sweat bees live in nests in the ground or holes found in trees. (All photos: Jason Gibbs / Cornell University)

Lots of Buzz

Biologists discover 11 new species of bees in the U.S.

By Tyrus Cukavac | null null , null
They are called sweat bees because they eat the salt found in sweat.
They are called sweat bees because they eat the salt found in sweat.

Have you heard the latest buzz? Scientists have found 11 brand-new breeds of bees living in the Eastern United States!

Four of the previously unknown species (types of organisms) were found near New York City. John Ascher, a bee researcher at the American Museum of Natural History, discovered one of these Big Apple bees buzzing around one of the city’s parks.

When Ascher couldn’t identify the bee, he sent it to Jason Gibbs, Ph.D, who studies bees at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Gibbs confirmed that this and 10 other specimens were separate species by using blood tests and comparing each one with that of other bees. (A specimen is a sample collected by a scientist.)

BEE-AUTIFUL NEW BEES

All of the bees are new species of what are called “sweat bees.” Why are they called that? They like to lap up the salt found in sweat from humans and animals.

Sweat bees don’t have traditional beehives. Instead, they live in nests in the ground or inside rotten wood. They vary in size. Some can be as small as a grain of rice! That is much smaller than the honeybee, their more famous cousin.

Naming the new things you discover is one of the perks of being a scientist. “It’s one of the most challenging aspects of the job, since the name lasts forever,” Gibbs jokingly told the Cornell University Chronicle.

He named one species Lasioglossum gotham, after Gotham, a nickname for New York City. He called another Lasioglossum izawsum, after “izawsum,” a funny misspelling of “is awesome.”

BEES IN TROUBLE

For years, bee populations have been shrinking all over the U.S. and in some countries overseas. A phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder has caused honeybees and bumblebees to disappear from their hives in huge numbers. Scientists still have not figured out exactly why this occurs.

The bee shortage can be a big problem for humans. Farmers use honeybees to pollinate crops. The bees spread pollen from plant to plant. This is necessary for the plants to make seeds. The shrinking honeybee populations pose a danger to the environment and farming.

Discovering new bee breeds does not mean that all bee populations are bouncing back. But it can help us learn more about protecting other bees.

“This discovery doesn’t counter the idea that bees are declining,” Gibbs says. “What it points out is that there are a lot of species we don’t know enough about to say whether they’re at a stable level.”

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