Is this a bee?


I found these guys snacking on my mint. They look like bees, but they don't have any pollen baskets, just skinny, little, bug legs, like housefly legs. You can't really tell from the pics (these "bees" were too busy to pose for me), but their faces are very pale, almost white, and their abdomens are shiny, black, and somewhat iridescent.  They're the size I would expect a field bee to be, but the fact that they have no pollen baskets makes me wonder what I was looking at. Any ideas?

A bit too hard to tell from the pictures.  Not all bees have pollen baskets, actually most do not.  Many native bees carry their pollen under their abdomens on special hairs called scopa, like this.

Also male bees do not have any structures for carrying pollen, since they don't need to provision a nest.

As far as size goes, bees, wasps, and flies come in all shapes and sizes, so size isn't really a good indicator. 

Some general tips for telling bees from other similar insects.  Flies have short, stubby antennae, have 2 wings instead of 4, and many have spongey mouthparts (although some do not) and larger eyes (although many male bees have these too).  Wasps vs. bees can be trickier.  Wasps tend to be less hairy and more slender.  Although wasps eat meat, many are also nectar drinkers and so will visit flowers just like bees.  They however do not collect pollen (and neither do flies), so if you see pollen on baskets or scopa, it's definitely a bee.       

Thanks for the info! I'll go and have another look when the sun comes back out. They seem to have a strong preference for those white flowers. The mint with white flowers is covered in critters, but the purple flowering mint right next to it has none at all.

We've had a lot of rain lately and by the time I got a chance to go out and look again, the only critters on the mint flowers were flies, sweat bees, and one, single bee-like critter that moved too fast for me to be sure how many wings it had, but I think there were only two wings.  Maybe they'll come back next summer so I can have another look.


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