We often think of bees living together in a hive, but about 90 percent of bee species are solitary. Among most solitary bees, single females create nests stocked with nectar and pollen for their own young to eat. Cuckoo bees, like Stelis ater, rely on different, specialized behaviors to feed their offspring. Stelis ater females invade the nest of another bee species and place their eggs inside. After the eggs hatch into larvae, the larvae kill the host bees’ offspring and eat their food.

In 2011, researchers at the University of Florida and the American Museum of Natural History identified Stelis ater’s host bee for the first time, using a painstaking process to document the bee’s nest-raiding behavior. Studies like this one may help researchers figure out how to protect species from extinctions. But for this rare, all-black Florida bee there are no specific protection efforts underway now. Prioritizing preservation of wild landscapes could help this bee—as well as other species.

Florida dark cuckoo bee
Stelis ater
0.4 inches (10–11 mm)
Imperiled (natureserve)
Ecological Role
Herbivore, social parasite
AMNH Specimen Number
AMNH_BEE 000280966
Florida, U.S.