Bees belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, the Class Hexapoda, and the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and wasps. They are monophyletic and form a clade called Anthophila. About 20,000 bee species have been described to science, with about 380 species in Massachusetts (Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources, 2016). There are seven bee families, six of which are represented on Martha’s Vineyard. The seventh, Stenotritidae, only occurs in Australia (U. of Minnesota Bee Lab, 2015).

The first bees evolved from wasps about 130 million years ago, transitioning from a predatory lifestyle to a pollen-based diet (Goulson 2014). Since then, bees have adapted to better feed on flowers in a number of ways. Hairs collect pollen from flowers, and in bumblebees and honeybees these bristles also form pockets specifically for pollen collection. Nectar collection offers an easy source of flight-sustaining sugar to bees. About 80 million years ago, some bees evolved a social lifestyle (Goulson 2014), evolving into the most commonly known cases of eusociality, colonial existence involving cooperative care of juveniles and a division in reproductive responsibility (Wilson & Hölldobler 2005). Many of the most widely known bees, including honeybees and bumblebees, exhibit eusociality.

In addition to the well-known honey bee, Apis mellifera, we know of a few other exotic bees on the island. One of these is the Giant Resin Bee (Megachile sculpteralis), which was first documented in Chilmark in September, 2003 (Keith, 2003). It is a species originally native to eastern Asia that was first found in the United States in 1994 and in Massachusetts in 2002. Since we do not yet have a wasp section, it is worth mentioning here that at least two potentially invasive vespid wasps, Polistes dominula and Vespula germanica, have also colonized Martha’s Vineyard.

The data for this section derives mostly from a 2010-2011 study of Martha’s Vineyard bees coordinated by Paul Goldstein and John Ascher, with results published in 2016 (Goldstein and Ascher 2016). The authors and their many volunteer collaborators surveyed more than 60 sites on the island and collected more than 14,500 specimens, documenting 182 species for the island. Another species, Coelioxys modesta, has been added subsequent to the publication of that paper, on the basis of a “research grade” record in iNaturalist (identified by Dr. Ascher). Goldstein and Ascher also documented four Vineyard species identified from museum collections, included in our checklist, bringing the number of documented VIneyard species to 187. The authors estimate that the true number of species on the island likely exceeds 200 (Goldstein and Ascher 2016).

Goldstein and Ascher (2016) found that 74% of the island’s bees are soil-nesters, and half are solitary, both comparable with Massachusetts-wide numbers. The nine most abundant species found in the survey were eusocial halictine sweat bees. They also found species lacking recent records in the Northeast, such as Anthophora walshii, whose presence on Martha’s Vineyard may represent remnant populations sheltered on the island from mainland threats.

Andrea Brown; edited by Matt Pelikan, June 14, 2022


Goldstein, P. and J. Ascher (2016). Taxonomic and Behavioral Composition of an Island Fauna: A Survey of Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 118(1), 37-92.

Goulson, D. (2014, April 25). The Beguiling History of Bees [Excerpt]. Scientific American. Department of Agricultural Resources (2016). Massachusetts Pollinator Protection Plan.

University Of Minnesota Bee Lab. (2015, January 27). Bee Diversity. Retrieved from

Wilson, E. O. and B. Hölldobler (2005). Eusociality: Origin and consequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(38), 13367-13371.

Web Resources: The Discover Life bee guide section features extensive identification keys and species accounts for bees and apoid wasps. Much of the wasp material here is incomplete or experimental, but the Discover Life bee ID keys are effective and often more user-friendly than traditional dichotomous keys.