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Nomada / cuckoo Bee

Family: Apidae

Genus: Nomada

Common Name: Cuckoo Bee


Physical Appearance

Mostly hairless, slender bees, with a thick cuticle to withstand attack from their hosts; they typically have wasp-like features and coloring. Colors range from yellow and black striped to all red, with several variations in between.

Since the female does not forage or provision nests for her offspring, she lacks the specialized hairs on either her hind legs or abdomen to carry pollen.


Cuckoo bees detect the nests of their host bees by their particular scent. Once the host nest is detected, the female cuckoo bee will loiter near the nest entrance, waiting for the host female to leave on a foraging trip - when the host female has vacated the nest, the female cuckoo bee slips into the nest and lays her own eggs.

The developing larvae of cuckoo bees have large, sickle-shaped jaws which are used to destroy the host egg or larvae, thus commandeering all the food provisions for their own nourishment.

Approximately 20 percent of North American native bee species are cuckoo bees.

Size: Small, slender bees from 1/10 to 1/2 inch.



Widely distributed across North America, with numerous species in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.


Number of species in North America

Approximately 290


Emergence Time
Spring to summer, depending on species


Nesting Habit
Nomada species are cleptoparasites, that is they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees that have already been provisioned with food stores by the host. Females of Nomada lay their eggs in the ground nests of Andrena species, which they detect by scent.


Additional Flowers Visited in Natural Areas

Hydrophyllum (waterleaf)
Rubus (blackberry)

Visited Plants

Asclepias / Milkweed

Erigeron / Fleabane

Eriogonum / Buckwheat

Grindelia / Gumweed

Helianthus / Sunflower

Salix / Willow

Solidago / Goldenrod

Vaccinium / Blueberry

Verbesina / Wingstem

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