New York City Buzzing With New Bee Species

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(Gotham Bee poking its head out of a nesting site)

The American Museum of Natural History has announced the discovery of eleven new species of bees, including four from New York City and its suburbs.

The bees, described in the journal Zootaxa, include small-to-medium-sized sweat bees, so named because of their attraction to the salt in human sweat. A team of scientists identified the bees with the help of the vast digital and physical bee collections at the AMNH.

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A standout bee among the 11 is Lasioglossum gotham, aka the Gotham Bee. It was spotted in the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, and in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“Declines in honey bees and other bees have received a lot of attention in recent years, but it is not generally appreciated that bee species entirely new to science are still being discovered even within our largest cities," John Ascher, a research scientist in the museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, was quoted as saying in a press release. "New York City has a surprising diversity of bees, with more than 250 described species recorded."

Ascher helped to collect and curate specimens of some of the new species. He leads the Digital Bee Collections Network, a collaborative project that serves as the online clearinghouse for information about the world’s bee species.

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The 11 new bees also include Lasioglossum ascheri, which was classified from just two specimens found in Westchester and Suffolk counties; L. katherinae from Brooklyn and Nassau County; Lasioglossum rozeni from Suffolk County; and L. georgeickworti from Queens and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“It's remarkable that so many bees are able to live in such a major urban area,” Jason Gibbs, author of the journal paper and a Cornell Univeristy researcher, was quoted as saying. “Natural areas like urban parks and rooftop and botanical gardens provide the nesting sites and floral diversity that bees need. This little bee (Gotham Bee) has been quietly living in the city, pollinating flowers in people’s gardens for years. It’s a pleasure to help give it some well-deserved recognition.”

Over the past decade there's been renewed interest in bees, partly because of a complex problem called Colony Collapse Disorder, which has killed countless bees in recent years. These buzzing insects are the most important pollinators in the Northeastern United States, fertilizing plants as they fly from flower to flower on pollen-collecting missions.

The discovery of new bee species in New York City and the vicinity highlights the need for additional study of native bee diversity across the country, Gibbs believes.

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“There are many more new species in the United States that remain to be described,” he said. “These new species are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Information about the new bee species and all others from the eastern United States is available through the biodiversity web portal Discover Life.

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