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Shot from above: a small bee that resembles a yellow jacket perched on a yellow flower with a sand beach below.
Information icon Gulf Coast solitary bee. Photo by Center for Biological Diversity.

Gulf Coast solitary bee

Hesperapis oraria

  • Taxa: Bee, Hymenoptera
  • Range: Jackson County, Mississippi; Mobile and Baldwin counties, Alabama; Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa and Bay counties, Florida
  • Status: Under review

The Gulf Coast solitary bee is a rare inhabitant of the sandy barrier islands and landward dunes along the Gulf of Mexico extending from Horn Island, Mississippi eastward to St. Andrew’s Bay in northwest Florida. In April 2019, the Service was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate critical habitat. The Service published a 90-day finding in December 2019 indicating listing may be warranted and is now undertaking a review of the species for possible protection under the ESA. In order to ensure that our review of the species is comprehensive, we are requesting any new scientific or commercial data (or other information) be submitted to us to include in our 12-month finding.

Appearance

The Gulf Coast solitary bee is a medium-sized bee with distinctive alternating bands of yellow and black on the abdomen. Females are 11-13 mm in length, while males are smaller at 8.5-11 mm long. Both sexes have shiny black heads with many hairs. Their bodies are covered in dense, branched hairs and they have hairy dark brown to reddish legs. Hairs on the legs of the female bees are different from males and are thought to assist in nest construction in the sand.

Eggs, larvae, and pupae have yet to be described.

A bee in a flower covered in yellow pollen
Adult female Gulf Coast solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria) foraging on Coastal Plain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). Photograph by John Bente, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service.

Habitat

This bee is a floral specialist that feeds only on the Coastal Plain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia), a member of the aster family. Consequently, their preferred habitat must consist of both dense patches of the honeycombhead as well as the appropriate nesting substrate of deep, soft sandy soils within flight range of the plants. This habitat is typically found on dunes behind fore dunes on barrier islands and coastal shores in close proximity to the shoreline.

Diet

The Gulf Coast solitary bee is a monolectic species, meaning it only gathers pollen and nectar from one floral host — the Coastal Plain honeycombhead. It is possible that the bee gathers nectar from closely related plants but this has yet to be proven.

Historic range

When the Gulf Coast solitary bee was discovered in 1993, it was found in 15 locations in the following counties: Jackson County, Mississippi; Mobile and Baldwin counties, Alabama; Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa and Bay counties, Florida.

Current range

Currently, the Gulf Coast solitary bee is only known from six locations across its range — a range that is estimated to be less than 100 km2. The majority of known locations are from public lands along the Gulf Coast from Horn Island, Mississippi, east to St. Andrew’s Bay in northwest Florida.

A map of the Gulf coast along Florida and Alabama showing populations on barrier islands
Map of historic and current distribution of the Gulf Coast solitary bee. Sea level rise data derived from NOAA SLR Viewer. Map from Petition to List the Gulf Coast Solitary Bee (Hesperapis oraria) Under the Endangered Species Act and Concurrently Designate Critical Habitat, Center for Biological Diversity, March 27, 2019.

Conservation challenges

The coastal range of the bee and its only host plant, the Coastal Plain honeycombhead, makes both of these species susceptible to mortality resulting from inundation and loss of habitat. With storm frequency and intensity expected to increase in the North Atlantic in the future, further reductions of dune habitat for the bee and its host plant are possible. Hurricanes can directly destroy secondary (landward) dunes and increased flooding from storms can limit the distribution of the bee’s host plant. Other stressors for the species include introduction of non-native species, fire suppression, increased use of pesticides, and habitat fragmentation.

Recovery plan

If the Gulf Coast solitary bee is listed under the ESA, a recovery plan will be developed for the species.

Partnerships, research and projects

Hunsberger H. 2013. Distribution and habitat use of Florida endemic solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria) and host plant Balduina angustfolia. M.S. thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville.

How you can help

  • Support research on Gulf Coast solitary bee.
  • Avoid disturbing known Gulf Coast solitary bee sites.
  • Limit use of pesticides that may drift into known Gulf Coast solitary bee habitat.
  • Contact the Service’s Panama City Ecological Services Field Office to learn more about the Gulf Coast solitary bee and its host plant, the Coastal Plain honeycombhead.

Subject matter experts

Designated critical habitat

If the Gulf Coast solitary bee is listed under the ESA, critical habitat may be designated for the species.

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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