Anthophora bees


Honey bees are not the only bee species that are significant for human wellbeing. Anthophora bees are a group of native bee species that do not produce honey but are important pollinators of crops and wild plants. Anthophora bees are not aggressive but can sting for defence. Individuals are large often with yellow facial markings and some Anthophora species have distinctive bands. Individuals make nests in the soil and live independently of others (i.e. they are solitary), although nests can be close together. This fact sheet provides information about these bees to encourage farmers to understand and protect them to help ensure that their crops are effectively pollinated.

From a conservation and agricultural standpoint it is not necessary to recognise all the different bee genera. However, it is important to know that there is a large bee biodiversity. Different bee genera pollinate different plant species, although there is some overlap that acts as a buffer as bee populations wax and wane. For healthy ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems both diversity and abundance in the bee fauna is important.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Apidae

Subfamily: Apinae

Tribe:  Anthophorini

Genus: Anthophora Latreille, 1802

Species in the Genus

Anthophora is one of the largest genera in the bee family Apidae, with over 450 known species worldwide. They are most abundant and diverse in the northern temperate and African regions.

Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

The bee species belonging to the genus Anthophora are widespread in sub-SaharanAfrica. A comprehensive list of species for East Africa is yet to be established. However, it is likely that more than 14 described Anthophora species (Eardley and Urban 2010, Eardley and Brooks 1989) will be found to occur in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.


In East Africa Anthophora bees are not well known by local people (including farmers) in East Africa, where the name bee is generally thought only to apply to honey bees. However, many local people who see Anthophora bees at flowers will possibly know that they are bees but think that they are honeybees. These large, heavy and beautiful bees can be easily identified by their size and colour characteristics. Most Anthophora species have yellow facial markings though some have black faces. The bodies of commonly encountered bees in the field are yellow-white or blue-white in colour.

Possible Causes of Confusion

Some other bee groups look like Anthophora bees: These are large Amegilla, Xylocopa, Megachile, Tetraloniella, Tetralonia, and Melitta bees. While foraging on various plant species, males of Xylocopa can sometimes look like Anthophora bees. Anthophora individuals can be distinguished from the very similar genus Amegilla by the possession of arolia (sticky pads) between their claws.

Distribution in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

Anthophora bees are found in most districts/regions ofUganda, Kenya and Tanzania (Eardley and Daly 2007; Eardley et al. 2009).


Anthophora bees can be found in various habitats (land-uses) in East Africa such as grasslands, natural forests, wetlands, marshlands, open habitats, protected areas, farmlands, rangelands, woodlands, woodlots (forest plantations), riparian areas.


All Anthophora species are solitary, though nests may be found close together. Many species make nests in the soil (Michener 2007).

Crops Visited

Most Anthophora species in appear to collect nectar and pollen from a wide range of flowering crop species belonging to different plant families although a few species appear to be specialised, mostly visiting plant species from one family. These bees are efficient pollinators of crops such, water melon, coffee, beans, cowpeas, Bambara nuts, simsim (sesame), passion fruits, and apples.

Other Plants Visited

InEast Africa, Anthophora bees visit various plant species, notably those in the Fabaceae, Rubiaceae and Asteraceae families. In East Africa, Anthophora are wild bees (not yet domesticated) that visit various wild plant species (trees, shrubs, herbs, weeds, lianas) found in different habitats. These bees visit preferably plant species with large to medium flowers of yellow, white, milk-cream and purple colours.

Economic / Ecological Importance

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people in East Africa. However, they are pollinators and thus they are likely to contribute to increased agricultural productivity and the conservation of the natural biological diversity of the region.


InEast Africa, Anthophora bees and other bee taxa are threatened by factors such as habitat degradation, agricultural intensification (e.g. replacing hedges with barbed wire fences, and increased use of herbicides which can affect wild flower numbers) and the misuse of insecticides. Anthophora bee populations in East Africa are likely to be affected by pests and diseases but information on this subject is lacking. Wood collection can affect nesting sites of wood-nesting species and trampling by people and livestock can affect soil-nesting species. The lack of knowledge of about these bees and their economic importance by people (de facto custodians of nature) is significant as their conservation and management practices implemented at the farm level will depend to a large extent upon the value that people attach to them.

Conservation and Management Practices

There are now concerted research efforts in the region to develop best practices for conservation and management of bees to enhance crop production. Theoretically, bee conservation and management is inexpensive and adopted activities can also improve the aesthetic value of the landscape. Such practices involve setting land aside (e.g. a 1-metre strip) in the farmland to host all year round food resources for the bees, as well as safer sites for nesting, mating, resting and hiding from natural enemies. During flowering, farmers should manage pesticide usage carefully to avoid poisoning flower-visiting bees. Farmers should also minimise pesticide drift from the field to adjacent areas. Laws governing registration and use of plant protection products also indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators. Wood collection should be managed to conserve the nesting sites wood-nesting species and trampling by people and livestock and tilling should be managed to conserve the nesting sites of soil-nesting species. KARI (the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) is developing protocols for mass rearing of different species of solitary bees. Any successful results from this research will be freely communicated to the public. In addition, KARI is collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure in situ conservation and management of bees for pollination purposes. Much of the work of conserving native bees will be underpinned by raising public awareness of the importance of these species.

Legislation (National and International)

There is not yet any legislation in East Africa that explicitly addresses pollinators. However, there is scattered legislation for the protection of biodiversity particularly that covering environmental protection, protection of wildlife and heritage sites, protection of forests and natural resources such as water catchments. In addition, laws governing registration and use of plant protection products also indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators Such legislation, together with market-based mechanisms such as the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) codes and practices may help to protect bees albeit incidentally. At the international level, the Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) is spearheading strategies to enforce bee management for pollination purposes within the member countries, which include Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Farmers should lobby their governments to develop Integrated Pest Management policies that would protect bees and other insects of importance in agriculture.


1. Eardley CD, Gikungu MW and Schwarz MP (2009) Bee conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa andMadagascar: diversity, status and threats. Apidologie, 40: 355–366.

2. Eardley CD, Kuhlmann M and Pauly A. (2010) The Bee Genera and Subgenera of sub-Saharan Africa. ABC Taxa vol 7: i-vi, 138 pp.

3. Eardley CD and Urban R (2010) Catalogue of Afrotropical bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes). Zootaxa, 2455: 1–548.

4. Michener CD (2007) The Bees of the world, the John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London , pp 913.

5. Eardley, CD and Brooks RW (1989) The genus Anthophora Latreille in southern Africa (Hymenoptera: Anthophoridae). Entomology Mem. Dep. Agric. Wat. Supply Repub. S. Afr. No 76:1-52.


Théodore Munyuli, Busitema University - Uganda; Muo Kasina, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) - Kenya; Juma Lossini, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) – Tanzania; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat – UK; Connal Eardley, Plant Protection Research Institute (PPRI) – South Africa.


We recognise the support from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI)Tanzania and Busitema University (Faculty of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences) - Eastern Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).


BioNET-EAFRINET regional coordinator: [email protected]