top of page
Centris nitida oil-digger bee in nest; Copyright 2021 Paula Sharp

A female Centris nitida emerging from her nest in a bamboo cane

Centris nitida oil-digger bee - (c) Copyrigt 2018 Paua Sharp

A male Shining oil-digger bee (Centris nitida)

Associated plant at NBC: 


(Chromolaena odorata)

Plant Family:  Asteraceae

When seen:

November 2018

Shining Oil-digger Bee

Centris nitida

Family:  Apidae

Size:  13 mm  (males and females)

Until recently, the shining oil-digger bee (Centris nitida) was rarely found north of Mexico.  Centris nitida is generally thought of as a neotropical species that typically ranges from the Texas border through Bolivia.  (The species has made a recent appearance in southern Florida, where it is considered invasive but apparently harmless.)  Centris nitida is now encountered occasionally at the National Butterfly Center.  According to Texas bee expert John L. Neff, the bees' appearance signals that Malpighiaceae-family plants are in bloom somewhere in the vicinity.

Female Centris nitida are easily identified by their distinctive pale facial markings.  Males can be distinguished from male Centris atripes by examing the bees' middle legs:  the male Centris nitida has a fringe of white hairs on the back of each middle-leg tibia.


Mission, Texas

Centris bee, Centris nitida, Centris atripes, oil-digger bee



Genus Centris 


Centris are difficult to miss.  They are hefty black-and-beige bees that buzz loudly as they zoom through gardens at the National Butterfly Center.  Fast and adept fliers, they race around bushes, reversing direction suddenly in order to guard their territories, or diving into flowers to extract nectar, pollen or oil.

Centris are sometimes referred to in popular literature  as “oil-digger bees," because many members of the genus extract flower oils from plants.  The bees modify and use the oils to line their nest chambers.


A seminal 1981 study of oil-collecting bees by John L. Neff and Beryl Simpson described the front and middle legs of most female Centris as outfitted with small bristle-like hairs called setae, which form combs (made up of narrow lines of setae) and pads (made up of branched and hooked setae).  Some of the setae are blade-like and used to cut open flower receptacles that contain oils.  

The Centris female’s hind legs are covered with bushy pollen-collecting hairs that are sometimes described as looking like “pantaloons”.  Centris females transfer the oils from their front and middle oil-collecting legs to their hind-leg scopal hairs in mid-flight, for transport back to their nests.


Most Centris in the Valley nest in the earth, sometimes near the banks of streams or other bodies of water.  They are solitary bees that frequently form aggregations at nest sites. Some Centris species, such as Centris nitida, nest in wood or cavities found in trees.  Centris nests tend to be built in irregular clumps of cells, rather than in series. 

Associated Flora

Centris are associated with plants that produce abundant floral oils, such as manzanita, creosote, and Krameria.  Almost all female Centris collect oils, at least at times, from plants in the family Malpighiaceae – which includes such flora as Barbados cherry (Malphigia glabra), a plant native to Hidalgo County.  Barbados cherry bushes bloom
 in the spring at the National Butterfly Center -- when they do, they are mobbed by such large numbers of oil-digger bees that the bushes seem to hum.


Centris also can be observed visiting a range of other plants for pollen or nectar.  At the National Butterfly Center, oil-digger bees feed on crucita, mallows, palo verde, golden dewdrops, sunflowers and snoutbean.

Centris atripes oil-digger bee - (c) Copyright 2018 Paula Sharp.

A female black-footed oil-digger bee (Centris atripes)


Identification Information: 

Centris occur only in the New World; most are found in Mexico and Central and South America.  Most Texas Centris are fairly large (around ½ inch or longer), with black abdomens covered with black hairs; shaggy black legs;  thoraxes covered with light-brown or rust-colored hairs; and black heads with green eyes. Both female and male Centris of Texas tend to have pale facial markings -- usually ivory or yellow.  This trait helps distinguish them from Anthophora digger bees (shown in this guide's preceding section):  in the genus Anthophora, only males have pale marks on their faces.  


At least nine different Centris species inhabit Texas:  

Centris aterrima, C. atripes, C. caesalpiniae, C. cockerelli, C. hoffmanseggiae, C. lanosa, C. mexicana, C. nitida and C. rhodopus. Two of these, Centris atripes and Centris nitida, have been found at the National Butterfly Center.   Although yet undocumented, it is likely that at least some of the other Texas species occur in the Valley.

Centris aterrima is covered almost entirely with black hairs.  Centris mexicana sometimes has bright rust-orange hair on its thorax.  Centris caesalpiniae and C. rhodopus females have bright red eyes and red on the clypeus, mandibles and legs; males of these species have green eyes and predominantly yellow facial markings and legs.  Centris hoffmanseggiae has beige or rust-colored thorax hairs; an abdomen banded by pale hairs; and blue-gray eyes. Female Centris cockerelli have blue eyes and sometimes have a reddish clypeus.


Order:   Hymenoptera

Family:   Apidae

Subfamily:  Apinae

Tribe:  Centridini

Genus:   Centris

Species shown below: 

     Centris (Paracentris) atripes  (Black-footed oil-digger bee)
     Centris (Hemisiella) nitida  (Shining oil-digger bee)

Centris Species of the National Butterfly Center

Black-footed Oil-digger Bee

Centris atripes

Family:  Apidae

Size:  15-17 mm  (males and females)

Associated flora at NBC:  

Golden dewdrops

(Duranta erecta)

Plant Family:  Verbenaceae

Texas snout bean

(Rhynchosia senna var. texana)

Plant Family:  Fabaceae


Big berry manzanita
(Arctostaphylos glauca)

Plant family:  Ericaceae

Barbados cherry

(Malpighia glauca)
Plant family:  Malpighiaceae

(Tecoma stans)

Plant family:  Bignoniaceae

When seen:

September 2018
April -May 2019 

Centris atripes oil-digger bee - (c) Copyright 2018 Paula Sharp.

A female black-footed oil-digger bee (Centris atripes)

Centris atripes black-footed digger bee - (c) 2019 Paula Sharp

A male black-footed oil-digger bee

The black-footed oil digger bee (Centris atripes) is a common visitor to the National Butterfly Center in April and May, the months when manzanita and barbados cherry are flowering.  Males of this species tend to buzz around the trumpet-shaped blossoms of the ornamental shrub known as esperanza; males sometimes can be found sleeping in esperanza blossoms.  Centris atripes nests have been sighted in NBC areas bordering a canal that parallels the Rio Grande.

CITE THIS PAGE:  Sharp, Paula and Ross Eatman.  "Centris."  Wild Bees of the National Butterfly Center of Mission, Texas. 15 Jan. 2019,  Accessed [day/month/year guide accessed].

bottom of page