This bee is black and densely covered in a grey pubescence or fur on the dorsal side. The thorax fur has a slightly yellow color. The legs have a mixture of black and reddish fur. The ventral side of the bee is covered in a brownish or dark yellow fur. The wings are fairly transparent except for the black veins that run through them. Males and females are similar in size at about 16–17 millimeters. Males have eyes more yellow in color, and their thorax fur is lighter. Females have eyes more green in color, and their thorax fur is more brown than grey.
Centris pallida are able to withstand very high internal temperatures when compared to other bees. Males regularly have thoracic temperatures of 48 to 49 degrees Celsius (118.4 to 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit). If the thoracic temperature reaches 51 to 52 degrees Celsius (123.8 to 125.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the bee will become paralyzed and die. Most of the cooling occurs when heat radiates off the abdomen. To prevent overheating, C. pallida have a very high thoracic conductance (rate of heat transfer from the thorax to the abdomen) which is 45 percent higher than that of sphinx moths of the same size. Other than this high thoracic conductance, no other mechanism has been found to help the bee reduce its internal temperature. C. pallida do not appear to have evaporative cooling in the wild as honey bees and bumblebees do.
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They are large (up to 3 cm), fast-flying bees, distinguished from the closely related genus Epicharis by the absence of long, whip-like setae that project backwards from just behind the eyes. They are commonly encountered bees in American deserts, and are active at very high ambient temperatures when many other species are in hiding. They can often be seen in large numbers on desert-willow (Chilopsis) and palo verde (Parkinsonia) blossoms. Bees of this genus are of some economical significance in pollinating crops such as Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa) and Cashew (Anacardium occidentale, pollinated by C. tarsata among others).