Utah’s wool-gathering bees

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Fluffy contents of the reed nest
of a carder bee
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Do you grow the ornamental plants called “lamb’s ears” or rose campion in your flower gardens? These plants produce dense mats of buttery soft woolly leaves. That leaf fuzz is avidly sought by so-called “carder bees” of the genus Anthidium. In textiles, carding is the mechanical process of combing through the fibers of cotton or wool to align them before spinning. The female carder bee has multi-toothed mandibles that she uses to shave the leaf hairs, gathering the fluff into a ball to bring back to her nest.

Lamb’s ear leaf shaved of some of its hairs
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Carder bees nest solitarily in aboveground cavities, typically an old beetle burrow in deadwood. Each female lines her tunnel with the carded plant hairs. Onto this fluffy pillow she assembles a provision of pollen mixed with nectar, which constitutes the food mass soon to be eaten by her progeny, one provision per larva.

Carder bees are stout, round, relatively hairless bees marked in black and yellow. We have several species, the largest being a European escapee that is associated with lamb’s ears. The female’s nesting biology is distinctive enough, but it is the male’s behavior that you will notice first.

Male carder bee at lavender flower
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Male carder bees are aggressive, territorial suitors. They spend all day in flight, tirelessly patrolling lamb’s ears and garden flowers, particularly culinary sage and Russian sage. Males dart at all carder bees of either gender, as well as other like-sized bees. They pounce upon and wrestle these unsuspecting individuals to the ground. If it is a female of their species, they will endeavor to mate with her. Such is the brazen courtship of male carder bees. Look now for these wool gathering bees in your gardens before summer bids us farewell.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Anthidium_manicatum, BugGuide, BugGuide.net, http://bugguide.net/node/view/7744

Anthidium_manicatum, Discover Life, Polistes Foundation, http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=Anthidium+manicatum

Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum), Solitarybee.com, Paul Betts, (March 2018, website no longer functioning)

Gardening for Bees

Gardening for Bees: Click to view a larger picture; Bee Garden courtesy and copyright 2010 Linda Kervin
Bee Garden
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2010 Linda Kervin
Three years ago, the United States Senate unanimously designated National Pollinator Week. This year it falls from June 21 to 27. Pollination is vitally important for many domesticated and wild plants. By far the most important pollinators are bees and Utah is home to 900 species. Bees pollinate food crops such as apples, cherries, apricots, squashes, raspberries and cucumbers. Bees are also essential to pollinate most wildflowers in our native plant communities.

Happily, few of our native bees have much venom or any inclination to sting; in part because they are solitary nesters. In contrast, honeybees and bumblebees are social and in defense of home will deliver memorable stings.

All bees visit flowers to sup nectar for energy. Females also collect protein-rich pollen to feed their offspring. Grain and hay fields, pavement and buildings have all displaced native plant communities, but our flower gardens can become valuable cafeterias for local bee populations. Because bees find their favorite flowers by their color or scent, a bee garden can also appeal to people.

Anthidium Bee on Lavender
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2010 Jim Cane

Different bees prefer different kinds of flowers. Many bees are attracted to members of the pea family, such as vetches, clovers and locoweeds. Bees appreciate sunflowers and their kin as well as lavender and many other herbs. On the other hand, some plants have been so altered by plant breeders that they no longer feed bees. Examples include doubled flowers like marigolds, flowers with ruffles like petunias and some other common bedding plants.

Please consider our important pollinators when you are choosing what to plant in your garden. You will be rewarded by increased fruit and vegetable yields while surrounded by beautiful blooms.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright 2010 Jim Cane and Linda Kervin
Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Male Melissodes Bees
Sleeping on Sunflower
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2010 Jim Cane

Additional Reading:

http://www.nbii.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=222&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true

http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=54-28-05-00

http://extension.usu.edu/htm/publications/publication=10414

Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, Robert L. Minckley, Bryan N. Danforth
Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20160443; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0443. Published 22 June 2016http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract

Bumblebee Watch, https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/
Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project through the partnership of The Xerces Society, the University of Ottawa, Wildlife Preservation Canada, BeeSpotter, The Natural History Museum, London, and the Montreal Insectarium.

Blue Orchard Bee

Blue Orchard Bee
Copyright Jim Cane

It’s early spring, the time of fruit tree bloom. Apricots, apples, plums, cherries, and pears will all need bees to pollinate their flowers. Traditionally, we’ve used the European honey bee, but now we know how to pollinate our fruit trees using one of our native bees, the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria). These bees fly nationwide.

In Utah they occupy many foothill and lower montane habitats. They aren’t social; every female is fertile and tends to her own tiny nest. Adults are active and nesting for only 3-4 weeks in the spring. These bees naturally nest in the tunnels chewed by large wood-boring beetles in tree trunks. Each female partitions the tunnel into a series of little bee-sized rooms. Each room is stocked with a bee-sized provision of pollen moistened with nectar, followed by a single egg. Nest cells are partitioned, and ultimately capped, with mud, a trait shared with other so-called “mason bees”.

Drill Log with 5/16 holes
5 to 6 inches deep
Copyright Jim Cane

You can have your own backyard population of blue orchard bees. One easy way to start is with a short fat log that is seasoned and dry. Take a 5/16 bit and drill 20 or more holes 5 to 6 inches deep. Stand the log on end, facing the holes towards the southeast.

On cold mornings, females bask in the sun before taking flight. If your log is colonized, then you’ll see steely blue bees busily coming and going all day long during fruit tree bloom. They tote their loads of dry yellow pollen in a brush of hair beneath the abdomen. Unloading that pollen at the nest necessitates some charming acrobatics, part of their undeniable entertainment value. Successive generations will nest for you every spring, but you’ll want to switch to better nesting materials to practice good bee hygiene.

A Colonized log
Copyright Jim Cane

Details and links can be found at our Wild About Utah website.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

http://www.sare.org/publications/bob.htm

http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=18333

http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/Binderboards
/Hornfaced_Bees.htm

Blue Orchard Bee eggs
on pollen provision mass
in nest
Copyright Jim Cane

Squash Bees

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Three Squash Bees
Peponapis pruinosa
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

At long last we are enjoying full summer, and with it, the bounty of our gardens. Last August on this program, you learned about our native squash bees. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, Squash bees are not social. Each female excavates a simple vertical tunnel in the dirt the diameter of a pencil. Lateral tunnels terminate in tiny chambers where she caches pollen and nectar to feed her progeny. She lays one egg per chamber. These nests are well concealed.

But you can readily see the feverish activity of males and females at squash, pumpkin and gourd flowers soon after sunrise, often before honeybee activity. Squash bees are the size of honey bees, but earlier, faster and more deliberate in their flight. Males have a yellow spot on the face. Unlike honeybees, female squash bees carry squash pollen dry in a brush of hairs on their hind legs.

Both sexes of squash bee are valuable pollinators, indeed they are the unheralded pollinators of most of the nations squash and pumpkins. But there is more to their story in Utah. Their native hosts, the wild gourds, only grow in the hot low deserts. Native Americans domesticated and cultivated squashes and gourds, but the practice did not spread north of the red rock country. Across most of Utah and the northern US in general, we have squash bees because we grow squash. In Utah, European settlers first grew squashes only 150 years ago. Each annual generation of squash bees spread further north, hopscotching from homestead to homestead, reaching as far north today as Boise Idaho. As you pick your zucchinis, butternuts and pumpkins, realize that your squash’s flowers also fed the descendants of our squash bee pioneers.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Our Native Squash Bees, Wild About Utah, 12 August 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/squash-bees/

Squash Pollinators of the Americas Survey (SPAS), James Cane, USDA Pollinating Insect Research Unit, Utah State University

2009: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=16595

2005: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=12041

Perfect Pumpkin Pollinators: The Squash Bees!, James Cane, Frank A. Eischen, Blair J. Sampson, USDA-ARS, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/bees1108.htm Also published in Agricultural Research magazine Nov/Dec 2008 http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/

Across the Americas, Squash and Gourd Bees Are Superb Pollinators, Marcia Wood, Dec 30, 2008, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081230.htm

Celebrating Wildflowers, Pollinator of the Month, Squash Bees, Jim Cane, USDA ARS, Bee Biology & Systematics Lab, Logan, Utah http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/squash_bees.shtml

Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, Robert L. Minckley, Bryan N. Danforth
Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20160443; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0443. Published 22 June 2016http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract