Posts Tagged: cuckoo bee
It’s triple-digit hot and you’re relaxing in a swimming pool when suddenly you realize you have company.
A knat-sized insect with a red abdomen lands next to you. It looks like a wasp. No, it looks like a bee. Wait, what is it?
In this case (see photo below), it's a female cuckoo sweat bee from the genus Sphecodes, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Sweat bees are attracted to perspiring skin and often drop into swimming pools where they greet you with a brief but sharp sting.
Sphecodes are cuckoo or parasitic bees. They don’t collect pollen or provide for their young because they don’t need to. They lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. When the larvae hatch, they turn villainous and eat the young of the host bee. They also steal the provisions.
These bees, from the family Halictidae, are really tiny, about 0.2 to 0.6 inches. You’ll see them from late spring until early fall
It’s a large genus, with about 80 known species in the United States and Canada, says entomologist Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society.
In most species, females are dark red with a shiny abdomen, Vaughan says, while males have a partially or entirely black abdomen.
Call them cuckoo bees. Call them parasitic bees. Call them clepto-parasitic bees. Whatever you call them, you’ll remember that red abdomen and sharp sting.
You'll see red for just a little while.
Chances are if you walked up to a group of people and asked "Have you seen a Megachile today?" they’d stare at you blankly.
What's a Megachile? It's a native bee, also known as a leafcutter bee.
When most people think about bees, they think about honey bees, which are native to Europe.
They don't think of the some 4000 bee species native to the United States. Of that number, about 1600 species are found in California.
Enter Jaime Pawelek of UC Berkeley’s Department of Organisms and the Environment, a researcher who works in professor Gordon Frankie's lab. She discussed “Native California Bees: Looking for Cheap Urban Real Estate” at the Nov. 6 meeting of the Northern California Entomology Society meeting in Pawelek, who received her bachelor of science degree in conservation and resource studies from UC Berkeley, showed slides of numerous native bees, including a metallic green bee (Agapostemon texanus), long-horned bees (Melissodes sp), yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus sp.), leafcutting bee (Megachile sp.), and a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus spp.), not to mention the sweat, squash and orchid bees.
The "real estate," as Frankie related earlier in an e-mail, "refers mostly to the flowers that people use in their gardens."
Pawelek, who received her bachelor of science degree in conservation and resource studies from UC Berkeley, showed slides of numerous native bees, including a metallic green bee (Agapostemon texanus), long-horned bees (Melissodes sp), yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus sp.), leafcutting bee (Megachile sp.), and a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus spp.), not to mention the sweat, squash and orchid bees.
Most native bees (in fact, more than 70 percent) nest in the ground, Pawelek said. And, most native bees are solitary nesters. Some native bees are as tiny as a grain of rice.
Native bees are adept at pollinating specific crops, including blueberries, tomatoes and alfalfa, Pawelek said.
What should concern us: the decline in the diversity and abundance of native bees. "Causes for the decline may include," she said, "pesticide use, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and global climate change."
Although past studies have focused on agricultural or wildland habits, urban areas can also serve as habitat of native bees. In fact, initial research by the Gordon Frankie lab found 82 bee species in Berkeley alone, and of that number, 78 were native bee species.
In 2003, the Frankie lab set up the
In 2003 they planted some 16 species, including sunflowers, cosmos and sage. In 2005, the garden contained 40 plant species. Today it's swelled to more than 130 plant species.
In monitoring the bee-plant associations--now a primary component of their research--they found that native bees forage at native plants more often than non-native plant species, and certain plant families are highly attractive to bees. These include Asteracae (aster family), Lamiaceae (mint family) and Polygonaceae (knotweed family).
Their research takes them to urban diversity sites throughout California. Some sites are community gardens, residential gardens and neighborhood parks. Others: cemeteries and weedy lots.
Information collected at each site includes bee abundance and diversity, bee species identification, bee-plant associations, seasonality of bees and plant resources.
If you want to plant a bee friendly garden, here are some tips. It's important to offer diversity--include at least 20 plant species, Pawelek said. Cluster flowers of the same species in the same patch. Be sure to leave bare dirt for nesting purposes (unlike gardeners, bees don’t like mulch). Also, provide wood blocks for cavity nesters. To make a "bee condo," drill holes of various sizes in untreated wood.
You may also want to consider what California Academy of Sciences did: a roof-top garden. The academy maintains a "green roof" using many native California bee plants.
If you'd like to design an urban bee garden or just want to know more about native bees and what flowers to plant, check out Frankie's comprehensive and exceedingly well done Web site.
Better yet, bookmark it! It's a winner!
We've all heard of the cuckoo clock.
And most of us have heard of the cuckoo bird (Cuculus canorus), which lays its eggs in the nest of birds of other species.
But the cuckoo bee?
Yes, there is a cuckoo bee. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other solitary nesting bees.
They resemble wasps. You can see these slender-waisted bees hovering low to the ground, sneakily searching for burrows of other solitary nesting bees.
Like an identity thief, they try to avoid detection. They slip into a a burrow and lay their eggs in the host's nest. The hatched larvae then eat the host's food and parasitize (kill and eat) the host's larvae.
Some cuckoo bees are more abrupt and don't smuggle their eggs into a nest. In Insects of the World, Walter Linsenmaier writes how a few species of Sphecodes, invade the nests of mining bees (Halictus), and "with naked force when necessary" slaughter "everything that opposes them."
Then the cuckoo bee flings the opposition out the entrance. Did anybody say "cruel world?"
Cuckoo bees are not nice and they're not ready to make nice. If this is a world of The Givers and The Takers, then they're the takers.
I captured this image of a cuckoo bee last week. Said Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis: "It's a cuckoo bee, probably the genus Triepeolus (maybe Epeolus) and probably a male."