What's better than sighting a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii?
Well, a newly emerged Bombus vosnesenskii queen.
On the last day of June, we spotted this fresh queen-looking foraging on our blanket flower (Gaillardia). Her jet-black color, sunny yellow markings, and untattered wings indicated that this was one of her first flights. Queen bees are huge--about 18 to 21mm long--much larger than the other bees in her colony. Workers (females) range from 8 to 17 mm while males measure between 10 and 15mm.
The queen took a liking to the blanket flower, buzzing from blossom to blossom and sharing communal meals--sweet nectar--with honey bees, longhorned bees, and carpenter bees. A camouflaged crab spider, sprawled out on the top of a blossom, itched to get in on the feeding action by snagging an inattentive bee, but the bees buzzed right past their would-be predator. Not today!
Bombus vosnesenskii is one of only 250 species in the genus Bombus, which is Latin for "buzzing." Native to the west coast of North America, Bombus vosnesenskii is considered the most abundant bumble bee from British Columbia to Baja California. Its importance to agriculture is crucial: it's commonly invited to pollinate commercial greenhouse tomatoes, which it does very well. The next time you eat a greenhouse tomato, you should probably thank Bombus vosnesenskii.
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, is the co-author of the landmark Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (with co-authors Paul H. Williams, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla), published by Princeton University Press. It's the winner of a 2015 Outstanding Reference Sources Award, Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association.
Want to hear a bumble bee buzz? Just click this link: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide.
It's almost like bee-ing there.
Oh, that cuddly teddy bear.
The male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as "the teddy bear bee," comes around occasionally to nectar our broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden.
The milkweed is the larval host of the monarch butterfly, but other insects, including the honey bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and butterflies, stop by to sip some nectar.
The male Valley carpenter bee joined the party, and what a party it was. He bluffed his way past the other insects--boy bees do not sting as they have no stinger, as native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, says.
A monarch fluttered in for a little nectar, too, but the teddy bear bee refused to budge.
When you're big, hungry, and a bluffer, you can do that.
We just met a male black-faced bumble bee, Bombus californicus.
It was early morning and he was resting on a blanket flower (Gaillardia), a brilliant member of the sunflower family. When you're a bee, a blanket flower offers both bed and breakfast.
Gaillardia was named after M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, an 18th-century French magistrate who was a patron of botany, according to Wikipedia. "The common name may refer to the resemblance of the inflorescence to the brightly patterned blankets made by Native Americans."
The bumble bee species, a native, takes its name from California. Unlike the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, its face is black and long. (Except when it's covered with golden pollen.)
Authors Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn in their newly published book, The Bee Friendly Garden, note that unlike honey bees, bumble bees can fly in "cold rainy weather...They have several physiological adaptations that allow them to fly in bad weather, including the ability to shiver to raise their body temperature."
Frey, a world-class garden designer and LeBuhn, a bee expert and professor at San Francisco State University, offer advice on how to attract bumble bees and other pollinators to your garden. They quote native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: And Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners.
What we know is this: it's good to have bed and breakfast for a bumble bee. Much of the bumble bee population is declining and we all need to do what we can to protect them and provide for them.
It's an incredible photo.
Nicole "Nikki" Nicola, a staff research associate in the Frank Zalom lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, University California, Davis, captured an image in her back yard of both the male and female Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) sharing the same passionflower (Passiflora).
Most of us often see--and hear--the solid black female, but not so much the green-eyed blond male. And rarely together.
But to see them on the same flower? What a great example of sexual dimorphism!
Nicola works with Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. A noted entomologist, he is a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.
As for those Valley carpenter bees, the next time you see the female frequenting the Passiflora, check out those tiny grains of golden pollen. They look for all the world like gold dust.
Valley carpenter bees are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
They're not bumble bees. They're not scary. But well, they ARE big. About an inch long.
The Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) is the largest bee in California. The female is solid black with metallic wings. In a great example of sexual dimorphism, the male looks nothing like the female. It's a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. (See Bug Squad photo of the teddy bear bee.) "Boy bees can't sting because they have no stingers," native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is fond of saying at UC Davis open houses and area workshops.
But it was the female we were checking out last weekend. She buzzed from the blanket flower (Gaillardia) to the lavender patch and clung to a blossom.
A honey bee seeking the same nectar landed next to her. Talk about size comparison! Neither seemed to mind the presence of the other. Plenty of nectar. Plenty of time. Plenty of work to do.
When the honey bee finally left--"I'm outta here!"--the Valley carpenter bee climbed to the top of the stem as if claiming it. "This is mine! This is all mine."