Meet the competitors.
In this corner, meet Mr. Teddy Bear. He's a blond, green-eyed carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a native, and one of three species of carpenter bees commonly found from northern to southern California to western New Mexico.
In the other corner, meet Mr. Bodyslam. He's a European wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum, a native of Europe. His "immigrant ancestor" was first detected in the United States (New York) in 1963, and the species spread west. The carder bee (so named because the female "cards" fuzz from plants for her nest) was first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
The competitors meet on foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, which yields dramatic pink-purple fingerlike flowers (and medicine for heart patients).
Mr. Teddy Bear is famished. He's doing what entomologists call "nectar robbing." He's drilling a hole in the corolla and drinking nectar, bypassing the usual plant-pollinator relationship. He's grabbing the reward and "cheating" by entering the flower from the outside, avoiding contact with the anthers.
Mr. Bodyslam is territorial. He's patrolling the foxglove patch--HIS foxglove patch--trying to save the nectar for his own species so he can mate with them. When he sees intruders, he targets them.
So here's Mr. Teddy Bear, drilling and sipping, sipping and drilling. Life is good.
"Hey, get away from my flowers and nobody gets hurt! They're mine!"
"Hey, I'm bigger than you. Get lost."
And the battle begins.
The winner, in this corner, Mr. Teddy Bear. He successfully avoided contact by crawling between the flowers (where Mr. Bodyslam couldn't reach him) and then sneaking to the corolla.
But once--just once--contact erupted. Ouch!
Do they ever slow down?
The male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a yellow and black bee about the size of a honey bee, spends most of the day defending its "property" (food) from other visitors. It's so territorial that it will dive-bomb and/or bodyslam visitors such as honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and praying mantids that dare land on or occupy "their" plant. We've seen them do this on catmint, blanket flower, Mexican sunflower, foxgloves and bluebeard.
If you're a floral visitor, it's no fun trying to sip some nectar while trying to dodge a yellow-and-black bullet. And if you don't move, you're likely to get hit. Unexpectedly.
Early morning, however, is a perfect time to photograph the male carder bees. They're often resting on a blossom, warming their flight muscles, or sipping a little nectar.
The bees, so named because the females collect or "card" leaf fuzz for their nests, were introduced in New York in 1963, and then began spreading west. They were first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
"Males are considerably larger than females, and have a spine on either side of the last two abdominal segments and three spines on the last segment," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology at UC Davis. Those spines have been mistaken for stingers, but only females have stingers.
The female wool carder bees build their nests in rotting wood or preexisting tunnels, such as beetle burrows, Kimsey says. At night, we've seen the males sleeping in the bee condos (drilled blocks of wood) meant as homes for blue orchard bees.
A little R&R before D&B (dive-bombing and body-slamming).
(Note: Check out the Anthidium manicatum research in Pan-Pacific Entomologist, the work of entomologist Tom Zavortink, associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, and entomologist Sandra Shanks, formerly of Davis and now Port Townsend, Wash. They pointed out that several papers “have documented its spread from neighboring areas in the northeastern United States and southern Canada” and that the species has since crossed the country. It was confirmed in Colorado in 2005, Missouri in 2006, and Maine, Michigan, Maryland and California (Sunnyvale) in 2007, the entomologists wrote.)
She described it to a "T."
That would be "T" for territorial.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, spotlighted the European wool carder bee in her current edition of the Bohart Museum Society newsletter.
The males are aggressive. Their territorial behavior is "in your face." They will chase away bees, butterflies and even small birds, like hummingbirds. "They will also check out humans, flying up to them and hovering," Kimsey says.
But it's not something we should be worried about. The wool carder bee is a pollinator.
"We tend to think of all exotic species of insects as being pests," Kimsey wrote. "By and large, that's true but there are exceptions. The wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum, may be one of these exceptions."
She describes it as a species of European leafcutter bee "that has successfully colonized North America. However, North America isn't the only place these bees have invaded. They are now found in north Africa, South America, Asia, the Canary Islands and even in New Zealand. World domination is ahead."
The wool carder bee (so named because the female scrapes or cards leaf fuzz for her nest) was accidentally introduced into the U.S. from Europe in the early 1960s and was first discovered in New York State. It spread quickly across the continent. Scientists found it in Davis, Calif., in 2007.
They're about the size of a honey bee, Kimsey says "but they are brightly marked with yellow on a black background with a bright yellow face. Only honey bees in Disney movies are black and yellow. Males are considerably larger than females, and have a spine on either side of the last two abdominal segments and three spines on the last segment."
Those spines have been mistaken for stingers, but only females have stingers.
We've seen the males protect patches of lamb's ear, catmint, foxgloves, oregano, cosmos, African blue basil, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our yard. They mean bees-ness. We've seen honey bees working frantically, trying to forage as quickly as possible without getting targeted. We've also seen some of them crippled on the ground.
The female wool carder bees build their nests, Kimsey says, in rotting wood or preexisting tunnels, such as beetle burrows.
Kimsey mentioned that the Bohart Museum scientist Tom Zavortink experienced female carder bees "carding" wool from his socks!
The Bohart Museum Society newsletter is mailed to its members. The society is a campus and community support organization, and like the Bohart Museum, is dedicated to teaching, research and public service. For more information on the society, including how to join, see this page.
Foxgloves, meet the European wool carder bee.
European wool carder bee, meet the foxgloves.
It's like "old home week" when these two get together. The plant (Digitalis purpurea) and the bee (Anthidium manicatum) are both native to Europe.
European wool carder bees, so named because the females collect or "card" leaf fuzz for their nests, were introduced in New York in 1963, and then began spreading west. They were first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) arrived in America 341 years before their cousins. European colonists brought the honey bee to America (Jamestown colony, Virginia) in 1622, but the honey bees didn't make it to California (San Jose area) until 1853.
Now they're together again, so to speak, but it's not a happy situation when a male wool carder bee spots a foraging honey bee.
Male European wool carder bees are very aggressive and territorial. They'll "bonk" other insects that land on "their" flowers such as lamb's ear, catmint and basil. They'll bodyslam honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and even a hungry praying mantis or an eight-legged spider (arachnid) or two. It's all about trying to save the floral resources for their own species so they can mate and reproduce.
One thing is certain: honey bees forage faster when those foxy male European wool carder bees buzz the garden.
They know each other well.
It's almost time to count the pollinators!
The University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) wants you set aside three minutes on Thursday, May 8 and count the pollinators wherever you live--and they live--in California. It's all part of UC ANR's Day of Science and Service celebrating the 100th year of the Cooperative Extension system.
First, count the pollinators (they can be bees, syrphid flies, bats, butterflies and the like.) Then you may choose to photograph them and upload your photos to the UC ANR website.
It should be interesting to glean the final count.
Just a few of the bees you may find:
- Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
- Green metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus)
- European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum)
- Long-horned bee (Melissodes communis)
Other activities on May 8 focus on water and food (see the website, Day of Science and Service)
Water: in this record drought, UC has committed to reducing its water consumption by 20 percent how are you conserving?
Food: Where is food grown in your community? Fill out our California food maps.
UC President Janet Napolitano has just issued the following statement:
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of our nation's Cooperative Extension system, the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is sponsoring a day of science and service on May 8.
We need your help to make our science projects successful. The more people who participate, the more data we'll have to analyze.
Everyone in California is invited to participate. It's quick and easy. Go to beascientist.ucanr.edu, choose a project, and record your observations about conserving water, growing food or counting the numbers of pollinating bees, birds and butterflies in your neighborhood. You can share your observations on an interactive map and upload photos if you like.
This is a great opportunity to learn about California's natural resources and the role of agriculture in all our communities.
For 100 years UC Cooperative Extension has been turning science into solutions to build healthy communities. From creating new varieties of fruits and vegetables, fighting off invasive pest attacks, and helping school kids learn about healthy eating, UC's work benefits every Californian.