You could call it a slacker, a deadbeat, a moocher, a sponger, or a loafer.
Or you could call it a cuckoo bee.
Take the cuckoo bee, Xeromelecta californica, a parasite of the digger bee, Anthophora.
When the female Anthophora leaves its nest to collect more pollen, the female cuckoo bee sneaks in and lays an egg.
"When the host female seals her nest, it seals the doom of her own offspring," distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology told the crowd at last week's 40th annual Western Apicultural Society meeting, held at UC Davis. They eat the provisions, a pollen ball meant for the host offspring, and kill and eat the host larvae.
The cuckoo bee offspring emerge.
Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, also called attention to their "pointy abdomen" and "wasp-looking appearance."
But they are bees--cuckoo bees. They're also called parasitic bees or "kleptoparasites" or "cleptoparasitises."
They have no pollen-carrying/collecting apparatus, like a scopa, because they don't need any, Thorp said, just as they do not construct their own nests.
If you look around a pollinator garden, you just might sight some cuckoo bees. Last week we saw a Xeromelecta californica (as identified by Thorp and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology). It was sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
We've also spotted Anthophora urbana nectaring on our lavender.
One thing's for certain: a cuckoo bee didn't lay its eggs in the Anthophora nest that time or the urbana wouldn't have been there.
Nice to see you!
In early spring and throughout most of the summer, we saw scores of digger bees, Anthophora urbana, living in our garden.
The very territorial males patrolled the flowers, trying to save them for the females (to mate with them). The boys kept dive bombing the other boys, along with assorted bees, butterflies, beetles and hover flies that had the "gall" to grab a little nectar from "their" blossoms.
We thought the Anthophora urbana season was over.
But on Tuesday, Sept. 22 we learned: "It's not!"
We saw a male Anthophora urbana buzz a monarch butterfly as it was fueling up on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Sorry, that's mine!
Then it headed toward an English lavender. Yes, that's mine, too!
Native pollinate specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and a co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, said "it seems rather late for a male of the species to be flying. Especially since he looks so fresh, hair and wing margin not showing signs of aging. But this has been a strange year for bee and flower phenologies."
California Bees and Blooms, the work of UC scientists, relates that many Anthophora are examples of California's early spring-to-summer "univoltine" bee species. They define "univoltine" as producing one generation per year. Compare that to bivoltine (two generations) and multivoltine (more).
The book is a dazzling wealth of information, and opens up the incredible world of insect treasures in your garden and what to plant to attract them. California is home to some 1600 species of bees, and Anthophora is just one of them.
Diggin' the digger bee...
We spotted this female digger bee, Anthophora urbana, zooming in on some zinnias at UC Davis. She buzzed loudly, virtually owning the zinnia patch. Smaller sweat bees scattered.
The bee, identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, is a solitary, ground nesting bee. "She has been around for a while judging by the worn (hairless) patch in the middle of the thorax," Thorp points out. "She has a dense brush of white hairs on her hind legs (scopa) for pollen transport."
Anthophoridae, described by Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw in their book, Bees of the World, is a "very large family...found in all parts of the world. Many are robust and resemble bumble bees."
"Most species nest in the ground while a few excavate in dead wood," they write.
The genus, Anthophora, includes more than 450 species worldwide. It's one of the largest in the Apidae family, which includes honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, cuckoo bees and the like.
Anthophora urbana differs sharply from our honey bee, Apis mellifera.
The honey bee is social, living in a hive with some 60,000 other bees and sharing the workload. The digger bee is solitary.
The honey bee gathers nectar and pollen (and also propolis, from plant resin) and makes honey. The digger bee forages for nectar and pollen but does not make honey.
Occasionally, as floral visitors, they bump into each other. The social and the solitary...
It's smaller than a honey bee.
And faster and louder.
Anthophora urbana, a solitary, ground-nesting bee, frequents our garden to nectar the catmint, lavender and sage.
Sometimes the forager's buzz is so loud that it's startling. "What was THAT?"
In this case, THAT is a female Anthophora urbana, as identified by UC Davis pollinator expert Robbin Thorp, emertus professor of entomology.
It belongs to the family Apidae, as do honey bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees and others. In sheer numbers, it's one of the largest in the Apidae family--more than 450 species worldwide in 14 different subgenera.
It may be tiny, but its buzz isn't.