Ever seen a cuckoo bee?
They're also called parasitic bees or "kleptoparasites" or "cleptoparasitises."
They cannot carry pollen (no apparatus) and do not construct their nests. They lay their eggs in the nests of their hosts and then eat the food meant for the hosts. Or as the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us: "They eat the provisions, a pollen ball meant for the host offspring, and kill and eat the host larvae."
We've been watching a cuckoo bee, Xeromelecta californica, a parasite of the digger bee, Anthophora, as it forages on the African blue basil.
We've also been watching Anthophora urbana foraging on the basil. When the female leaves her nest to gather more food, the cuckoo bee takes the opportunity to lay an egg in her nest.
Sneaky, aren't they?
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.
When you visit the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, you might just see a cuckoo bee.
The cuckoo bee (see below) is a male Triepeolus concavus, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who maintains an office in the adjacent Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Thorp has been monitoring the garden not only since it was planted--in the fall of 2009--but BEFORE it was planted, to collect the baseline data. To date, he's detected more than 80 species of bees, "and counting."
The cuckoo bee, nectaring on a blanket flower (Gaillardia), is just one of the species he's found in the garden.
The female cuckoo bee lays her eggs in the ground nests of other bees, including the sunflower bee, Svastra. Cuckoo bees are kleptoparasites, meaning that they steal the food stores provisioned by the host bee. Cuckoos lack pollen-collecting structures (scopa). So when the cuckoo bee eggs hatch, the larva will consume the pollen ball collected by the hosts, and kill and eat the host larvae.
Like human kleptomanias, they've found a way to make it in this world at the expense of others.
Thorp annually teaches at The Bee Course, described as a "workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees," and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. This year's dates are Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. The workshop attracts people from all over the world, including dozens from the UC system.
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 Concord.
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 Oxford Tract Experimental Garden in Berkeley with a main goal of monitoring the diversity and abundance of bee species visiting an urban garden, Pawelek said.
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.
To date, the researchers have collected a total of 37 bee species in the experimental garden alone. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor, UC Davis, identifies them. "He's our bee taxonomist," Pawelek said.
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!/span>