So here I am, a male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, just enjoying the nectar on this tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif.
Some folks call me "The teddy bear bee."
Yes, I like that nickname. The late Robbin Thorp (1913-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, used to call me "the teddy bear bee" and display me at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses, because, well, for one, I am "cuddly"; two, I resemble a teddy bear; and three, I don't sting.
The good professor always used to say "Boy bees don't sting." That's true, but I can bluff pretty well.
They also say I'm handsome, what with my golden blond hair and green eyes. Aww, shucks!
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" Me.
But just don't mess with me.
So here I am, as I earlier mentioned, just enjoying my share of nectar on this tower of jewels. Ooh, the nectar is divine. Divine, I say.
Wait! What's that? A honey bee, Apis mellifera, is trying to horn in on my territory.
"Hey, I was here first, Missy!"
Ms. Honey Bee shrugs. "Sorry, buddy boy, I'll take what I want."
Oh, the audacity, the audacity, I say. Doesn't she know that I'm bigger than she is? Okay, she's got a stinger, but I'm bigger and I can bluff my way out of this.
Whoops, she's moving! She's moving toward me! Oh, dear! She's closing in on me.
Umm...bye, bye, Echium wildpretii...your nectar isn't as good as I thought it would be. Not with that honey bee refusing to keep her social distance! I'm outta here!
The boys are back in town.
After the long winter and rainy spring, the boys are back in town.
That would be the male Valley carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, or what Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls "the teddy bear bees."
They're fuzzy green-eyed blonds, while the female of the species is a solid black, a good example of sexual dimorphism.
You've heard folks say of dogs: "Their bark is worse than their bite?" Well, these bees can't sting ("boy bees don't sting"), but they're good bluffers as they buzz around you. They're also good pollinators.
We saw this one nectaring on our tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. He lingered among the honey bees and syrphid flies, and then buzzed off.
He will return.
Seeking more information about California's bees? Read the landmark book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press), the work of UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertte. The book is available online and at numerous other sites. At UC Davis, you can find it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (and with other bee books at UC Davis Stores)./span>
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!
The boys are back in town!
Well, at least one is. We don't know where the girls are. Neither, apparently, does he.
A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, aka "the teddy bear bee," buzzed into our mustard patch Sunday and nectared on the blossoms for about 10 minutes.
Often mistaken for a "new species" of bumble bee--well, it's about the size of a bumble bee--the teddy bear bee is a lavish golden color with sea-green eyes. The female of the species is a solid black metallic color with dark eyes. Sexual dimorphism at its finest...
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, often showcases the teddy bear bee at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses, including the annual UC Davis Picnic Day. This year, the 104th annual, takes place on Saturday, April 21.
When apprehensive youngsters see the bee in his hands, he assures them "Boy bees don't sting."
They don't, but sometimes they posture as if they do...
It was Saturday, April 18, the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day, a campuswide open house, and several thousand folks filed into the Bohart Museum of Entomology to see the displays. The theme: "Bigger, Better, Buglier: Impressive Science."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Nematology and Nematology, displayed male Valley carpenter bees he netted in the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (and later released there).
And in an amazing moment, a young boy, wearing a bumble bee t-shirt, walked up to see the bees. "My kind of guy!" quipped Thorp when he saw Adne Burruss, 6, of Irvine. Thorp is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). Adne's mother, Sigrid Burruss, a geneticist, is a UC Davis alumnus.
The male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), a green-eyed blond, is also known as "the teddy bear bee." The female of the species is solid black. Thorp urged visitors to touch the carpenter bee. "Boy bees don't sting," he assured them. He also displayed specimens of bumble bees and other native bees.
Bohart Museum associate Wade Spencer, an undergraduate majoring in entomology, brought along his pet scorpions. Assisting him was Crystal Homicz, an animal biology major. She periodically pointed a black light on his scorpion to show the fluorescence. (Visitors were not allowed to touch the scorpions, which are known for their venomous sting.)
Entomologist and Bohart Museum associate Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, drew in visitors with his colorful butterfly and moth specimens and kept their attention as he talked about the places he's been and the insects he's seen.
Julianna Amaya, 10, of Martinez, was fascinated with the Australia walking sticks. She and sister, Jasmine, 14, and their mother, Rocio, watched it crawl up their hands. "Julianna is really into bugs," mom said.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and named for prominent entomologist Richard M.Bohart, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, it is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas); and a year-around gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Fran Keller, an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (major professor Lynn Kimsey) talked to visitors about insects and also kept busy with sales at the gift shop. Lady beetle t-shirts and monarch t-shirts proved popular.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.