On Oct. 17?
But there he was, the familiar golden bee with green eyes, robbing nectar from a Mexican petunia, Ruellia simplex, in a Vacaville, Calif., garden.
"Nectar robbing" occurs when a bee bypasses the pollination process and "cheats" by entering a flower from the outside to steal the nectar. This one proved to be a good robber, as he buzzed from blossom to blossom to drill holes in the corolla and sip the nectar.
This is the bee that the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, called "the teddy bear bee." It looks fluffy and cuddly and it doesn't sting. Or as Thorp used to say, "Boy bees don't sting." Often he would show a newly collected male Valley carpenter bee to youngsters at a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house (in the spring) and encourage them to hold him. You could see the utter delight on their faces.
Valley carpenter bees are a perfect example of sexual dimorphism. The females are solid black and the males are golden with green eyes. (See more information about wild bees in the book California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by University of California-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter.)
As Thorp told us several years ago for a news story: This Valley carpenter bee (formerly known as as Xylocopa varipuncta) "occurs in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee), with all black females and golden/buff-colored males with green eyes. Females have dark wings with violet reflections."?
Some folks think it's a pest. It's not. It's a pollinator.
And if you spot a male in October, just call it "Mr. October." Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson probably wouldn't mind.
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...