If you've never seen the "teddy bear bee," keep an eye out for it.
A fuzzy golden bee with green eyes, it's the male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). Last Friday we saw it foraging in the half-acre Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It decidedly preferred the foothill penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus.
Gold on purple. Purple on gold. It seemed like royalty.
It paid no attention to the photographer. It proceeded to "rob the nectar," that is, drill a hole in the outside of the corolla in its short cut to reach the nectar, thus bypassing the usual method of pollination.
It looked huge. That's because it is. At one inch long, Xylocopa varipuncta is considered the largest bee found in California. The species is also a striking example of sexual biphorism--the female is solid black while the male is blond.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis, enjoys showing the teddy bear bee to folks at open houses at the haven and Bohart Museum of Entomology and at other special events.
"It's a male and can't sting you," he assures cautious onlookers "Males have no stingers."
The Valley carpenter bee, so-called because it's common in the Central Valley of California, is one of our native bees. Its range includes an area from western New Mexico to southern California.
Look for it, too, in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located west of the central campus and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The garden is open to the public--free admission and free parking--from dawn to dusk.
You might see it on the penstemon and on the passionflower vine.
Native on native.
That's when you get when you see a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) on a penstemon, also known as "beard's tongue."
Both the bee and the flower are native to North America.
Native Americans reportedly used the penstemon, formerly classified in the Scrophulariaceae family and now considered a member of the Plantaginaceae family, to relieve toothaches.
Whether it relieves toothaches or not, the penstemon, with its two-lipped tubular flowers, is quite attractive to bumble bees!
The honey bee nectaring the Penstemon, aka Beardtongue, in Tomales, Calif., didn't seem to mind my presence.
The amber-colored bee was foraging among the purple two-lipped flowers. The plant derives its name from what appears to be a "tongue" (staminode) poking from the "mouth" of the blossom.
It's an attractive flower--indeed, humans hold Penstemon festivals in Flagstaff, Ariz. and Holden, Utah--and the bees like it, too.
The little Marin County honey bee glanced at me and then began cleaning her tongue. Or, as emeritus professor and pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp of the University of California, Davis, said of the photo below: "Caught in the act of cleaning her tongue with the brushes of hairs on the inner sides of her forelegs."
"Even worker bees take time to groom," he said. "Vanity or just good maintenance?"
We like to think she was primping for the photo shoot.
Bee tongue and the Beardtongue.