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.
There's a way for a bear to outsmart a fox.
A teddy bear bee, that is.
We just witnessed a male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa sonorina, aka "the teddy bear bee," buzz up to a patch of foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea.
Then he engaged in the foraging behavior known as nectar-robbing. That's when a carpenter bee or bumble bee drills a hole at the base of the corolla--or finds a hole already drilled--and "robs" the nectar, bypassing the flower's reproductive parts that lead to pollination.
Hey, I'm not going through the front door! I'm not! I'm taking the back door.
We usually see female Valley carpenter bees drilling the holes and robbing the nectar. This time, though, it was a male. The late Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, always referred to the males as "teddy bear bees," adding "boy bees don't sting."
This particular teddy bear lingered a bit, sipped some nectar, and then took flight.
That's how a "bear" outsmarts a fox.
By the way, sexual dimorphism is pronounced in X. sonorina. The male is a green-eyed blond, while the females are solid black.
In our garden, other plants popular for nectar robbing include the salvias, ‘Hot Lips' Sage (Salvia ‘Hot Lips'), and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum). Sometimes you'll see a honey bee following a carpenter bee or bumble bee around to gain easy access to the nectar. She "knows the drill."
Scientists have known about nectar-robbing for more than two centuries. German naturalist Christian Konrad Sprengel observed bumble bees perforating the corollas of flowers as early as 1793, according to Wikipedia. Sprengel recorded this phenomenon in his book, The Secret of Nature in the Form and Fertilization of Flowers Discovered. Charles Darwin observed nectar robbing (by bumble bees) in 1859 and published his observations in his book The Origin of Species.
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!
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...