Guest Post by Anne Stine, Hubbard Fellow:
I just finished a wonderful pollinator work shop with Mike Arduser here at the Platte River Prairies. Much of this workshop involved catching bees, using a dichotomous key to identify them to genus, and then pinning the bees on-site. I am pretty pleased with my collection, and I’ve decided to share a few of the fascinating factoids that are buzzing (I am so, so sorry) around my head.
Agapostemon virescens is my new favorite bee. They are eusocial, but not tyrannically so. There is no queen, all females can reproduce; they just choose to share a nest (from “The Bee Genera of Eastern Canada”; Packer, Genaro, and Sheffield 2007). I adore these utopian bees. They also happen to be gorgeous. I’ve included a picture of the male below. The female looks similar, but is all emerald without the striped abdomen.
Svastra obliqua is my second favorite bee. Their scopa (branched, pollen carrying hairs) are so exaggerated, they look like they are wearing giant fuzzy chaps. Big and easy to spot, they hang around annual sunflowers and could be confused (if you were squinting and using your peripheral vision) with a small bumblebee.
The Megachile family is another good group. Instead of having scopa on their legs, they carry pollen on their abdomens. This placement requires them to rub their bellies all over a flower when they forage. It’s a pretty amusing mental picture. Another reason to love the Megachile is that they can be field ID’d by ear. After conferring with my fellow pollinator work shop participants, we decided that, if the bumblebee is a Harley (low pitched, rumbling “BZZZzz”, then the Megachile is the sportbike (they make a high pitched “eeeeee” sound when they forage). Once you hear their whine, you won’t forget it. Megachiles are leafcutters, and they excise circular patches from leaves to build their nests. If you see a leaf that looks like a crazed administrator took a hole-punch to it, you should start listening for the Megachile whine.
Hymenoptera bonus: the cuckoo wasp. She’s wearing a rhinestone suit of armor.
There is so much more I wish to share! I foresee future posts about buzz pollination, specialists vs. generalists, combative cleptoparasites, and the potential for the hymenopteran community as an indicator of restoration success.
Hymenopterans are beautiful, sometimes adorable, with unusual life histories that make their study easy to enjoy. I am so pleased I get to spend time with these creatures during my fellowship here on the Platte River Prairies.