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.
I am sad that the bees were killed. :( Why?
I understand completely, and I promise we’re not killing them for fun. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to identify most species by just looking at them (many require a microscope to see distinguishing features), so we need to collect them to figure out what they are. We’re very conscious of not taking more bees than we need to in order to figure out what species we have in our prairies.
Fascinating! And I never knew there was any such thing as eusocial bees. So were they an evolutionary stepping stone to the single queen bee?
I couldn’t read the post (‘though I’ve read and admired all your others) because the impaled creatures were too horrific to look at. I understand science. I understand the importance of identifying baseline populations. I understand your response to Crow (‘though no one suggested you were doing this for kicks).
I take exception to your language: “so we need to collect them to figure out what they are.” No. You need to kill them to figure out what they are.
There has to be a better way.
Thought I better comment on how I appreciate that Mike, Chris and Ann are studying bees in the hopes that we will better understand them and hence be able to restore their habitat so that future generations of bees, and all the life that depends on them (this includes us) for their pollinating ecological services, will be around for centuries to come. There are so few people working in the critical field of ecological restoration. It is easy to criticize but much more productive to jump in, take your own path, and be part of the solution.
A lovely post and beautiful specimens. Keep up the good work!
This is a delightful, humorously presented account of your experience in the workshop, Anne. Thank you for bringing me to the point of more than one chuckle aloud as I read this. By the way, the bookish plural of scopa is scopae (pronounced scopee), or you can say scopas and be perfectly understood, too.
I want to add that I appreciate the gentleness of Crow and Jain, but respect their view, but disagree that there is, at least at the moment, any alternative to the collecting a small number of voucher specimens in order to make correct identifications. It is difficult to appreciate the difficulty and intricacy of insect (or plant, or most any other natural entity) identification if you haven’t attempted it before. Even with specimens and years of experience, there is a life-long learning curve. We know as much as we do about nature because those who went before us in the field of natural history (and before them, those who concocted medicines from nature, the first naturalists) collected specimens and gave them the kind of careful study and experimentation that is simply not possible with casual observation, catch and release, or the very best photographs, or DNA sampling of their feces, or whatever. It is good that not everyone insists on learning so much about life as naturalists do, or collecting would indeed be a threat, but conservative collecting of specimens by the small number of people who have dedication to the serious study of nature is a necessity for science and science education.
correction: and respect their view
Well said James.
Very interesting. I’ve never heard of bees without a queen. I also never realized there were so many diverse kinds of bees.
I thought all bees had a queen. It’s facinating to figure out that not all of them do. I truely appreciate this post and find it amazing. Thank you so much for the wonderful post, you’ve brought a new perspective on my thoughts of bees.