A small male bee (Dufourea marginata) waits hopefully for a female to come by his sunflower. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Some people have the mistaken impression that I know a lot about bees. Those who know me better understand that while I have a decent understanding of the ecology of bees and other pollinators, my identification skills are very rudimentary. Fortunately, I have become friends with Mike Arduser, formerly with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who has a comprehensive knowledge of bees in the Central United States. I sent Mike these photos a couple weeks ago and he generously identified the bee species for me, and provided a little background information as well.
Mike says the elongated mouthparts help identify this as a member of the genus Dufourea. (You probably already knew that.)
According to Mike, the bee species I photographed on stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) is a specialist feeder on sunflowers. It’s a common late summer bee in the Great Plains, but rare further east in the tallgrass prairies of Missouri, Illinois, etc. The bee nests in the ground and seeks out sunflowers for pollen and nectar.
During the morning when I photographed this species, I saw quite a few different bees. Most of them were males, and didn’t seem to be feeding on sunflowers as much as just hanging around the edges of the flowers – apparently waiting for a female to stop by.
I almost always embarrass myself when I go out on a limb with bee identification, but this bee looks like a female to me. Look at how much fuzzier the rear legs are – a common sign of females because those hairs help store and transport pollen back to the nest. The bees in the other three photos above don’t appear to have the same kind of fuzzy legs. (Ok, now Mike or someone else can tell me how wrong I am.)
I’ve only been learning about bees for a few years now. It’s amazing how many different species – and behaviors – I see, now that I’m looking for them. Before sending the photos to Mike, I was able to recognize these bees as being in (likely) the same species, and figured most of the ones I was seeing were males, based on their behavior. I still have much to learn, but paying attention to bees has certainly changed the way I see our prairies. As I wrote last fall, I’m definitely looking at our prairies through “bee goggles.” We’re not managing our prairie exclusively for bees, but they definitely factor in to our management decisions – not just because they are important themselves, but because promoting quality bee habitat is a great way to help ensure quality habitat for many other species as well.