Not too long ago, I hit a milestone in the native bee project I’ve been working on with my Avila honors student, Laura Presler: We identified the 100th wild bee in our summer research collection.
A lot of people out there have identified many more bees than that, so by some standards 100 bees is no great shakes. But for me, it’s an important milestone. Certainly, I know a lot more about prairie bees now than I did 100 bees ago.
Bee No. 100 has a unique identifier in our collection: LP18100. “LP” indicates Laura’s initials; “18” the year in which her project was (will be) completed. And 100, of course, this bee’s place in the long line of specimens that we’re identifying for her study.
Bee No. 100 belongs to the species Augochlora pura, a small metallic green bee that you might recognize as the sweat bee. They are beautiful bees with colors that range from iridescent turquoise to sun-fire orange-green.
During the summer months, you can find them on wildflowers where they not only feed on pollen and nectar, but also court and mate. In fact, males dedicate their lives to waiting on flowers in hopes of wooing the females. (How romantic is that?)
Females who mate then lay eggs in burrows made in rotting wood. They supply those burrows with food for the larvae. Unlike many bees, A. pura lead solitary lives. They may collect in small groups where they nest, but they do not form large colonies or have queens or worker casts.
A. pura was super common in our June collection this past summer at Jerry Smith Park, comprising about 40% of the individuals from the remnant and restored prairies. This isn’t all that surprising. The species is widespread, ranging throughout the eastern U.S. from Maine to Minnesota down south to Texas and Florida. A recent study found that up to 91% of woodland bees can be individuals of A. pura (Ulyshen et al. 2010). I don’t have any comparison numbers from prairie studies, but I’ll be doing my homework on that.
One would expect A. pura numbers to decline in more open prairies, in part because the bees depend on ready supplies of rotting wood for their nests – and wood is in short supply on the vast grasslands. Jerry Smith Park probably supports large numbers of A. pura because its prairies are embedded in a woodland matrix. This makes it an ideal site for species like A. pura that require diverse habitats and resources.
That’s the story of my 100th bee. There’ll be other bee stories to come as we continue to sort through this collection; every species we’ve identified has an interesting story behind it. The picture of what’s happening at the Jerry Smith prairies and Laura’s garden sites is only just beginning to emerge.
Stay tuned for more to come…
Ulyshen, Michael D.; Soon, Villu; Hanula, James L. (2010-08-01). “On the vertical distribution of bees in a temperate deciduous forest”. Insect Conservation and Diversity. 3 (3): 222–228. doi:10.1111/j.1752-4598.2010.00092.x. ISSN 1752-4598.
That’s the prettiest bee I’ve ever seen. Question–do all bees sting?
LikeLiked by 1 person
They’re beautiful, aren’t they? We had some of the metallic green sweat bees on display for Girl Scout STEM Day last spring, and they were by far the girls’ favorites! Female sweat bees have a stinger, but they are reluctant to use it – stings are rare and if they do sting, it’s mild enough you might not even notice. These are tiny bees, by the way; maybe about a quarter of an inch long.
LikeLiked by 1 person