Bee Sex in the Nature Gardens

June 19, 2013

In July 2011, our Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown, brought in some old redwood he had lying around his yard. He wasn't just trying to pawn off some lumber he didn't need anymore, we wanted it to make some bee hotels.  Jerome Brown, one of our amazing exhibit technicians, fabricated two hotels and Phil Bouchard personally drilled the over 200 quarter inch holes (about an inch deep). Thanks guys!

Bee hotel in its new home by our hummingbird feeders. This spring we finally saw the first bees using the hotels! I was so excited, I jumped up and down, Brian did not, he just smiled. We watched as bees checked out the little holes and then I saw two fall to the ground. "Oh look they're fighting," I exclaimed. "No," Brian responded, "they're using the hotel like they should be. They're having sex!" Well, it's all about the birds and the bees after all. Here’s a photo Brian took of a bee using the hotel:

But why go to all the bother? The short answer is to provide a place for solitary bees to make their nests. The female bee Brian photographed is in the genus Megachile (pronounced mega-ki-lee), and she is about to start constructing a nest for her egg to develop in. Before any egg laying can happen she’ll excavate the nest and line it with chewed up leaves or plant resin (hence the name which is Greek for mega-big, cheil-lip, as in big powerful mouthparts for chewing up leaves and such). She’ll then lay an egg, or maybe a few, in individual chambers and supply them with a ball of pollen mixed with nectar to chow down on after they hatch. After eating all the pollen, they’ll go through a brief pupal stage and then chew their way out of the nest as an adult. If you are reading this and thinking, why on Earth would I want to attract bees to my yard, here’s some food for thought. First off, don’t worry these bees are not aggressive stingers. Since they are solitary and don’t hang out in big colonies like honey bees, they don’t have the same urge to sting and protect their sisters back in the hive. Also, their venom is very mild. I mean you really have to work to get stung by one of these bees, like taking one and squishing it in your hand—and who would be dumb enough to do that? The sting pain index guy, Justin Schmidt, that’s who! *Nerdy entomological sigh*. He describes the sting of these bees as “lightly brushing a thorn,” and rated the sting as a zero, compare that to the two rating of the European honey bee! Other reasons to break out the drill and start constructing your own bee hotel: You’ll be able to boast about how you are increasing biodiversity in Los Angeles. You’ll have more native pollinators in your yard, and your neighbors' yards too, aren’t you a good person? Oh yeah, and it is super fun to lay bets on which hotel room is going to get used next! Of course you don’t have to lay down money, you wouldn’t necessarily want to teach your kids how to gamble, not till they’re 21 at least. Now go out and build a bee hotel, then post a picture to NHMLA’s FaceBook, Instagram, or Twitter feed!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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