California Native Bees in the Nature Gardens

April 28, 2017

The beautiful male Agapostemon bee above was photographed by our Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown. It is just one of the native bees you can currently find buzzing around the NHMLA Nature Gardens. Agapostemon is in the family Halictidae, commonly known as "sweat bees," as many species are attracted to human perspiration (but not the species above!). You can tell that this bee is male because of its striped abdomen; females are completely metallic green.

You can find these beautiful bees in the mallow that is blooming in the pollinator meadow in the NHMLA Nature Gardens. Unlike honey bees, these bees are solitary. This means they are comparitively docile (as they don't have a hive to defend). They are also quite small (about half the size of a honey bee), making a sting from one of these bees extremely unlikely.

Another type of native bee making its first appearance of the year is the leafcutter bee in the family Megachilidae. These bees have been pupating in the bee hotels in the Nature Gardens all winter and are now emerging, as seen in the photo above (by Dr. Brian Brown). Leafcutter bees line the burrows in the bee hotels with small bits of leaves, and lay a single egg in a cell at the end of the cavity. The cell is stocked with food (pollen) and is then closed off with building materials and another cell is built closer adjacent to it. In this way, a female can lay several eggs in the same cavity. The larvae hatch and have a comfortable home with a ready food supply. They grow within their cell, eventually pupating and emerging from the cavity as adults in the spring. 

A distinguishing feature of the Megachilidae is the scopa, a pollen-carrying structure on the underside of the abdomen that is made up of many densely situated hairs. Unlike many other bees that carry pollen on their legs, the Megachilidae can often be seen buzzing from flower to flower with a bright yellow belly full of pollen (as above)!

Speaking of lots of pollen, the long horned bees are out this spring, and the females can be seen with legs covered in pollen (as in the photo by Dr. Brian Brown, above). Long horned bees are in the family Apidae, the same family that the honey bee is in, but the female long horned bees carry much more pollen than you would see a honey bee with. The males of these bees have exceptionally long antennae, thus the name "long horned" (as in the photo below, also captured by Dr. Brian Brown). They are solitary bees that nest in the ground, emerging in the spring. 

These are just a few of the native bees you can find in the NHMLA Nature Gardens right now. More bees will emerge later in the year, but come visit soon and catch these spring bees in action!

(Posted by: Emily Hartop)


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Metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) (Left) and Mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

Backyards are not what they used to be. As an urban biologist who has spent countless hours exploring yards in L.A., I have seen lawns and rose gardens replaced by succulents and sages, bug zappers exchanged for hummingbird feeders, and swing sets coupled with bee hotels. More and more Angelenos are seeing their personal green space as not just a place to rest and play, but as integral habitat to share with local wildlife. Our Museum’s Nature Gardens are living proof that even in the core of the city, planting with purpose can have a profound beneficial effect. The area that was predominantly a concrete parking lot less than ten years ago is now home to 10 mammal species, 168 bird species, and heaps of insect species that we are continually discovering.

Sample of insects collected in mid-May of 2010 during the construction of the Gardens, next to sample collected in mid-May of this year. What a huge difference! Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

One group we are diligently observing are the bees. Los Angeles boasts over 500 (yes, FIVE HUNDRED) species of bees. The European honey bee gets most of the media exposure, but other bees are in need of our attention as well. Having created a pollinator-friendly Nature Garden through the careful selection of host plants and the provision of proper nesting areas, we can now document 15 species of bees that make the garden their home! The majority of these bees nest underground, so patches of bare dry soil are crucial for their survival. Others are cavity nesters, meaning they will use hollowed-out twigs or make use of holes drilled into wood, also known as bee hotels. Buckwheat, poppies, mallows and sunflowers are but a few of the flowers that we provide as essential food for these beautiful pollinators. 

Leafcutter bees (Megachile sp.) in a bee hotel (Left) and Sunflower bee (Diadasia sp.) collecting pollen on mallow (Right). Photo credit: Brian Brown

Many of our garden’s bees fly under the visual radar of the casual observer due to their small size. Small carpenter bees, mining bees and sweat bees are only a few millimeters, but they are just as important for pollinating flowers as their larger counterparts. 

Mining bee (Perdita sp.) (left) and Small carpenter bee (Ceratina sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

Our most commonly collected and observed bees in the Nature Gardens are European honey bees and sweat bees in the Subgenus Dialictus. Many people are aware of the issues facing populations of honey bees that are raised and kept in captivity, but do not realize that feral (the bees that have escaped from captivity) honey bee numbers are quite high, often greatly outnumbering all other species of bees in our L.A. area insect surveys.

European honey bee (Apis mellifera) (Left) and Sweat bee (Dialictus sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

Expanding your sense of what bees do and how they appear (going “beyond the honey bee”), will open your eyes to a whole hidden world of beauty. Some bees glisten like shiny blue and green jewels, while others are completely fuzzy, adorable teddy bears with wings. Now that spring has arrived, we will be peeking inside flowers, checking our bee hotel and looking through our insect trap to see if we can add to our impressive list of bee species that call the Nature Gardens their home.

Mining Bee (Anthophora sp.) (Left) and Bumble bee (Bombus sp.) (Right).

Resources

Nests for Native Bees 

Pollinator-Friendly Plant List for California

 


(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


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The life of the bee as we often think of it is one of constant motion: buzzing, dancing, collecting, feeding, searching, and digging is all in a days work for the “busy bee.”  What many may not realize is that this perception of the bee is mainly from our frequent encounters with the females of the species which must not only feed themselves but also take care of their young.  Honeybees, which are highly unusual in their behavior compared to most bees, have workers that are specialized in gathering pollen and communicating its location through dance, building and cleaning the waxy hive, and taking care of their larval sisters. The vast majority of bee species, unlike the honeybee, are solitary: One female alone must take care of her young; there is no queen or workers to do all the grunt work.

 

Long-horned bee, photo by Kelsey Bailey

What is the male’s role in all of this? Unlike the females, which spring into action after they emerge from the pupal stage, male bees tend to loiter around the nesting sites or find a patch of flowers where the females are gathering in hopes of attracting a mate, the bee equivalent of scoping out the scene at the club. We observed a cluster of hopeful bee bachelors in a sleeping aggregation along the edges of the common sunflowers in the Nature Gardens. These ground-nesting, solitary bees are in the genus Melissodes, commonly called Long-Horned bees, which feed on sunflowers, daisies and asters.  The males of the species have noticeably longer antennae than the females. Additionally, the female’s hind legs are more conspicuous than the males, having specialized clusters of "hair" for gathering pollen, resulting in what looks like a fabulous pair of bright yellow leg warmers.  All tuckered out from the morning's activities, we were too late in the day to observe any male bees passionately pounce on any of the females who visited the sunflowers for a quick drink, but we did enjoy watching them “nap around the rosie” like hairy ornaments accenting the radiating petals.

Male Mellisodes bees on a sunflower in the Nature Gardens, photo by Carol Bornstein.


(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


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Bee Hotels

 

We here at the Museum really like bees, so much so that we are building them a hotel! This hotel will contain over 200 deluxe suites for native bees. We've specifically designed the hotel to accommodate various solitary bees found in L.A. We'll keep you posted as we see what moves in. Thanks to exhibit fabricator, Jerome Brown, the hotels are nearly ready to be put out in the Butterfly Pavilion yard.

 



Cedar log with pre-drilled bee holes

Swarm!

 

It seems that other bees have heard how luxurious our accommodations are and stopped by to check them out! Last Friday we got reports of a European honey bee, Apis mellifera, mass in one of the Magnolia trees on the west side of the Museum. Brent "the Bug Guy" Karner, went to check it out and took this picture below, thanks Brent!

 



Honey bees, Apis mellifera

 

This mass of bees is called a swarm and likely contains over 1,000 bees! Swarming is a natural part of a honey bee colony lifecycle and provides the colony with a means of reproducing. This is the season for seeing swarms, as colonies have increased in size and no longer comfortably fit in their nests. In preparation for this big move, the old queen lays eggs that will turn into new queens and she takes off with about half of the colony to find new a new home. If you come across a honey bee swarm, don't worry, since they are all adults with no nest to defend, they are not quick to sting.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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I know you've seen a lot of still images from the Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans, nest, but I just had to share this footage. Honestly, it is too good not to post. At the beginning of the video you'll see one of the adults (hard to tell if it's the mom or dad, they both help to care for the nestlings) feeding a European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, to one of the young. This in and of itself is pretty awesome to see, but it gets even better! Remember the Bushtit post? I told you all about how some species of birds produce fecal sacs, to make it easier to keep the nest clean and disease free. Well, Black Phoebes also produce fecal sacs, and this video gives you an insight to this behavior. I'll let you judge for yourself whether you think it's gross, cool, or just plain interesting.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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