Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cuckoo Bees!


I've written before about how neglected and overgrown the garden was, when we bought our little house. Huge vines were strangling the trees, and it was difficult to walk through much of the yard.

But there's a positive side to all of this neglect. During all this time, it's unlikely that anyone was pouring insecticides or herbicides all over the place.

Our yard has become a good habitat for native bees. I spotted a green bee, when we first bought the house. And I wrote about the digger bee who was trying to make a nest in one of my seed-starting trays.

This red bee is the latest native that we've photographed in our yard. We think it's a nomada or cuckoo bee. These tiny bees are kleptoparasites, meaning that they lay their eggs on the pollen stores in other bees' homes. Female cuckoo bees lack the pollen collecting structures that most other bees have. (The so-called pollen "baskets" on the hind legs of bees are actually velcro-like hairs that latch onto pollen granules.) Cuckoo bees may also kill the bees whose nests they've invaded.

I've seen these bees going into holes in our grass, near holes that I know are used by digger bees. So I suspect that there's some predation going on.

It's hard to see this, and remain neutral. I'm inclined to think of the cuckoo bee's behavior as "bad," but I know I'm imposing my own world-view on this tiny insect. I'm sure that this bee fits neatly into the local eco-system, and it's certainly not my job to make judgments on what's right or wrong.

Do take a moment to click on the photograph, for an enlarged view. You'll notice that this bee has two large eyes on the side of its head. And you'll also see the three smaller eyes atop its head.

The large eyes have a fascinating structure that -- interestingly -- resembles that of the honeycomb. These eye apparently lack lenses, and from what I've read, bees see the world as a giant mosaic. I always wonder about statements like this. The bees see the world the way that makes sense to them. It's the humans who have to make analogies about other creatures' sensations.

I'm less clear about function of the smaller eyes, or ocelli. It seems that most flying insects have these types of eyes. At the moment, I'm disinclined to slog through the scientific papers I've found online. So, I'll leave you with a delightful illustration of a drone honeybee's eyes, from a 1905 children's book.


Meredith said...

Definitely don't waste time slogging through the scientific papers when you could be out observing the native wonders in your own backyard or writing more fine posts. This is fascinating. I never realized just how many kinds of bees there are -- or that there are parasitic versions. You're right about it being difficult to just stay neutral and not impose our worldview on nature sometimes -- altho when my sister and I were discussing this recently we wondered what is the point of a worldview that doesn't coincide with the natural world??

In any event, I enjoyed the post and great photo, and I loved learning that some bees have, in effect, a third eye. ;)

ajt said...

If you have a rainy day, though, and you DO decide you want to slog through some scientific papers, and you find some you want are behind a paywall... Well, if this happens, you can email me the title and I can send you the PDF. We (Princeton) have subscriptions to pretty much all the journals, so I can get access if you have trouble.

Sheila said...

How interesting! I must look more closely at my bees in the garden!

lkw said...

I've had a good time learning more about our native bees, too. It's amazing how diverse they are!

Kelly@LifeOutOfDoors said...

I was turning over my raised beds today to plant some lettuce and saw a little bee burying into the dirt and I thought of you're amazing bee photos. And here are some more. Thanks!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Abigail - I'll remember that offer!

Kelly - I'll bet it was fun to see that little bee, and have a bit of context for what it was doing in the dirt.


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