Thanks everyone who participated in my “is it a bumble bee” quiz last week! For those of you who are interested, I do think this is a bumble bee. Here’s my logic:
(1) Overall appearance: it appears to be a large, fuzzy-bodied bee, which makes it either a carpenter bee or a bumble bee.
(2) The Wings: As I mentioned (although perhaps confusingly) in my last post, bumble bees fold their wings one over the other, whereas carpenter bees keep them to the side. This bee has its wings folded over the back.
(3) The legs: This isn’t the greatest picture, but it appears that part of the hind leg is shiny (meaning smooth, not hairy) and widened compared to the other legs. This could be an empty corbicula (something that only bumble bees and honey bees have). On other female bees, we would expect this area to have long hairs and/or be similar in shape to the other legs.
The bumble bee may be the most potent weapon in my arsenal when it comes to convincing people of the existence of bees other than honey bees. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Person at Party Feigning Interest in My Research: (after me explaining that I do not study honey bees) Oh wow, that’s so interesting. I always thought there was only one kind of bee. Me: You probably know about more kinds of bees than you think. Like, what about bumble bees? PPFIMR: …Oh yeah.
So what about bumble bees?
Bees on the Wing
Mystery Bee Among the Blossoms (c) 2012 CRT
My mom, who lives near Washington, D. C., sent me this photo of a bee visiting some of the famous Japanese cherry blossoms that encircle the Tidal Basin. She wanted to know if it was a bumble bee. With only a wing, an abdomen and part of a leg to go on, it’s hard to say, but let’s go over the evidence of what constitutes a bumble bee:
There are 250 described species of Bombus (bumble bees) worldwide. They are medium-sized to large, robust, furry bees. They can be distinguished from the similarly-large carpenter bees (Xylocopa) because carpenter bees generally have shiny, not furry, abdomens and hold their wings out to the side at rest (bumble bees neatly fold one wing over the other).
But the best way to tell if a bee is a bumblebee? It’s on the legs.
When female bees visit flowers, they have to collect pollen to feed all the little mouths back at the nest. Most females use long, shaggy hairs called “scopae,” often located on the hind legs, that look kind of like retro legwarmers.
Honey bees and bumble bees, however, collect pollen on special smooth, flattened structures called “corbicula.” The best way to think of a corbicula is as a tiny shopping basket that the bee fills with pollen to take home. Here’s a photo of a bumble bee’s corbicula from wikipedia.org:
Beatriz Moisset 2005
[an aside about corbicula: sometimes on really hot days during the field season, whenever I see a bumble bee, I start singing a song I like to call “Corbiculi, Corbicula,” which is sung to the tune of (surprise) “Funiculi, Funicula”. Hey, it helps keep me sane…]
So why am I confused by the Mystery Bee Among the Blossoms?
After I told my mom I wasn’t sure what kind of bee this was, she sent me this photo:
Want to test you bumble bee knowledge? Here’s a little quiz for you folks at home: is this bee a Bumble Bee or not?