When the weather complies, I like to take a slightly longer walk from my office to my research site. The advantage of this route is that it takes me past a nice planting of Autumn Sage (Salvia gregii). I was a botanist before I started studying bees. But while I certainly enjoy a nice Lamiaceae bloom, that’s not the only reason to take the circuitous path.
In a previous blog post, I shared with you some photos of the gorgeous Patagonian Bombus dahlbomii, the largest bumble bee in the world. If you live in the United States like I do, you don’t have to travel all the way to the Southern Hemisphere to spot a giant of your own.
This beauteous behemoth is a carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa). There are about 500 species of carpenter bee worldwide. If you live in California’s Central Valley, there are 2 species living in your backyard alone. With some of the most prodigious mandibles (entomologist speak for “jaws”) in the bee world, carpenter bees derive their name from the female’s habit of constructing elaborate nests in rotting wood, thus flouting human stereotypes of gendered careers.
The lovely Autumn sage attracts more than one kind of visitor, however. After all, who could resist that tasty nectar? In addition to the enormous carpenter bee, much smaller sweat bees also frequent this popular drinking spot. For size comparison:
As I mentioned in my first post, there are over 20,000 species of bees. These creatures vary greatly in all aspects, including size. This sweat bee isn’t even the smallest bee I have encountered; some could barely see eye-to-eye with an ant. The next time you are enjoying a garden on a warm, sunny day, take some time to watch a few flowers up close and observe who visits. You might be surprised by how many types of bees you encounter.