Category Archives: Male Bees

The Male of the Species

The Little Things: An Entomological Perspective

Male sweat bee (probably Halictus tripartitus) on mustard plant. (c) 2012 MRS All rights reserved.

This past Labor Day weekend, I went on a camping trip with my in-laws to Big Sur. Some people go to Big Sur with a copy of Dharma Bums in their back pockets. Other people go there to take in the beauty of the landscape and the fresh sea air. Still more people visit to retreat into the stillness of the redwood forest. Nearly all have digital cameras slung around their necks, ready to capture the beauty of the moment. But while you can find most tourists crowding around the railing to take majestic photos of things like this:

You can always pick out the -ologists because we are foolishly squatting, blocking the trail, taking photos of bugs and weeds:

(c) 2012 MRS

A cloud of these little guys, so small that they could easily be mistaken for small flies, were swarming the weeds on the side of the trail. Based on the length of the antennae, the striping of the abdomen, and the color of the legs, I am betting they are male sweat bees (Halictus tripartitus). While male bees typically come out earlier in the season than females (see The Dastardly Deeds of Male Bees), Halictus tripartitus males arrive on the scene later in the season than the hardworking females. This is because sweat bees are social, with a single female waiting out the Winter and founding a nest (complete with workers, drones, and future queens) in the Spring. Because the first generation of offspring she produces are entirely female workers (it’s a lot of hard work to establish a nest), there is no point in laying male eggs until later. Remember: male bees are pretty much useless except for mating. So in late Summer/early Fall, once the party has been long over for most bee species, we see swarms of these late arriving sweat bee males, looking for action.

Pollen grains under a SEM microscope (Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College)

We are fortunate to live in a reality in which beauty surrounds us on all scales, from the microscopic pollen grains sticking to the hairs of the bee to the vast ocean serving as a backdrop to the scene. Our interests and backgrounds often shape the focus and scale in which we perceive this beauty. One of the great pleasures in my life has been learning how to appreciate the world in different ways, from landscapes to plants and insects to human art forms. This blog acted as a vehicle for me to share one way in which I perceive beauty in this world. It has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope that you are enjoying it as well. Thanks for reading!

Mimulus sp.. (c) 2012 MRS All rights reserved


Plight of the Bumble Bee Part V: What I’ve Learned

Time to wrap up my Bombus segment. I hope that you enjoyed reading about the bumble bees and maybe even learned a couple things. I certainly did. A quick recap, a la “what I have learned:”

1. Our Southern Neighbors

In Plight of the Bumble Bee Part III: Not-So-Impossible-Giants, I posted this photo of a beautiful bumble bee I saw on a trip to Patagonia:

La Gigante Imposible (c) 2012 MRS


I mentioned that, while I was sure this bee was in the genus Bombus; (the bumble bee genus), I didn’t know which species it was.  Well just last week I stumbled across an article (incidentally also titled Plight of the Bumblebee so I guess I’m not as clever as I thought) that says there is only one bumble bee native to Patagonia, Bombus dahlbomii. This bee is the largest bumble bee in the world.

Our poor Southern neighbor appears to be suffering from similar issues to her North American cousins (see my post The Plight of the Bumble Bee Part IV: Pandora’s Bee Box, as described in this Science article.

2. Tricky Bee ID

The Mystery Bee Among the Blossoms

I was very flattered to receive a site visit from the highly esteemed Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, who happens to be the bee identification guru. He informed me that the conclusion I drew from my Is it a bumble? quiz, that the bee in question was most likely Bombus impatiens, was incorrect, and that the mystery bee was actually a male Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. The reason that the bee did not have any scopae (pollen collecting hairs) was because this individual was, in fact, a male (see The Dastardly Deeds of Male Bees, and while the male Eastern Carpenter Bee is often mistaken for the Common Eastern Bumble Bee, Bombus impatiens, certain aspects of the leg morphology can be used to tell them apart (for those of you keeping score, the hind tibia is swollen and shorter than the basitarsus).

In this blog, I will probably not be able to give positive identifications to a lot of the live bees I photograph. This is because I am still learning how to identify bees, and even for bee identification gurus, much of the time bees are nearly impossible to identify on the wing (the specimen must be taken for examination under a microscope). So I am always grateful to those wiser than I who are around to correct my mistakes. Thank you, Robbin Thorp!

Tune in next time for more photos of bees, large and small.

Diadasia My Dear


(c) 2012 MRS

A small aside, I just wanted to mention that I have finally updated my header photo. Instead of showing an admittedly photogenic Halictus tripartitus, truer to form this bee is a titular Diadasia species. This particular bee is Diadasia enavata just finishing a visit to a native sunflower (Helianthus bolanderi), which is fitting since Diadasia enavata are sunflower specialists, meaning they only visit sunflowers for food.