Tag Archives: squash bees

Pollinate Your Plate Part 3: A Colorful Dinner

Pollinator Plate 3 Colorful Dinner

“Colorful Dinner” was part of a series of posters I made demonstrating what meals might look like with and without foods that benefit from animal pollination. Here are two of the bees that helped make that vibrant salad:

Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)
Bombus unk
Large, fuzzy bumblebees are used to pollinate tomatoes and peppers in greenhouses. Tomato and pepper flowers have special anthers (the male part of the flower) from which pollen can only be released by vibrating the flower. As an analogy, think of shaking salt out of a shaker. Bumblebees excel at creating vibrations to release this pollen in a way honey bees cannot. They unhook their flight muscles from their attachments and vibrate them when visiting tomato flowers. This type of pollination is known as buzz pollination.
Peponapis pruinosa front
Squash Bees (Peponapis pruinosa)
Squash bees are native to the Americas, and specialize on cucurbit pollen (winter and summer squash, and zucchini). Females build nests underground, usually beneath squash vines. Males patrol squash flowers looking for females in the morning, and rest in closed up squash flowers for the rest of the day.

Happy Dining!


The Male of the Species: Bachelor Pads

male squash bee

Peponapis pruinosa, or the squash bee, collects pollen from squash (Cucurbita) flowers. While the females build underground nests for their young, the males typically spend the night inside of a closed squash flower. (c) MRS 2011

Male bees have just one job in life: to make sure their genes are passed on to the next generation, or in other words, to find and mate with as many females as possible. While adult females spend most of their lives building nests, gathering pollen for their young, and laying eggs, the males spend their lives drinking nectar (sugar water) and cruising for ladies.

So when it gets too dark to fly in the evening, where do these males spend the night? Once a female has mated, she no longer has any interest in males. She certainly won’t let him stay in her cozy nest underground, on which she has worked so hard. In addition, males generally emerge earlier in the season than females so that they won’t miss out on any exciting mating opportunities.

Left out in the cold and exposed to predators, male bees make do with a variety of bachelor pads.

Some males opt to spend the night alone in a flower, usually one that closes for the evening so that they will be protected. The photo at the top of this post is one that I snapped early one morning at Eatwell Farms in Dixon, CA of a male squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) getting ready to start his day after spending the night in a closed squash flower. Here’s another photo of the same individual that was taken earlier (as in before I disturbed him and made him turn around):

Male bees of the same species tend to have the same sleeping strategy. For example, male squash bees all sleep in squash flowers. Hungry females are bound to visit squash flowers, so by spending more time there, a male is more likely to encounter an unmated female. After all, what better place to look for mates than at the nectar bar?

Other males prefer safety in numbers. These guys sleep together in groups, called sleeping aggregations. You might see them early in the morning, grasping onto stems or leaves with either jaws or legs. Here are some photos of a sleeping aggregation of Long Horn bees (Melissodes) males that I took at Free Spirit Farm in Winters, CA:

A Melissodes sleeping aggregation, the ultimate stag party (c)2011 MRS

I took these photos just as the bees were warming up for the day. They certainly didn’t appreciate my intrusion and took off as soon as their flight muscles warmed up. Good thing that male bees don’t sting…

The last type of bachelor pad, of which I have no photos, consist of crevices and old abandoned nests.

Tune in next time to learn how to tell whether a bee is male or female…