Time to root around in your photo collection and send me the good ones. I use seven contributions per week, though I’m still amazed that I get enough to keep this going. So do your bit: God save the King!
Today’s contributor is Kevin Krebs with some photos of Hymenoptera. His intro, notes, and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them..
I recently read Dave Goulson’s fantastic (and disconcerting) Silent Earth: Averting The Insect Apocalypse and was struck by how I little I know about insects in general, and pollinators specifically. I decided to take matters into my hands and learn something in the way that works best for me — get out and photograph!
So, I dug up my neglected macro lens and headed out into the garden and alleyway behind my building to see what I could find. Surprisingly, even here in the heart of urban Vancouver, BC, I discovered a world of insects I’d never seen before. I wanted to share both the photos and a scattering of the information I learned with a wider audience.
I’ve attached 13 photos and brief writeups of each.
I’ve been helped on many of the identifications by people who know much more than me on iNaturalist, but some IDs are tentative and I welcome any of your readers who know more to correct any inaccuracies.
Finally, despite days of cramming my face right up to many of these bees and wasps, I was not stung once. However, another book I’d love to recommend is the entertaining Sting of the Wild by Justin Schmidt, which examines why venomous stings are important for the development of social insects, as well as his brave and seemingly foolhardy quest to establish an objective pain scale for stinging insects.
Western Honey Bee aka European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). A common sight in gardens, the Western Honey Bee was domesticated by humans at least 5,000 years ago. The evolutionary history of Western Honey Bees is described as ‘enigmatic’ but evidence points to the species having originated in tropical East Africa. Surprisingly, A. mellifera is considered rare or even possibly extinct in the wild:
Unknown Species of Bumblebee (Genus Bombus). There are approximately 250 species of Bumblebees ranging throughout the Northern hemisphere and parts of South America. Their distinctive hairy covering acts as insulation allowing them to be active in temperatures too low other bees. Like Honey Bees they are social insects, but nests rarely have more than a few hundred individuals:
Small Long-horned Bee (Melissodes microstictus). Long-horned Bees are named for the long antennae found on males, with the genus Melissodes recognizable by their especially hairy rear legs. Almost all species of Melissodes are solitary bees that excavate nests in dirt:
Prunus Miner aka Purple Miner Bee (Andrena prunorum). Native to North and Central America, this is another solitary ground nesting bee. Visible in this photograph are the three ocelli (Latin for ‘little eyes’). The consensus is that these eyes perceive only light and dark but do so much quicker than the large compound eyes. It is also theorized they may help with maintaining flight stability:
Unknown Species of Mason Bee (Family Megachilidae, Tribe Osmiini).. Mason Bees are another solitary species which many people know from their nesting habits in hollow tubes. In fact, they are quite creative in their choice of nesting location – some even been recorded as using empty snail shells. If you look closely, you can see a powdering of white pollen grains on this bee’s head and thorax.:
Texas Striped Sweat Bee (Agapostemon texanus). This vibrant metallic green bee is a type of Sweat Bee — so-named as they are attracted to human sweat, from which they extract salt. The yellow and black striped abdomen indicated this individual is a male; females are uniformly metallic green. Ranging from Canada to Argentina, some Sweat Bees are social, but the species that are do not exhibit the division of labour seen Honey Bees:
Red-footed Cuckoo Leafcutter (Coelioxys rufitarsis). We now come to a Cuckoo Bee, named after Cuckoo birds for their practice of brood parasitism. These bees sneak into the nests of other bees, laying their eggs in the brood chamber. When their larvae hatch, they consume the food left for the host’s larvae. When they finish that, they devour the host’s larvae too:
Unknown Species of Cuckoo Wasp (Family Chrysididae, Genus Omalus). Cuckoo wasps, sometimes known as Emerald wasps, are brood parasites like their Cuckoo Bee cousins. These wasps are solitary and often parasitize other solitary bees or wasps, though some species specialize in other insects. This wasp was extremely small – less than 5mm long:
Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). Many in North America are familiar with the feared and loathed Bald-faced Hornet. Despite our hominid malice, they are considered beneficial insects due to their effective predation of flies, caterpillars, and spiders. Unique among wasps, Bald-faced Hornets defend their nest from vertebrates not only by stinging, but by spraying venom from their stingers that irritates eyes and can even cause temporary blindness:
Mexican Grass-carrying Wasp (Isodontia mexicana). These solitary wasps nest in small cavities which they line with grass and other plant fibres. They prey on grasshoppers and crickets, which they paralyze and feed to their larvae:
Unknown Species of Beewolf (Genus Philanthus). Also known as Bee-Hunters or Bee-Killer Wasps and as the name clearly suggests they make their living by hunting bees. Like so many parasitoid wasps, their sting does not kill their prey, but paralyzes it. When it is entombed with their eggs, this ensures the prey stays fresh for the hungry developing larvae. Think about this when you’re having a bad day:
Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasp (Sceliphron caementarium). Native to North and Central America, the Yellow-legged Mud Dauber is an adaptable species has been accidentally introduced in many countries around the world. Not surprisingly, these solitary wasps build their nests out of mud and provision their developing larvae with paralyzed spiders (6-15 per cell!). These wasps are also an extreme example of what entomologists call the petiole – the narrow waist exhibited in some Hymenoptera insects:
Metallic Bluish-green Cuckoo Wasp (Chrysis angolensis). Finally, this beautiful jewel of a wasp is known as the Metallic Bluish-green Cuckoo Wasp. This wasp is a parasite on Mud-daubers, especially the Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasp we just met above. While it seems astounding to primate sensibilities to base your lifecycle around sneaking into a wasp nest and laying your eggs at just the right time, it’s been a successful strategy for longer than we’ve been around: Cuckoo Wasps have been found in amber dating from the Cretaceous era: