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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Introducing beewolves: watch them pollinate flowers as they eat bees


Bees and wasps are simple to confuse, particularly when a wasp is carrying a load of pollen. This beewolf feeds on bees, however smears pollen wherever he goes.

Inside: Beewolves are shut kin of bees. Actually, they’re so shut they’re fairly good pollinators themselves.

Random acts of pollination

Who doesn’t love a fascinating thriller? As I peered by means of the viewfinder of my digital camera, I knew I used to be taking a look at one thing bizarre. Right here was a solitary wasp with an stomach scopa, or so it appeared.

This text first appeared in 2 Million Blossoms, January 2020, pp. 47-48.

A scopa is a dense patch of hairs that bees have on their our bodies to assist them acquire pollen. The furry patch holds the pollen grains in place because the bees fly from place to put. Many beekeepers have seen stomach scopae on the underside of mason bees or leafcutter bees.

However wasps are meat-eaters that don’t have bellies bedecked with pollen-carrying hairs, so what was I seeing? Clueless, I snapped a number of pictures for a better look.

A solitary, ground-nesting wasp

The creature within the portrait is a beewolf, a solitary, ground-nesting wasp that preys on bees. Though we regularly dismiss wasps as pollinators, the huge quantity of pollen on this fellow’s stomach tells a special story. (Sure, it’s a male.)

In contrast to a bee, a beewolf has completely no use for pollen and would by no means acquire it intentionally. As a substitute, the plant—on this case a goldenrod—takes benefit of the wasp’s anatomy and offers him a load he doesn’t need.

Some feminine beewolves are so pollen-adverse they diligently take away and discard any pollen adhering to the bees they catch. As soon as the prey is clear, the feminine shops the ready-to-eat prey for her larval offspring to munch on. It appears the children don’t like greens.

Brush-on pheromones mark his territory

This explicit beewolf, Philanthus crabroniformis, lives within the western states and is particularly keen on nectaring in Solidago species. After emergence, the male squeezes mandibular pheromones into two small hair brushes that protrude from the perimeters of his face.

Utilizing the wetted brushes, he paints the pheromone on grass stems, step one in marking his territory. As soon as that’s completed, he makes use of his far more huge stomach brushes to smear the pheromone round and guarantee good protection. He simply wiggles his rear till the job is completed.

Because the male hunts for a mate within the flowers or pauses for sips of refreshing nectar, a number of the pollen sticks to his stomach brushes and will get transferred, fairly accidentally, to the feminine elements of one other flower. By no design of his personal, the wasp inadvertently pollinates the tiny blooms.

Like beewolves? You may also like sawflies.

The hunter and the hunted

Females of this species shut their nest entrance every time they go away. With no opening on the high of her filth mound, predators and parasites are much less prone to pay a go to. Every morning, after she seals the door, the feminine performs an orientation flight, circling near the bottom in bigger and bigger loops till she learns the lay of the land.

P. crabroniformis females hunt bees by going from flower to flower or by surveilling the doorway holes of ground-dwelling bees. They like Halictids (sweat bees), that are small and simple to subdue with a fast sting. As soon as the prey is paralyzed, the wasp carries it residence tucked towards her thorax and secured along with her midlegs.

Searching is an all-day affair as a result of every brood cell requires 12 to 16 bees, relying on their measurement. If Halictids are briefly provide, P. crabroniformis might sometimes go for a small wasp or a considerably bigger bee. Though Philanthus species typically hunt quite a lot of bees, one European species, P. triangulum, limits itself to honey bees.

Random acts of pollination, whether or not on function or fairly accidentally, maintain our flowering vegetation wholesome and genetically numerous. For a thriving planet, we have to maintain our pollinators wholesome and numerous as effectively, even when they arrive within the surprising type of a wasp.

Honey Bee Suite

A beewolf sipping nectar from a goldenrod flower. Rusty Burlew
A beewolf sipping nectar from a goldenrod flower. Rusty Burlew

About Me

My love of bee science is backed by a bachelor’s diploma in Agronomic Crops and a grasp’s in Environmental Research. I’ve written extensively about bees, together with a present column in American Bee Journal and previous columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. In recent times, I’ve taken a number of programs in melittology and made intensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist. My grasp beekeeping certificates issued from U Montana. Extra right here.


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