Staff Pollinator Picks #4, 5, and 6!

Everybody probably has a favorite insect. We thought it would be fun to ask our pollinator staff to suggest their favorite pollinator. With so many pollinators to choose from, it gives a glimpse into the diversity that’s out there waiting to be watched and enjoyed. Here are another three of their picks!

Large carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa)

Brianna Borders, Plant Ecologist

I am often captivated by large carpenter bees due to their impressive size and strength, and beautifully shiny, sometimes metallic bodies and wings. The males of some species are golden-colored, densely hairy, and with light green eyes, and seeing one of those is a visual treat! Though these bees may appear frightening to some because of their size and loud buzzing, they are very gentle and rarely sting humans. Large carpenter bees forage on a wide variety of plants but are particularly attracted to passionflowers (Passiflora species), sunflowers, and large-flowered plants in the pea and mint families. As their name suggests, carpenter bees nest in wood — they have the unusual ability to chew out their own nest tunnels — and you can help provide nest sites for these charismatic bees by retaining old stumps, downed wood, and plants with thick, pithy stems on your property.

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Small carpenter bee (genus Ceratina)

Sarah Foltz Jordan, Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Great Lakes Region

I’m choosing small carpenter bees as my favorite pollinator. These tiny bees have strong jaws that they use to construct their nests in the pithy centers of plant stalks and shrub branches, including raspberry, sumac, elderberry, and the stalks of larger-statured native prairie plants. Despite being a very small bee, they are quite distinctive in the unique club shape of the abdomen combined with dark metallic coloration and (frequent) pale markings on the face. A few species are exceptional among bees in that the females can reproduce by parthenogenesis (without males)!

Here are a few suggestions for providing nesting sites for Ceratina bees:

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  1. leave about a foot of stubble in your native plant gardens (rather than cleaning it all away),
  2. leave raspberry prunings and other brush/plant debris on site, and
  3. prune the branches of shrubs like elderberry and sumac to expose cut ends that may provide easier access for these bees.

Squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa)

Katharina Ullmann, National Crop Pollination Specialist

If you’ve ever grown squash or pumpkin in your garden there’s a good chance you may have seen the squash bee peeking out from a flower. This bee, the size of a European honey bee, is a specialist bee that only collects pollen from plants in the genus Cucurbita. There are some places in the U.S. where Cucurbita spp. grow wild, but in many areas the only food for these bees is found in gardens or agricultural fields. Females dig nests in the ground near squash plants, often under the plant’s vines. Males of this species overnight in squash flowers. This means that in the afternoon or evening, after the squash flowers have closed, it’s possible to see if you have squash bees by gently squeezing the flowers. If you feel a buzz there is probably a squash bee inside of that flower!

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This bee is special to me because of its unique relationship with the plant it pollinates and the fact that it’s so closely tied to our agricultural systems. Because of the latter point, this bee reminds me how vulnerable bees are to pesticide exposure. Please keep this in mind when you’re gardening or farming this summer.

You can learn more about natural history of this squash and pumpkin pollinator by watching this video.

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