Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Once upon a time, bees were bees ...

... and they were all bumblebees. Then I started looking at them. And they were all different. So, eventually, I checked BugGuide.

Several days later, I have bees, honeybees, bumblebees, sweat bees (Sweat bees?!), carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, and more buzzing around in my head. I may not recover.

Did you know that BugGuide has 6,452 photos of bees? In 273 pages? And that's only in the US and Canada!

I posted this photo a few days ago:

Common Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens

A nice, normal bumblebee, I thought. I sent the photo to BugGuide, for an ID. A couple of the other bees on this clump of asters were different, so I sent them in, too, even though the photos were a bit on the fuzzy side.

There were a couple of honeybees.

Apis mellifera

And a Sweat Bee.


BugGuide says that,
A few species are attracted to sweat, and will sometimes sting if disturbed, though the sting is not very painful.
So that explains the name.

Both of these are very common bees here; going over my old photos, I found several of each.

And there was a Syrphid fly, masquerading as a bee:

Syritta pipiens

Sure enough, I had a few photos of them, too.

But the first one, the "normal" bumblebee, turned out to be a bit of a surprise; BugGuide's bee man, John Ascher, wrote:
Looks like a Bombus impatiens male
This isn't supposed to be in British Columbia!
Here is what BG has to say about the range:
Eastern North America, from Ontario to Maine and south to south Florida (Miami area). Common on Atlantic coast; much less common near the western edge of its range (eastern ND, central NE, western KS, eastern TX).
Now widely used for greenhouse pollination in California and Mexico, far outside its native range. In the West it is used to replace the previously used western species Bombus occidentalis, because most wild and commercial populations of Bombus occidentalis disappeared after this species was developed for use by the bumble bee industry. Efforts are underway to obtain permits authorizing use of exotic B. impatiens for outdoor field pollination in California, where a very similar and very closely related species, the California native Bombus vosnesenskii, is abundant. In Mexico, B. ephippiatus is an abundant and potentially usable native alternative to B. impatiens.
(My emphasis)

The page was contributed in 2006, so it is possible that the species is now being used outdoors in California. Could it have wandered up the coast from there, or has it been imported for use here?

(**Update: John Ascher commented, on BugGuide, that it must be an escapee:
Bombus impatiens is found in British Columbia due to the irresponsible greenhouse pollination industry, which continues to degrade biodiversity by importing non-native bees and inevitably their parasites.)
I checked the Discover Life map for this bee, and found a reference to one specimen found here last year. It is the only one in my own photos.

Searching for them in my "Bumblebee" file, I found others, to be categorized under "None of the above":

Orange bumblebee**

Tsawwassen bee

Orange-bodied bee, Strathcona*

Yellow and black bee

I learned something else: bees go bald as they age. Which makes the whole game more confusing; is a given bee bare because it's old, or because that's characteristic of the species?

And then, there's that nasty word, "mimic", that shows up in phrases like "bees, wasps, and mimics". My head aches.

*Update # 2: See first comment. The Orange-bodied bee from Strathcona, seems to be one of those terrible mimics. It looks like it's really an Eristalis, another of the Syrphid flies, sometimes called a Drone Fly. Thanks, Beatriz!

**Update # 3: See third comment. The Orange bumblebee is a Bombus melanopygus male, and native to this area. Thanks again, John!



  1. Anonymous1:58 pm

    Glad to see how you are using the knowledge that you acquired in Bugguide and also how you are spreading the word about the evils of carrying species outside of their normal range.
    But be careful, one of those pesky impersonators got on your page pretending to be a bee when it is an Eristalis. Have you figured out which one?
    I would sign this post but I don't seem to have an account or to remember the password. Beatriz

  2. Thanks, Beatriz.

    I think it is the one I labelled, "Orange-bodied bee, Strathcona". Am I right?

  3. John Ascher7:03 pm

    Your Orange bumblebee is a Bombus melanopygus male

  4. Thanks, John!

    I'll add a note in the post, for people who forget to read the comments.


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!