Saturday, August 1, 2015

Me and Bees

I've realized that this bee business is more challenging than I'd anticipated--and that what the world, or at least what my world, really needs is a good guide to bee identification. But let's start at the beginning.

 I ordered a basic leafcutter bee kit from Crown Bees a few days ago--they were running a special. In my imagination they have warehouses full of leafcutter bee cocoons with the bees all about to emerge. That's the sort of thing that makes their warehouse manager want to run a special before the place is overrun with bees. Even the nicest bees are likely alarming en masse. Of course, I am likely mistaken in my imaginary vision of a warehouse filled with bees. Regardless, I ordered the "bee hut starter kit" late in the day on Tuesday and Thursday I came home to a box on the porch.
On opening it and having a look at the contents I found a) the bee house installation required some screws, b) the bee house needed to be installed before the cocoons could be put out, and c) some bees were indeed already awake. I anxiously awaited Scott's arrival at home.

 He's a clever sort so he came up with a design and some straps to use to install the bee house, thus allowing us to put it on the side of one of the porch columns rather than having to have it stick out like a unicorn horn. (Though a unicorn horn would tilt up and you want your bee house to tilt down a little.) The installation went quickly, thanks to having a professional on the job.

Soon I was able to open the pretty gauzy green bag that contained the zillion cocoons and place it at the back of the bee house. (You do this so when they hatch the bees crawl over the nest trays, thus imprinting themselves on it somehow so they know it's home.) A number of bees woke up and flew out while we watched. One hung onto the side for a while, presumably drying his wings. Oh, the joy that we felt! There may have been celebrating.

(By the way, here's a plug for Sokol Blosser, an Oregon winery that makes a fabulous organic sparkling wine that QFC sells at something like $17 a bottle. SB will also ship it to you for $20 a bottle. It's a winery Scott and I stumbled across some years back, after somehow failing to make the exit for Van Duzer. But back to the bee story.)

Somehow I got to sleep Thursday night, despite my mind buzzing with excitement. Friday morning, I just happened to have a look around for bees and, by gosh, there were bees enjoying the cosmos, just a few feet from the new bee house. Small bees! Leafcutter bees!

Or, you know, so I thought. Because further investigation today suggests that my new leafcutters might have green eyes, but they don't have metallic green thoraxes. These "new bees" of mine seem to be some sort of sweat bee--sort of like the exciting metallic green bee I saw on Housiversary weekend. So where are my new bees?

Well, there was this handsome fellow (or lady), buzzing about the cucumber blossoms but opting ultimately for the wild arugula flowers . . .
but I don't think that the fancy pattern on his thorax is right for a leafcutter either. In fact, I couldn't find his match anywhere online. I've got what I consider to be a pretty darned fine photo of a bee, but what sort of bee, I can't say. Which is less embarrassing than the time I spent trying to confirm my identification of the "maybe-its-cocoon-was-accidentally-included-with-the-leafcutters 'mason bee.'"
That one, alas, turns out to be a really-pretty-diligent-about-working-over-the-fennel-blossoms housefly. (In my defense, mason bees are described as looking a lot like house flies and, you know, those flies are a lot more attractive than you give them credit for.)

So, seriously, where are my leafcutters? A lot of the cocoons have not opened yet (and I confess I'm a little uncertain that they ever will) and most of those that did were males rather than females (if I'm correct about the males having smaller cocoons). Is the teaser shot going to be the only proper photo I get of a member of the Leafcutter Liberation Army? (That joke is going to be so funny when the bee book I'm currently working on comes out.)

One begins to see why you don't see troops of "bee-ers" out with their field glasses and camp stools. I'm not saying that the world of bees isn't fascinating, but it's a lot easier to identify a young female bushtit than it is to figure out most bees.


  1. I think the insect on the arugula is actually a wasp, not a bee.

    1. Everyone--except me--is an expert. Whatever it is, it's damned handsome.