Meet Woolly Wool Carder. Woolly gets a bad rep because Woolly LOOKS like a Yellowjacket Wasp. All Woolly wants to do is find that patch of Lambswool in your garden or flower bed and take enough to make a nice cozy bed for its babies.
The European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) at first glance, looks like a somewhat chubby Yellowjacket. While these stouter and hairy-bodied bees mimic the barbed stingers everyone wants to avoid, they aren’t going to harm you at all. They don’t even have stingers, though the males do have some spines at the end of their abdomen they can use defensively against other flying insects that might be perceived as a threat to their food source or territory.
Wool Carders are smaller than most Yellowjackets. They are about the size of honey bees or between 11 and 17 mm. They are very brightly colored with yellow and black markings, but again, the distinguishing features to differentiate them from Yellowjackets are 1) they’re hairy and 2) they’re stout!
Other than sipping nectar from flowers, these solitary, cavity nesters are all about finding wool to make a cozy bed for their babies. Actually, aside from the uhm…deed, the female is the one doing all the provisioning for a nest. She will card “wool,” using her mandibles to scrape bits of trichomes (or hairs) from lambs ears or other fuzzy plants (especially those in the mint family) to make a cushioned bed on which to lay her egg. Each egg is provisioned with enough nectar and pollen to supply the developing larva with nutrients to reach pupation.
The European Wool Carder Bee is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, but has become cosmopolitan in distribution. While non-native, it has become widely adapted to various habitats in North America. These bees are not dangerous to humans or pets. They are effective pollinators, but sometimes outcompete native bees for resources.
A water trough and cool morning temperatures equate with a desperate situation if your wings are wet and they aren’t the inflatable kind that keep you afloat. I rescued two, soon to be drowned, little specimens yesterday morning and can tell you, they were “happy” to dry off in the sunshine ☀️ .
The first rescue was a delicate, Green Lacewing in the family Chrysopidae. Lacewings are in the insect order Neuroptera which means nerve-winged insect. It is named for the intricate, sheer, net-like pattern of its wings. They are valued because they prey on garden and orchard pests insects like aphids. The intriguing thing about this specimen (make sure to pay close attention to frames 0.22 and 0.24 in the video) was its reaction to my voice when I stopped Millhouse the cat from interfering with my cinematography. The Lacewing appears to have a look of surprise when it hears me.
The second rescue from the water trough is the beautiful, iridescent green cuckoo bee you see in the video below. Cuckoo bees are actually wasps in the insect order Hymenoptera, and family Chrysididae. While they are pollinators in that adults seek out nectar for food from flowers, they are named, like the cuckoo bird, after their habit of seeking out nests of other wasp and bee species to steal food, or the life of developing larvae as a host for their own young. Never-mind that part of the life cycle of this bee. It is truly a gem, glittering in the sunshine…a jewel worn by a new spring blossom in the garden.
Sighted April 12, 2018, San Juan Island, WA. Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria). These are important early (native) pollinators. Adults hibernate overwinter and emerge from March to May. Blue Orchard Mason Bees are being managed as orchard pollinators as they are excellent at pollinating fruit trees such as pear, cherry, plum, and apple, as well as quince and others, including blueberries. Blue Orchard Mason Bees and other solitary bees in the genus Megachilidae (like leaf-cutting bees) carry pollen on their bellies instead of special baskets on their hind legs like honey bees. The Blue Orchard Mason Bee use tubular cavities for nests, partitioning each brood cell with a wall of mud. Although similar in size, Blue Orchard bees are easy to distinguish from honey bees because they are metallic in coloring, often dark blue or blue-black.
Bombus mixtus or Mixed Bumble Bee queens emerge after overwintering to begin the process of making a nest (typically in the ground) where she will begin to make wax pots to lay her eggs in. You can help save these important pollinators by reducing use of herbicides and lawn chemicals in your yard. If you find one on a cold day, help it out by providing a boost of carbohydrate energy. You can wet a sponge or cotton with sugar water or prepackaged hummingbird food and offer it a drink. The hungry bee will thank you for it. Remember to “bee” nice to bees!
***Text and photographs copyright 2012 by Cynthia Brast. No part of this story may be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.