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Other pollinators: wool carder bee

Anthidium is the genus name for the very large group of bees that contains the wool carders. Wool carders are known as such because the females collect fibers by “carding”—or scraping—them from a plant. The female wads the fibers into a ball and then carries them back to her nest, usually in a hollow reed or a nesting block. She then lines her nest with the fibers.

The male carder bee can often be seen jealously guarding a patch of flowers. He can be quite aggressive, fending off any interlopers by darting and chasing. If necessary, he will even wrestle a competitor to the ground—even bees much larger than himself, such as bumble bees and honey bees. Female wool carders are allowed into the guarded area to forage—in return for the chance to mate.

The native species here in the states is Anthidium maculosum. The bees are small, measuring one-half to three-quarters of an inch long. They are black to brown with white or yellow patches on their abdomens. The female carries pollen on the underside of her abdomen in a patch of hairs call a scopa.

A similar species, Anthidium manicatum, was introduced from northern Europe and has spread across the continent. The male of this species is even more aggressive, and is reported to actually kill bees competing for his territory.

You can expect to see wool carder bees in early summer. They will readily use nesting blocks with holes drilled 7-10 mm in diameter. Favorite forage includes sage, mint, catnip, lavender, Russian sage, and hedgenettle (Stachys).

As a general rule, bees are difficult to identify down to the species level, but with a little practice, you can become quite competent at the genus level. The wool carders are a good group to start with because both their behavior and their coloring are striking. Just think, you’ve already mastered three genera: Apis, Osmia, and Anthidium!

Rusty

Wool carder bee. Flickr photo by orchidgalore.

Comments

Monica
Reply

So I think I found my first wool carder bee. Kinda excited about it. Found it to be a very adorable little bee. She was so very busy working over the spearmint with the other honey bees.

I was standing there watching the activity in some kind of stupor of awe. Then I saw her! Her little legs packed to the brim with pollen and waddling around like some kind of Sumo wrestler. Having never seen her before I whipped out the smart phone to grab a quick picture of her. And of course she took to flight—buzzed me and left. It would be so much easier if they would sit still and say cheese before taking off.

I am wondering if they are located here in the Eugene area of Oregon? Before I take the time to put them on my native bee list and make provisions for them, I had better figure out I have the right bee first. It’s fun trying to figure out who’s who, but it is a lot harder than one would think.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Monica,

Yes, native bees are super hard to identify. That said, I know that your bee is not a wool carder because wool carder bees do not carry pollen on their legs. Instead they carry pollen on the bottom of their abdomens in a patch of hair called a scopa. This is just like the masons and leafcarders and, in fact, they are all in the same family, the Megachilidae.

Wool carders do appear in your area and they do like spearmint, but this is something else. When you say “Sumo wrestler” I immediately think of the Melissodes bees. They are also active this time of year and they have huge pollen scopae on their rear legs. Your image is perfect. They are also known as long-horn bees, but it is the males that have really long antennae.

Of course I can’t identify your bee with that description alone, but look up Melissodes on the web for pictures. I have some to post, but haven’t done it yet . . . will do it soon, I hope.

Sandy Cherrington
Reply

Yesterday I had my first sighting of the wool carder bee. Three of them at least, enjoying the rosemary which is in full flower. I understand it is the European carder bee. I live on Waiheke Is. just off the coast of Auckland N.Z.

Do they produce honey? Are they a threat to our current honey bee? Will they take on a wasp?

Rusty
Reply

Sandy,

Wool carder bees do not produce honey. They live singly, one female to a small nest that houses a few eggs, so they are in no way a threat to honey bees which live together in the thousands. They may butt into a wasp to get it to leave their foraging area, but I doubt they would harm it.

Lucia
Reply

Hi Rusty,

My 7 year old son has picked up what looks like a carder bee nest. Does this bee sting? He has a very sore hand but didn’t see what bit him. I can’t see a stinger? Thanks Lucia

Rusty
Reply

Lucia,

1. Wool carder bees nest in things like hollow reeds and stems. The holes are about 3/8-inch in diameter.
2. Like most bees, the females can sting. The males cannot.
3. A sting comes from the back end, a bite comes from the front end. Many types of bees can do both.
4. The vast majority of bees don’t leave behind a stinger. Only honey bees do that.

Lucia
Reply

Thanks Rusty 🙂

Jennifer Dixon
Reply

Saw what I believe is a wool carder bee on my bachelor buttons, taking fuzz off of the stem and leaves. It was so fascinating to watch! On the second day I was able to get a couple photos, they arn’t great but show the ball of fuzz she was carrying underneath. I can e-mail them to you if you want. So thrilled to watch this wonderful native (?) bee. Saw one again just this last week. I house mason bees and have been pretty successful, not much luck with leafcutter though. Just trying to make my whole yard bee friendly!

Rusty
Reply

Jennifer,

I have been trying for years to photograph a wool carder carding wool, but I have never succeeded. I have photos of them mating (!) but not carding. Please, I would love to see your photos!

Jennifer Dixon
Reply

Um, not very techy so not sure how to get it to you, can send in an email if you can let me know the address.

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