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Male wool carder bee: a military prototype

Male wool carder bees remind me of ancient warriors. I can just imagine some military commander of yore seeing this flamboyant bee and exclaiming, “Yo! We need uniforms like that!”

From that day forth we had men wearing suits of armor equipped with knives and daggers, face plates designed to protect and intimidate, stripes to signify rank, gold cords attesting to wealth and superiority, and—best of all—fringe dangling from arms and legs. Heck, even American cowboys wore fringe.

These bees definitely live up to their looks, aggressively protecting the territory they stake out for their women. The bee in the photo was just waking up from a long and damp sleep in the lemon balm, but by the time I had captured a few photos, he was up and working. He spent the rest of the day circling that lemon balm, head-butting into bumble bees, honey bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and all other intruders that dared to come near his patch.

As aggressive as they are, I never tire of watching them. This particular bee was one of the first in my area. I saw him mate once, but so far not many females have appeared. Normally, I see wool carders in August, so their time is approaching.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A wool carder bee showing off his fringe-bedecked legs. © Rusty Burlew.
A wool carder bee showing off his fringe-bedecked legs. © Rusty Burlew.
The male wool carder has a yellow face and white beard. © Rusty Burlew.
The male wool carder has a yellow face and white beard. © Rusty Burlew.
These bees have spines for attacking intruders and gold fringe along the abdomen. © Rusty Burlew.
These bees have three spines for attacking intruders and gold fringe along the abdomen. © Rusty Burlew.
Preparing for patrol duty. © Rusty Burlew.
Preparing for patrol duty. © Rusty Burlew.

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Comments

Big Rob
Reply

Good lookin’ bee. I have Itallians this year, but next year I’m going to expand with something more interesting looking. There’s an all-black bee that forages in the same territory as mine. I’d love to know what it’s called.

Debbe
Reply

Fabulous photographs. Thanks for sharing.
Debbe

Bonnie Mogstad
Reply

I just noticed one the other day, first time this year. They really like the lambs ear. This one was a female I think, a very fun bee to watch as they fly different than a honey bee, kind of like a hover craft?

Rusty
Reply

Bonnie,

I frequently hear the rumor that you can tell a bee from a fly because bees can’t hover. Whoever says that has never watched a wool carder! They fly backwards a little too, like hummingbirds.

Susan McElroy
Reply

I LOVE my woolcarders! Such warriors! In my pollinator hotel, I have five of their fluffy nests in progress!

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

I’m jealous. I have never seen one build in my pollinator housing. I keep waiting, camera in hand.

Emily
Reply

He does indeed look fully kitted out and ready for battle. Are those pollen baskets on his legs or just lots of hairs?

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

Just lots of hairs. The wool carders belong to the Megachilidae family, so the females don’t carry pollen on their legs either but in an abdominal scopa, like a mason bee.

Emily
Reply

Thanks Rusty 🙂

Michael
Reply

You can almost hear the yells. THIS IS SPARTA, A-OO, A-OO, A-OO!!

Rusty
Reply

Michael,

I agree!

Anna
Reply

Beautiful. You take such great pictures Rusty.

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

There’s nothing like a great subject to make a good picture.

Erik
Reply

We had one a European wool carder bee in our lamb’s ear in June. It head-butted mostly bumbles for a few days to clear the area, then disappeared. I took some nice pictures before it left. Thanks as always for the great post.

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