Wool carder bee really likes wooly lining!


A female wool carder bee in my garden amidst the catmint early this summer.

I know this has been a long time coming, but the time is finally here to talk about the wool carder bee! I was at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield yesterday and was very fortunate to find a Wool Carder Bee on Lamb’s Ear! It occurred to me to look, in hopes of finding one, and how lucky was I to do just that!?

Wool carder bees are part of the same family as the leafcutter and mason bees, Megachilidae. They are native to Europe, like the honeybee.  But unlike the honeybee, they are solitary and nest in abandoned cavities.  They get ‘carder’ in their name because they carve the hairs from plants to line the nest.  The plant most commonly used for this purpose is lambs ear. It’s soft and furry, so there is plenty of ‘wool’ to be had from its leaves. The females scrape the fur from the leaves and carry it back in round bundles to her nest. This is much like the mason and leafcutter females, but a different material is used to line her egg cells. She will lay a series of eggs, just as her cousins do, and will die at the end of summer.  The following year, her young will emerge and repeat the cycle.

Wool carder bees prefer mint family plants to collect nectar and pollen for egg cell provisions.  So, you will find them, not only on lambs ear, but also on any kind of mint! I found them foraging on catmint in my backyard earlier this summer.  In addition to mint plants, they prefer plants bearing blooms with long throats, such as many forms of sage. The female will carry pollen on her belly, just as her cousins do, making her an exceptional pollinator to the plants she visits.

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All three of the photos above were taken by me at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, and all three are the same male anxiously awaiting a mate!

A unique characteristic of the wool carder bee, is the mating tactics of the males.  Male wool carder bees will choose a group of flowers and guard it from all others, except the female wool carder bees.  There is an obvious reason for this, to mate. Once mated, the female is guarded by the male.  Males are very possessive and aggressive against competitors, whether in mating or foraging.  Males will fend off any competing wool carder males, and if need be, pin them to the ground and injure them with the five sharp spurs on the bottom of his abdomen. This fate can also come to unwanted visiting foragers to the flowers this male is guarding, including other species of bees. I had the honor of getting a picture of a male on lambs ear at the gardens yesterday. If you look closely, you will see the sharp spurs at the base of his abdomen, yikes!

Well, that’s all for the wool carder bee! I hope you enjoyed learning about a new species of bee.

You never know who you will see in your garden when you are looking!

Thank you for joining the movement!