Melissodes: Longhorned, Digger Bees

Digging for the future…

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I introduce to you, the Melissodes bee! Look at the pollen all over this bee, and check out those antennae! Commonly named the Long horned digger bees, these beauties are late to emerge, and pollinated flowers of similar timing, such as gumweed seen in this photo.  I spotted these bees on a hike up Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, CO, last week (August), and of course had to pull out the camera!

The bee in the picture is a male, and I know this because he has very long antennae, whereas the females have shorter antennae, about half the length of the male’s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any females the day of the Mt. Saints hike.  This is likely due to the fact that males emerge sooner than females, and I was lucky enough to witness the beginning of digger bee season!

However, I may have seen a female on a hike last fall near Frisco, CO.  Have a look. What do you think?

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Another difference between the sexes of these bees, is where they slumber.  Males will cluster together on plants, or in crevices in rocks stacked on top of each other to keep warm until morning.  Females sleep underground in the nest they are building.

The title “digger bee” has a literal meaning here.  The females dig into the ground to create nesting cavities.  They like loose sandy soil, because they will backfill the nesting hole with loose sand every time they leave to forage for nectar and pollen.  This serves to camouflage the nest, thus protecting it from predators.  Although these bees are solitary, they will happily form aggregations of neighboring nests, and sometimes even sharing an entrance leading to many different nesting rows of different lady bees!

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Longhorned bees are late arrivals, and have been known to fly into October, pollinating fall blooms. They gravitate toward flowers in the sunflower family, but they’ll happily behave as a generalist and take whatever nectar and pollen is available at the time.

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Look at this photo bomber bee! I was photographing the butterfly, and didn’t realize I had captured two pollinators!  Can you identify this bee now?

If you’d like to see these bees nest in your yard:

  1. Grow lots of sunflowers and late blooming perennials.
  2. Provide a small mound of sandy soil.
  3. Take the time to observe everyday, because the smallest creatures are also the hardest to catch in the act of living!

Cheers to joining this very important movement!