Recently I spotted a lovely bee flitting about as it fed from small anthericum flowers in the garden. Remarkably my camera was handy and I managed to snap a few photos. In an unusual turn of events, the bee obligingly stopped to preen allowing me to get a closer look.
Quite hairy with a striped although not really banded abdomen, the bee gripped a plant stem with its jaws and spent quite some time wiping its legs together and using its legs to groom its body and face.
The bee had been systematically visiting anthericum flowers (Chlorophytum saundersiae) before it paused to groom. All I knew was that this was likely to be one the solitary bees, which is hardly a narrow field. There are over 1000 species of bees in southern Africa – most of which are solitary bees, i.e. they do not live in hives or colonies like honey bees do.
After doing some reading I wondered if this bee is in the genus Amegilla – there are 32 species in southern Africa out of the 71 species of Amegilla that occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Amegilla are ground nesters, making burrows lined with a waterproof waxy substance that they produce as they go. In their burrows they construct cells which they then provision with pollen and nectar for their larvae.
Although it is possible that this bee is one of the Amegilla (even possibly Amegilla capensis) I can’t be completely certain. Perhaps I should extend the range of possibilities to include also the Anthophora genus. Species in the Amegilla and Anthophora genera form the vast majority of species in the Anthophorini tribe, referred to as digger bees. All the species are ground-nesting and they are described as being up to 3 cm long, robust, hairy and with visibly protruding faces. The wings are disproportionally short and the abdomen is often banded (Wikipedia).
Occurring in southern Africa are 31 out of the total of 51 Anthophora species found in sub-Saharan Africa. These numbers give some idea of the difficulty in identifying bees, even for specialists. So I am thinking that maybe I should extend the range of possibilities in identifying the bee and go even broader to the subfamily Apinae whose members include honey bees, stingless bees, some parasitic bees and sweat bees.
And to be even safer I could look to the entire family of Apidae, which also includes carpenter bees. But even going broadly I found further complexities – the Anthophorini tribe has recently (not sure when) been reclassified as part of the Apidae family and its previous family, Anthorphoridae, is now obsolete! And the Apidae family does not include leafcutter bees. They are in an entirely different family – Megachilidae.
Whatever its ID, the above photo shows how the bee is clinging onto a plant stem with its jaws. Many species of solitary bees (including those in the Anthophorini tribe) sleep at night by clamping their mandibles on a plant stem and tucking in their legs. All males sleep this way and unmated females (who do not have nests) do too.
I think that it is the same species of bee in the photo above, this time visiting flowers on the shell bush (Orthosiphon labiatus).
I have posted previously on solitary bees and their diversity, but below are some other species of solitary bees that I have photographed since.
The rather hairy solitary bee in the photo above has a properly banded abdomen and is possibly an Amegilla. Perhaps it is a female taking a rest near her nesting burrow?
In this snapshot, a bee approaches a shell bush flower (Orthosiphon labiatus). I think that this attractive bee is possibly Amegilla mimadvena.
And this bee visiting flowers of a perennial basil plant in our herb garden had me foxed. Perhaps it is one of the leafcutter bees in the family Megachilidae?
And for something a bit different, in late autumn last year I came across this beautiful black and white bee warming up in the morning sunshine. I think this is likely to be a cuckoo bee in the genus Coelioxys, which is a member of the Megachilidae family, along with leafcutter and mason bees.
Above is a closer look in the bright morning sunshine at the same cuckoo bee. Female Coelioxys bees use the sharp point of the abdomen to penetrate nest cells in the nests of their host bees, often doing this while the host is out foraging and before the nest has been closed. These cuckoo bees mostly parasitize nests belonging to leafcutter bees (Megachile) and bees in the genus Anthophora.
Well in this post I have rather exceeded my insect identification abilities as well as the limits of my camera and I to photograph small, fast-moving insects. However, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for these beautiful wee beasties and a reminder that diverse solitary bees are highly efficient pollinators, and they play an important role in the pollination of crops across the globe.
Home gardeners can play their part in planting a diversity of plants for native pollinators. And in shunning the use of pesticides we can become friends of solitary bees and other wildlife too.
Gess, Sarah K; & Friedrich W Gess. 2014. Wasps and bees in southern Africa. SANBI Biodiversity Series 24. Pretoria: SANBI. https://www.sanbi.org/documents/sanbi-biodiversity-series-24-wasps-and-bees-in-south-africa/
Picker, Mike; Charles Griffiths & Alan Weaving. 2019. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.
Wikipedia. 2021. Anthophorini. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthophorini
A blog on the conservation of bees. http://ujubee.com/
CandideZA. 2020. #PolliNationSA. https://candidegardening.com/ZA/stories/f4224184-cd62-4cdb-90fa-c5b0ba28aba1
Posted by Carol