wild bees and native bees

A Eucera bee visits my garden


While looking for flowers on a male kiwi vine, I saw a bee that I immediately labeled as “bumble bee.” She was loud and fast and all by herself. As she flitted from flower to flower, some inner voice said to me, “bumble bee not.” But I wasn’t sure.

I could see yellow on her legs, but while she was on the wing I couldn’t tell whether the pollen was tucked in a pollen basket or simply stuck in the hairs of a tibial scopa. I told her to stay put while I fetched my camera.

When I came back, I could hear her on the female kiwi. That was good; she knew what to do with all that pollen1. Eventually I snagged her in a net, let her cool in the fridge for about three minutes, then placed her on a sunny leaf. All this gave me about 30 seconds of shooting time. And then she was gone.

Gone was good too because I would like to see more of her kind next year. Although I’m an avid collector of bee photos, I still don’t like to collect actual bees. I would much rather have live bees in my yard than dead bees in my closet. So although the photo isn’t as sharp as I would like, I’m happy to have it.

After considerable rifling through a heap of bee books, I decided she was in the genus Eucera. This, I’m happy to say, was verified by the good folks at BugGuide.net. Years ago when I first attempted bee identification, I never got them right. So now when I nail one, it’s a cause for celebration. Even more exciting was the fact that I’ve never seen a Eucera in my garden before.

The genus Eucera is in the same family (Apidae) as carpenter bees, honey bees, bumble bees, and squash bees, many of which are large and loud. The Eucera are also known as long-horned bees because the males have exceptionally long antennae—fairytale long. The females carry their pollen in tibial scopae that have unbranched hairs. This distinguishes them from the Melissodes, long-horned bees whose scopae have branched hairs that cause them to look exceptionally bushy.

Eucera bees are solitary ground-dwelling bees that are active in the spring. The individual I found was probably one of the late ones, and I wouldn’t expect to see more of them this year.


1Actually, I don’t know if hardy kiwi pollen is yellow. She may have collected her load from something else.

Eucera female

This Eucera female is resting on a lamb’s ear leaf. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Wonderful, Rusty — thank you! I am forwarding a link to this post to some of our local “other bees” friends.
    This chilling is useful photo cheat. I chilled down a bumble bee the other day (for longer), and out of the cold first she rolled belly up. Undignified, (maybe defensive), but informative. Only wish my camera was less intelligent.

    • Glen,

      Right, I don’t like to chill them too long or else they look like they’re posing for the front of a Raid can, feet in the air.

  • Great photo, Rusty. And thank you for continuing to share your knowledge and discoveries with the rest of us!


  • Thanks for sharing, cute bee! Can you toss any bee in the fridge for a few minutes to help with a picture? They don’t seem to stay still for me so I’d like to give this a try. I do not want to hurt them so thought I would ask. Thanks!

    • Erik,

      Yes, you can try it with about any bee. The small ones with less body mass will chill faster, of course. I don’t leave them in the fridge too long or they look dead when you take them out. Also, sometimes they get condensation on their fur, which makes them look bad in a photo. If you go easy, say a max of about five minutes, you get a little bit of time but they don’t look stressed.

  • Hi, Rusty. I am very glad to have discovered you a few weeks ago and have a general question. I’m new to beekeeping — couldn’t resist getting one of the new Flow Hives from Australia and installed a package of bees in late April. Talking with more experienced beekeepers and doing some reading has led me to think that purchased chemicals such as thymol, oxalic acid, and formic acid are necessary to keep one’s bees healthy, but my garden is full of various kinds of thyme and plants which contains oxalic acid (rhubarb, sorrel), not to mention ants (formic acid). Do none of this flora and fauna in their surroundings have any effect on the health of the bees? My one Flow Hive is located in our residential back yard in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and is the only hive within at least a mile I believe.

    • Mary,

      You should monitor for mites using a standard technique such as a sugar roll test or an alcohol wash before you treat. There are probably feral (or even managed) hives much closer that you think and there is no way to know where the wild ones might be living. In any case, a honey bee can travel five miles in any direction, so bees from hives ten miles apart can come in contact with each other.

      There is an old saying, “the dose makes the poison” which means that it’s not the mere presence of a substance that is poisonous, but the concentration of the substance. Lots of things contain the organic acids, even wild honey contains formic, oxalic, and lactic acid. But none of the natural sources are nearly as strong as the purchased preparations. So no, none of those things will keep the mites at bay.

  • It’s something how there is so many native species out there doing the work of pollinating and in this case and others specialized pollination of plants that honey bees may not even bother with.

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