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.