This handsome creature is a male Habropoda, an early spring digger bee that seems inured to cold and nasty weather. I got these photos on April 9 in a nearby patch of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, also known kinnikinnick or bearberry. The plant is one of the major clues to the bee’s identity because Habropoda is known to adore all the Arctostaphylos genus, including the manzanitas. The eastern blueberry bee is also in this genus, and is fully capable of buzz pollination.
These bees with their gray fur look almost exactly like the Anthophora. In fact, in Bees of the World, Michener recommends you start with the wing veins to tell them apart. The Habropoda have an elongated marginal cell in the forewing and a third submarginal cell that is shorter in the front than in the back. Although it’s hard to see in the photos, these features are obvious when you’re looking through a hand lens.
Hard to photograph
These bees are quick and nearly impossible to photograph, but the males have a couple of habits that slow them down for a bit. The first two photos are of the same bee resting on a twig. They sleep like this, grabbing a twig between their mandibles and hanging on. I like the second photo because he’s got his forelegs stretched over his head and thorax, grooming for the big moment, perhaps.
The third photo is of a different male examining the ground. It turns out that the males listen for females emerging, and if they hear one, they will dig down to meet her. No patience whatsoever. I didn’t see any females on the day I found these bees. As in many species, the males emerge several days before the females.
Some unusual traits
The Habropoda species shown below nests in the ground in large aggregations that persist from year to year. Unlike most bees, these bees overwinter as adults rather than pupae. After a fall metamorphosis, the adults enter a resting phase until spring.
Also unusual is the fact that not all the larvae from the previous year emerge. Instead, some wait an extra year or two, a biological system that probably protects the species from inclement weather or famine. Since they don’t all emerge at once, the community gets another chance the following year.
These bees definitely prefer cool weather, and they often disappear during the hot part of the day. So if you decide to go out looking for them, start early and listen carefully. They are noisy bees that are easier to hear than see.
Honey Bee Suite