This striking bee foraging on a drumstick allium is Halictus farinosus, also known as the brown-winged furrow bee. Showing off his bright yellow legs, the male in the first photo is tanking up on nectar. He was not alone but accompanied by several other males doing the same. In the second photo, a female also enjoys the allium.
Bee names are always confusing. As far as I can tell, the common name “furrow bee” is used to describe bees in the family Halictidae, regardless of whether they are in the genus Halictus or Lasioglossum. If you search for furrow bee, you will find examples from both genera.
As with most bees, it’s hard to find much information on a particular species. Halictus farinosus, however, is stunning, so it’s easy to find lots of photos. The brownish-orange wings and the boldly striped abdomen look nice in the camera, even if you don’t know what the heck it is.
An Oregon specimen
I found these specimens in a suburban garden in Bend, Oregon. On a visit last July, I couldn’t help but notice these bees all over a flower garden wedged between the road and the sidewalk. Other bees visited, too, especially honey bees, but the brown-winged furrow bees worked the allium for long periods. Some of the blooms entertained three or four furrow bees at once.
In my searches, I did manage to find two detailed papers about these bees. I learned they are scattered over most of western North America, they are most abundant May through July, and they live in small, unstructured groups. They are ground nesters that forage on a wide range of flowers and are quick flyers—you can barely seem them go.
The bees nest in dry areas with sparse grass, brush, or open woodland. The main nest tunnel is vertical, and each of the brood chambers are constructed directly off the main tunnel. They appear to have two sets of brood per year. The first is small and comprises only workers. Later in the season, a larger brood nest yields both males and females.
As a side note, drumstick allium was quite popular with many bees and may be a species to consider for your pollinator garden this spring.
Honey Bee Suite
Thank you Rusty for all the great blog posts. I am a hobby bug-o-phile and love to learn about all the native bees. I never knew there were so many. We have at least a few kinds of bumbles and leaf cutters here in the Cascades. At my old house a few miles from where we live now I would spend hours watching them cutting the fuzzy Sitka Willow leaves and flying them back to their nest in a rockery nearby. They must have had a huge pantry to fit the volume of leaf pieces they collected even in one day. That was at least 12 years ago.
Reading your blog about the your native bee experiences makes me want to go see if the leaf cutters are still living there when the snow melts. It also makes me think of the other mountain bee experiences I have had. I am blessed to live in such a place were the wilderness is practically at my back door. I get to see so many wonderful native bugs birds and animals at every turn.
Last year I was being lost in the woods for Search and Rescue training on the side of that same mountain. My best friend is in Canine SAR and sometimes I get lost for just her and sometimes for the whole team. This time it was just for her and her golden, Harry. Usually I just sit on a stump, log, rock or at the base of a tree where there is cover so the dogs can’t see me. It was early season so there was no cover and I decided to lay down below a tree to keep out of sight. I happily happened to lay down right next to a native bumble bee nest! I was so lucky, while waiting quietly for her dog to find me, to be able to watch the workers coming and going.
It was chilly mountain spring in late May with snow patches still around and there was hardly a leaf out yet. I was in dark second growth fir woods at the base of a hemlock and the little bumbles were living in an old moss covered rotted log that was well on its way to being reclaimed by the spongy forest floor.
I didn’t even know they were there until I heard one flying over me and hovering for a bit. She was wondering, no doubt, what I was doing there and if I was a threat since my head was less than two feet directly in front of their front door. She went in and soon another bumble came to the entrance from inside and looked at me for a bit trying to decide if she should come give me a sting. I smiled and lay still while we pondered each other. I didn’t have my camera and I didn’t want to move anyway. I haven’t identified them specifically but they were small bumble bees with orange on their rump. Much smaller than regular bumble bees.
She took off and did an orientation flight over and around me before going off to do her important work. Word must have gotten around in the nest because then a few bumbles came to look at me from their mossy doorstep. They were pushing each other out of the way to get a look at the strange creature who was watching them. A field bumble came back and was annoyed at the gapers blocking her way as she pushed her way in to drop off her shopping.
Other field bumbles had to push their nosy sisters out of the way to get out and buzz around me before flying off. Soon they all decided they didn’t need to worry about me and went back to work inside. It didn’t take long for field bumbles to stop buzzing around me and resume coming and going as if I was just another log on the forest floor.
I was there for almost an hour which is not unusual since I always get “lost” well before any SAR dog team arrives to come find me. Sometimes I get a lot of good reading or berry picking in as well. We plan getting lost in advance to make it more realistic for the dogs. Sometimes I have a radio. Sometimes I flag my route. If I am just getting lost for Sally and Harry we decide where I start from and I get to try and stump the dog. So far he is un-stumpable. That day was just a fun local midweek walk in the woods getting lost for the dog session so I wasn’t far from the trail but I made sure to hide so my scent was pushed down through the woods and away from the trail where they would be starting their search. I know just where that bumble nest was and could find the spot again easily.
Now I have at least two reasons to go visit my old stomping grounds with my camera next summer. I grew up running all over that mountain. When I was young I remember late September and watching the big yellow bumbles so thick on the Canada goldenrod that the flowers were arched over nearly touching the ground. Sometimes it is so cool that the bumbles sleep on the goldenrod plumes as if it is poisioned by the Wicked Witch of the West with her sleepy flower spell.
I should start documenting species. I don’t know if the mossy log bumbles will be there in the spring. I wonder if bumbles reuse nests? Now I can’t wait to go look. I can’t wait for spring so I can look in on my own honeybees and I can’t wait to find out what your next blog post will be about. Why is winter so long?
That sounds like so much fun I’m jealous! There is nothing better than just sitting in the woods to see who comes along. A couple of years ago I was looking for bees and couldn’t find any until I tripped over my own feet and landed hard. I was sitting there groaning and waiting for the pain to subside when I discovered a was sitting in a bee community made of dozens of little holes. The bees just kept coming and going, ignoring that I was sitting there like a lawn ornament.
Rusty, thank you so much for this post.
Cindy, thanks for sharing your story. Like Rusty I am jealous of your pastime. It seems like there is never enough time to simply observe nature. While waiting for the spring thaw, I enjoy following all the tracks in the snow here in upstate NY.
I am always amazed at your great pictures. These can be very hard to get. Thank you for your knowledge that you so readily share.
Thanks, Ken. The photos are fun, but frustrating. The good ones make it worthwhile, though.
Very pretty bees. I live in Michigan, so we probably don’t have them around here, but I will add drumstick allium to the list of plants to have in my garden this year. Thank you!