The finding of a Hylaeus (hi-LEE-us) in my backyard means I have found representatives of five bee families within a stone’s throw of my house. Only six families of bees are present in North America, so I feel honored indeed.
I found this bee totally by accident. A week ago I had been taking pictures of other bees and, as usual, I quickly deleted most. But later on, much to my dismay, I recognized a portrait of a bee in one of my books that looked just like one I had deleted. Oh no! I had made the beginner mistake of thinking a Hylaeus was a wasp, and since I don’t usually keep wasp photos, it was gone. Delete? Yes. Are you sure? Yes. Needless to say, I was furious with myself.
After that, I spent countless hours kneeling in the wild carrot blossoms at the soggy edge of the woods, sweltering in the sunshine, and shooting everything that moved. Yesterday, it finally paid off. The photos are not great, but they are good enough to determine the genus.
Defending the territory
Many tiny bees were all over the flowers, and I made another beginner mistake of assuming they were all they same species. Some bees seemed to be dive-bombing other ones, and I thought it was some kind of mating ritual. But once I got into the dichotomous key, the males kept coming up as Ceratina, while the females turned out to be Hylaeus. So all the dive bombing wasn’t a mating thing after all, but more like a territorial thing, as in, “This is my flower, so bug off!”
I persisted, though, and went through all my photos over and over until I found what I was looking for: a male Hylaeus. So exciting!
The genus Hylaeus is part of the Colletidae, a family known as “plasterer” or “polyester” bees because they line their brood cells with cellophane-like secretions. The Hylaeus are often confused with wasps because they do not carry pollen on their bodies. Instead, they swallow both pollen and nectar and carry it in their crop. Once in the nest, they regurgitate the soupy solution into the waterproofed brood cells—messy, but effective.
The Hylaeus bees are sometimes called “masked bees” because of the white or yellow markings on the face. The markings appear in both sexes, but they are much more pronounced in the male. Most Hylaeus are solitary bees that nest in stems and twigs, but a few nest in burrows left in the ground by other insects. Hylaeus are one of the few genera of bees commonly found in wooded areas.
Honey Bee Suite
By the way, my three favorite books for learning bee identification are:
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