Nomada bee loafing in the park
Milton-Freewater, Oregon has a great little town park with a playground, swimming pool, and a steep trail leading up a hill that overlooks miles of countryside. I was staying near there last week at a bed-and-breakfast where I knew the proprietors from last year.
After a long day of trying to photograph alkali bees in nearby Lowden, Washington, a few moments away from my camera sounded like a good idea. The proprietors’ six-year-old son, Arden, offered to show me the park, and I gladly went along. (You may remember Arden from last year when he took an amazing photo of a yellowjacket.)
As luck would have it, we ran into an enormous patch of yellow composite flowers that was just loaded with bees. Many were species I couldn’t identify, but among them were some brilliant green metallic Agapostemon. I don’t have good photos of these bees, so I instantly regretted not bringing my camera. I was so frustrated, in fact, that I reached out and snatched one right out of the air.
I kid you not—I actually caught it. You have no idea how impressed I was with myself: I had snagged a bee in flight and now it was vibrating crazily in my hand. I had seen it for just long enough to know it was male, a minor fact I did not share with my companion who worried I might get stung. Yes, I know, not fair.
Nevertheless, Arden was not one bit impressed with my feat of lightning agility. Instead, he seemed to expect it of me, which was no fun at all. When I let him peek at my prizeand it flew awayhe asked me to catch another. Right.
Even though I knew it was pointless, early the next morning before heading home I once again hiked up the trail—this time with camera in hand—in search of the flower patch. Sure enough, no dazzling Agapostemon lit up the petals, but I did manage to photograph some other creatures.
At the time, I thought the image below was a wasp, but when I reviewed the shots, I was pretty sure it was a bee in the genus Nomada, and it turns out that (for once) I was right .
The genus Nomada (or nomad bees) is a large group of cleptoparasitic bees in the Apidae family (the same family as honey bees). They are known as cuckoo bees because, instead of collecting pollen to feed their young, they wait for some other bee to do all the work and then lay their eggs on top of the prepared pollen ball. They especially like to parasitize bees in the genera Andrena, Agapostemon, and Eucera—all of which I saw on that one group of flowers. As you can see, it is not surprising that Nomada bees are frequently mistaken for wasps.
Oddly enough, when I got home I was sitting on the patio when an Agapostemon landed on my leg. I stared in disbelief while my camerastill packed in the truckonce again was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Photographing one of those metallic wonders is becoming an obsession.