The Dialogue Pages

Look–a–likes

When I first started trying to identify bees, I had a very hard time of it. But once I discovered the ‘chilling’ technique (Introduction), I started to produce some excellent results.

One day, I captured a female leaf cutter bee. I managed to produce some okay photos for identification, but not perfect. I was pretty confident it was a leaf cutter and confirmed that from PaDIL. Michael identified it as probably Megachile serricauda. But the specimen seemed a bit larger than expected. But, best guess is the leaf cutter bee here is M. serricauda.

Figure 1 Megachile serricauda showing face of the female. Also shows the ‘bald’ front legs (Grid 5 mm).
Figure 2 Megachile serricauda showing the scopa of the female, filled with pollen. Also shows that the abdomen is ‘flatter’ than that of the Carder bee (Grid 5 mm).

The complete name of this bee is Megachile (Eutricharaea) serricauda, but I must admit I don't understand the naming process. I'll leave that for the experts ;o)

On the same day, I collected another bee that I thought was also a leaf cutter. However, comparing the images on PaDIL didn't help with the identification, so I called on Michael's expertise yet again. To my disappointment, Michael informed me that the bee was a female Afranthidium repetitum, an African carder bee. It was first noticed in southeast Queensland in early 2000. There is a short article on this new bee in Aussie Bee, Issue 14, July 2000.

Since then, the carder bees have moved south and the Sydney area has seen huge increases in their populations. Sadly, my discovery is the first report of the carder bee in the Blue Mountains. But all is not lost. This is considered to be an important pollinator in South Africa, so it may play a pollination role in our gardens.

I have noticed these bees still foraging in early April. So, along with the Blue banded bees and Carpenter bees, these are quite late going into diapause (insect hibernation). They are very precocious and you can sit for hours watching them forage. They are quite interactive with the other bees around them, and the person behind the camera. Great time–wasters. They seem to spend an unusual amount of time perched on a leaf or twig. Not packing pollen. Just resting.

I haven't witnessed it as yet, but this may be part of their nest substrate collection. The carder bee is called such because it uses plant fibres for its nest. This fibrous material is ‘carded’ or matted together to become woolly. Like the carding wool prior to spinning. Carduus, in the Latin, meaning teasel. Dried, prickly vegetable stems known as teasels were first used to make combs for the raw wool (Wikipedia).

Figure 3 Carding wool with hand cards (nazmiyalantiquerugs.com).

This is, apparently, a bit of a downside to this bee. They can be found nesting in meter boxes, and the woolly nest substrate is quite large. There is more information on the Queensland Museum website.

Figure 4 Carder bee nest in meter box in southeast Qld. (Photo on Queensland University website)

As shown below, the carder bee looks very similar to the leaf cutter bees (Figures 1 & 2). The carder bee, however, has quite fluffy legs and white abdominal stripes, not hairy bands (as is seen in leaf cutter bees). The abdomen is also more robust than the more flattened abdomen of the leaf cutter.


Figure 5 Carder bee with fluffy legs and white abdominal bands (grids 5 mmm).
Figure 6 Carder bee showing the more robust, less flattened abdomen (grid 5 mm).
Figure 7 Carder bees, male and female, can be seen frequently sitting on leaves, just resting.
Figure 8 Female carder bee foraging on Basil flowers; showing distinct white abdominal stripes. Yellow pollen can also be seen in the scopa on her abdomen.