Garden Bits / Main Index / previous / next

Two Bees or Not

by Valerie (May 12, 2000)
revised August 12, 2003
honeybee near Texas silverleaf blossomsOur gardens almost always have plants flowering and so there are almost always bees. There are lots of different kinds, but the honeybees and bumblebees are the most noticeable. The honeybees (Apis mellifera) appear in groups, at about the same time each day, depending on what flower it is from which they are harvesting nectar and pollen. Since we don't have large numbers of any particular flower, the only times when the honeybees arrive in significant swarms are when certain trees are in blossom. When the sumacs or loquat bloom, the bees are so numerous that their buzzing is almost startling. bumblebee on Mexican sunflower

Bumblebees (Bombus sp.), at the other extreme, are solitary as they make their rounds. They fly early in the morning, even when it is cold, since they can "warm" themselves up by vibrating their flight muscles until they reach a temperature at which they can fly. They don't seem to be very particular about which flowers they visit and check everything in the area.

robberfly on plains coreopsis stem

The last photo shown here looks something like a bee. However, it is one type of robberfly (Laphria sp.) that frequents our yard. These predators resemble a medium sized bee, but, instead of collecting nectar and pollen, they attack the insects that come to the flowers. I've seen them eating bees and dragonflies, which probably don't even recognize the bumblebee disguise. Since dragonflies are such acrobatic flyers, the robberflies must be equally skilled in order to catch them. One way to distinguish robberflies from bees is that the flies almost never visit flowers, but rest on stems and other foliage nearby, where they can watch for prey.

Garden Bits / Main Index / previous / next