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Cuckoo bees

By Taylor Wildlife, Jul 16 2018 12:00PM

Most people will be familiar with the Common cuckoo, the bird with the unmistakeable song that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species who then raise the cuckoo chick although it were their own.



Common cuckoo being fed by it's much smaller reed warbler 'parent' (1)
Common cuckoo being fed by it's much smaller reed warbler 'parent' (1)

Less well known is the fact that there are bees with a similar habit to that of the cuckoo.



Other than honey bees, most wild bee species are solitary. They do not have a complex social structure with queens and workers. Females of these solitary bees build their own next, fill it with pollen, and then lay an egg in it. Often a nest contains several compartments with pollen on which the bee larvae will feed.


These bees are targeted by other insects that take advatage of the available shelter and food. The females of these cuckoo bees locate a nest of a specific host bee species and lay their eggs in the nest themselves. Cuckoo bees may revisit a nest from time to time to check if their is enough pollen for their futures offspring to feed on. If so the eggs are deposited and the pollen that was collected by the host bee will be eaten by these cuckoo bee youngsters instead.




Nomada panzeri laying in the nest of the tawny mining bee Andrena fulva (2)
Nomada panzeri laying in the nest of the tawny mining bee Andrena fulva (2)

During surveys on one of our field sites we found the cuckoo bee Nomada panzeri: a small be which looks a bit like a wasp because it isn't as hairy as a lot of other bees and because of its yellow and dark red markings. The presence of this bee meant that its host species was likely to be around too. Sure enough, a female Andrena lapponica (bilberry mining bee) was found a short while later. Females of this bee build their nest in the gound and visit mainly bilberry for nectar and pollen.



Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a great food source for many insects (3)
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a great food source for many insects (3)

Pollen are collected on the pollen sacks on the hind legs and later deposited in the next for her offspring to feed on - or the offspring of the cuckoo bee, of course!


MW





Photos:


(1) By By Per Harald Olsen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons


(2) By gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


(2) Maico Weites, Taylor Wildife


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