Sunday, June 22, 2014

I have squash bees!

Morning in my three sisters garden. How many blurry bees can you spot in this picture?
I am delighted to report that native squash bees have found my three-sisters (squash-beans-corn) garden. Squash bees, as you might surmise, only collect pollen from squash blossoms. Their genus is native to North America. Before the introduction of old-world squash, they fed exclusively on new world domesticates and the wild Cucurbita foetidissima (buffalo gourd). I *believe* the species visiting my winter squash is Peponapis pruinosa, but it is hard to tell. These hyperactive bees would only settle for an instant before flitting off again. It made me wonder if most of the bees circling my garden were males. In bees, this patrolling behavior is more typically male. Females are working hard to provision their nests, while the males are working hard to find females.
Peponapis pruinosa butt

Squash bees are interesting for a number of reasons. For one, they are a species that has actually expanded its range with human influence. Because these bees can only feed on squash, once humans domesticated squash and introduced it far beyond its original range (southern plains to the southwest), the squash bees followed suit and expanded their home region. The females often dig their nests directly under squash plants, and the males sleep in squash blossoms at night. Another interesting fact: because squash blossoms open before dawn and close a few hours later, squash bees have adopted the same crepuscular pattern of activity. They fly well before most bees wake.

In addition to the squash bees, I've seen number of fuzzy, medium sized black bees. I have no idea about their genus, but they visit the squash blossoms as frequently as the squash bees. I am so pleased that these helpful creatures are ensuring my gourds and melons are well pollinated this summer, and I'm sure they are happy for the meal.

Mystery black bee, blurry Peponapis pruinosa trying to run her off

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