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Bees and wasps in our garden


Already in early spring, bumblebees help bring the garden alive. By mid-summer, the garden is abuzz with bees, bumblebees, and wasps of all shapes, colors, and sizes. There are also lots of flies that look like bees or wasps – you'll find some of them on my flies page. Since I don't know which sting and which don't, I tend to keep my distance, but I've captured some of the most interesting ones on digital film.


leafcutter bee megachile brevis

Leaf-cutter bees use pieces of leaves (in this case, from an empress tree) to build their nests. This is most likely a female Megachile brevis, a widely distributed species.
Pennsylvania, September 2004


Anthidium oblongatum: leafcutter bee

This is another leafcutter bee: Anthidium oblongatum, an introduced species from Europe. I had a good time watching him (yes, it's a boy) one afternoon. He was buzzing around a large sedum, alternating between sitting down on the flowers for nourishment and attacking other insects that were feeding from the same plant. Many of the insects were much larger, such as brown and yellowjacket paper wasps. They acted annoyed, but didn't actually leave, much to the bee's chagrin. Apparently, this sort of territorial behavior is common for males of this genus.
Pennsylvania, August 2009 leafcutter bee megachile

First leafcutter bee I encountered in our Houston garden, this is Megachile (species unknown; maybe the same as the one at top), who was snacking on gaillardia flowers one balmy July morning. It was certainly getting a good haul of pollen!
Texas, July 2017

Bumblebees are ubiquitous, and welcome, visitors to our garden. They are there in early spring for the first flowers, and just keep on going through the season. One chilly mid-summer morning, we found this cute little guy snoozing on a morning glory leaf. Sweet dreams...
Pennsylvania, August 2004 Bumblebee bombus bimaculatus

This two-spotted bumblebee (species Bombus bimaculatus) was one of a colony that I inadvertently disturbed while cutting back some tattered sedge. They are quite fearsome when they swarm in defense of their home, and their stings certainly smart, but when they've forgotten about the transgression, they are right back to being pleasant garden companions.
Pennsylvania, May 2014

honeybee: Apis mellifera
The honeybee (Apis mellifera) at left was taking a well-deserved rest hiding in the lawn, while the one at right was feasting at a milkweed flower.
Pennsylvania, September 2004 and Texas, November 2017

Late one afternoon, on an inspection round near our filtration bog, I noticed odd behavior by some dark-colored bees: they were crowding onto a single blade of our maiden grass, and appeared to stay put. I learned from an inquiry at that this is common behavior for long-horned bees, as they congregate to rest for the night. Sure enough, they were still there the next morning, now neatly arranged in a foursome (two of which were facing head down!). These particular individuals are males of Melissodes bimaculata.
Pennsylvania, August 2009


ichneumon wasp female ichneumon wasp female
ichneumon wasp male

Amazing, the creatures you find when you start looking. I had never heard of ichneumons until I developed an interest in insects, let alone spotted one, even though, as the pictures show, they can be quite colorful. Ichneumons are a very large group of insects, who prey on other insects to feed their larvae. The two photos above are of the same female Cryptanura septentrionalis. The one at left, clearly a different species, is a male. ichneumon wasp - Netelia species

This one was actually indoors - at first glance, you might mistake it for a mosquito, because it dances around in its light-weight way in a similar fashion. But the second glance shows it's something quite different: another ichneumon, a female in the Netelia genus. See the really long antennae? It's nearly impossible to get them in focus, since they stick out so far from the rest of the body. ichneumon wasp - Enicospilus purgatus

Looking fairly similar to the one above, this male ichneumon is a representative of Enicospilus purgatus. The smaller black protrusions between its eyes are a striking feature on this one. I found it one evening just climbing away amid low-growing foliage, never once using its wings. I wonder if it had just emerged and wasn't yet able to fly. braconid wasp - red

This elegant little thing is a braconid wasp. The long ovipositor leaves no doubt that it's a female. spider wasp Calicurgus hyalinatus

Spider wasps are usually seen rummaging through debris at ground level, in search of the spiders they paralyze as food for their larvae, but this one (Calicurgus hyalinatus) was flying around some garden foliage. potter wasp Eumenes fraternus


Potters wasps build nests of mud, where their larvae live on caterpillars brought to them by their doting mothers. This one is most likely a female Eumenes fraternus, here shown feasting on fennel flowers.

mason wasp Monobia quadridens

This four-toothed mason wasp (Monobia quadridens) is common through the eastern United States. It usually nests in wood borings. I found the one pictured here enjoying the watercress flowers in our big pond's filtration bog.
sphex ichneumoneus: great golden digger wasp Apparently, the great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) only flies a few weeks out of the year in these Northern reaches of its territory - so perhaps I should feel lucky he chose a flower in our garden to sit down on. I was just happy he didn't sit down on me... Both this year and last year, we first spotted it around mid-July, and both times it was enjoying our sea hollies.
This fella looked like he was a bit injured, and was crawling around near our pond. I have it from a good source that this is a grass-carrier wasp (Isodontia apicalis), recognizable by the silver face and the white hairs on its midsection. grass carrier wasp isodontia apicalis
Polistes paper wasp Polistes paper wasp
Handsome brown paper wasps (most likely Polistes fuscatus, the northern paper wasp) help themselves to some honeydew left by aphids on our paulownia tree. Even though the one above looks really ticked off, they're not particularly agressive.
Polistes: paper wasp Texas

We have paper wasps in Texas, too. This is a different species from the one above (Polistes metricus), but overall quite similar. They like to build their nests in the overhang above our patio and under our eaves, and generally hang out around the garden, although I don't think they take nectar from flowers. This female is inspecting a Cape honeysuckle that's still in bloom in mid-November.
Texas, November 2017
This is a yellowjacket paper wasp (Polistes dominulus), which looks somewhat similar to the yellowjackets often seen buzzing around trashcans, but is not closely related. Introduced from Eurasia in the 1980s, it has colonized most of the U.S. by now. They can be agressive if their nest is threatened, but are perfectly peaceful buzzing through the garden in search of insect prey. The one shown here is a male, as evidenced by his yellow face and hooked antennae. polistes dominulus yellowjacket paper wasp
Polistes exclamans: paper wasp

Another paper wasp, this is Polistes exclamans, which occurs in a large swath of the central and eastern United States. These social wasps nest under roofs and in trees, and prey on caterpillars. Good to have around to balance out the local ecosystem.
Pennsylvania, September 2009
Also seen in Texas, June 2017
blue mud dauber Chalybion californicum
Another black wasp, this one with a shiny metallic-blue rear end. A blue mud dauber (Chalybion californicum), seemed more agressive than most wasps I encounter - so I didn't get too close with the camera.
blue mud dauber Chalybion californicum
mason wasp potter wasp euodynerus

This potter wasp, here seen extracting the sweet goodness of a Texas green eyes (Berlandiera texana) flower, is a member of the genus Euodynerus, most likely species Euodynerus hidalgo. Potter wasps are so named for the urn-shaped solitary nests they build for their developing larvae, which they supply with paralyzed prey, such as larvae of other insects and spiders.
Texas, May 2022


Another group of members of the hymenoptera, the order that includes bees and wasps, are the sawflies. I see more of their larvae (a few of which you can see on the crawlers page) than adults, but here's a couple: argidae argid sawfly

I could see this argid sawfly (argidae family) from a ways away, gorging himself on coriander flowers. The combination of the shiny black wings and the red body contrasted strikingly with the white flowers.


Atomacera decepta hibiscus sawfly

On a warm early-June afternoon, on a stroll past our big pond's filtration area, I spotted this little sawfly on a Hibiscus moscheutos plant. As I took aim with my camera, I saw several more, so they were definitely in their happy spot. Sure enough, this is a hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta). Which means I may return to the plant one of these days to find its leaves decimated by sawfly larvae (I have a photo of the larval stage of this species at my crawlers page).

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