Monday, April 5, 2010

Mating Bees

Insects spend most of their lives doing what’s necessary to produce more insects. These ground nesting bees, female to the right and male on the left, are just two of many hundreds that were busily searching out mates.

I was walking across one of the barrens when I encountered a swarm of insects rapidly criss-crossing an area about 70 feet across. They gave way as I walked into the swarm, so I sat down in the grass to see if they would come close enough for me to get a good look. They obliged and proceeded to put on a very interesting show.

Apparently, the insects in the air were males of a species of ground nesting bee that had recently emerged from their buried pupae. Occasionally, a female would work its way out of the ground and fight her way up through the matted grass. As soon as she got clear of the grass, several males would rush to her and struggle to be the lucky mate.

I kept moving the grass away, trying to get a clear shot at the struggling mass, but the group kept rolling down the hill as fast I could get them uncovered. I counted eight males wooing this female.

After a couple of minutes, the group broke apart and the female emerged with the lucky suitor. The pair did a bread-N-butter around a dead grass leaf and had to stay put a while for some photos. Several pairs formed during the short time I sat watching. It’s amazing how emerging insects can time things so perfectly. The barrens offer some perfect bare soil sites for ground nesting bee species. Managing for this type of site is one of the key activities for those trying to increase native bee populations.

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