ID GUIDE TO WILD BEES - NEW YORK

WOOL CARDER BEES

European Wool Carder bees build solitary nests in pre-existing cavities such as cracks in buildings and holes bored in wooden structures. Females line their nests with plant hairs "carded" or scraped from garden plants such as lamb's ears, mullein and globe thistles.  They provision their nests with pollen and nectar collected from plants in the mint family.

Males of this species are territorial and can be spied fighting off larger pollinators such as bumble bees and carpenter bees.  Male carder bees have a habit of hovering over flowers in midflight.  They tend to patrol a small patch of garden or a single flowering plant, policing it for the presence of other bees. When an intruder bee enters a carder bee's territory to feed on a flower, the carder bee will ram the intruder like a minature rhinoceros to knock it off the flower. 

 

Carder bees forage on a fairly wide variety of plants, including mullein, mints, butterfly bush, goldenrod, viper's bugloss and the flowers of melons and squash.  They are useful pollinators of peas and beans and of commercially grown flowers such as snapdragons.
 

Carder bees appear in mid-summer at Stone Barns, circulating around salvias, mountain mint, yarrow and lavender.  These bees also appear at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in early summer, feeding on mountain mint. 

 

Although these bees gather pollen in part from native plants, Carder bees are not native to New York. They are European in origin, and were introduced accidentally into New York in 1963. They have since spread through the United States and are currently found as far south in the Americas as Brazil and Argentina.  Carder bees nonetheless are not currently considered a significant threat to honey bees or other pollinators, and they do not transmit agents that lead to colony collapse disorder.

 

Identification information:  European wool carder bees have wide bodies, and are black with vivid yellow markings. Tufts of curly pale brown hair grow from the sides of the first five segments of the bees' abdomens.  The first three segments of their abdomens have yellow spots along the outside edges. The spots are widely set in the third and fourth segments and nearly touch in the last segments. These markings distinguish them from the A. obligatum wool carder bee shown below.  Adult male wool carder bees are hefty and nearly an inch long.  Nevertheless, these bees range in size and females can be much smaller than males -- under half an inch.

European Wool Carder Bee

Anthidium manicatum

(Subgenus Anthidium)
2/5" - 4/5" (medium-sized to large)

 

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There are two species of carder bees found in New York -- the European wool carder bee shown above, and a smaller carder bee known as Anthidium oblongatum.  The bees are similar in general form and appearance, but the A. oblongatum carder bee occupies a separate subgenus (Proanthidium) and has somewhat different coloration.  

 

This is a very pretty bee, with reddish-orange legs, striking green eyes and bright yellow coloring.  Instead of having yellow spots on its abdomen like the European wool carder bee, A. oblongatum has broken yellow stripes banding  its abdominal segments, as shown at right.  Its antennae are black and its wings a transparent brown.  Female bees have pale scopal hairs on the undersides of their abdomens.  The A. oblongatum carder bees shown here are between 1/4" and 1/3" long.

 

Sedum is the preferred host plant for A. oblongatum, but these carder bees have been documented foraging on other plants, including stonecrop, white clover, vetch, mountain mint and members of the squash family.  The bees are known to collect "wool" or hairs from plants such as dusty miller.  The bees shown here were feeding in mid-summer on mountain mint in Rockefeller State Park Preserve and on a small-flowered variety of helianthus in the gardens of Stone Barns.

 

Like the European Wool Carder bee, A. oblongatum is not native to the United States. The species originates in Europe.  Native Anthidium bees are found in the western, southern and midwestern United States, but not in New York State.

Anthidium Oblongatum Wool Carder Bee

Anthidium oblongatum (Subgenus Proanthidium)
1/4 - 2/5"  (medium-sized)

An  Anthidium oblongatum Wool Carder Bee Patrolling His Territory

All photos (c) 2014 - 2016 Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography

All photos (c) 2014 - 2016 Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography

PHOTO CREDITS:  All photos and text © Copyright 2014-2015 Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman, unless otherwise noted.  All rights reserved. If you wish to use any of the photographs here for educational or other purposes, please read permissions page.

 

REFERENCES:  For a comprehensive list of references used in compiling this guide, click here:

 8-23-15