Thursday, 16 July 2015

The nest robber

I was puzzled when I checked the bee hotel a couple of days ago. The painstaklingly, lovingly filled nesting cells of the Osmia leaiana nest that illustrated a post a few days ago were gone. There was pollen everwhere and the nest walls made of chewed leaves weren't there. A Megachile willughbiella female, a leafcutter bee, was inside, rubbing its scopa against the walls. Was she the reason for the disappearance of the smaller mason bee's nest or just taking advantage of a previous nest predator?
 Although I'll never know for sure, I think that the leafcutter is probably to blame. There are plenty of empty cavities in the bee hotel, but she apparently decided that this was a better hole than the rest and probably fought the mason bee out of her nest (Leafcutters have formidable scissor-like jaws, and this leafcutter species is a large bee), and then proceeded to empty the contents, eggs, pollen, nectar and walls to make space for her cells. Today, the leafcutter had completed her first cell (above). Note that the walls are still covered in yellow pollen.
 The bee nestbox is providing plenty of surprises and allowing observations very difficult to make in natural holes. The events illustrated here remind me that competition is fierce out there, although in the case of hole nesting bees, it will pass unnoticed in the darkness. Many bumblebee queens are ousted from their nests by other bumblebee queens, not necessarily from cleptoparasitic species, which take over after a fight. In solitary bees and wasps, suitable nest holes might be limiting and intra and intraspeficic competition might be rife, although fights may often take place inside holes. Watch this fascinating video of three bees fighting for a nest hole by George Pilkington, and this series of photos by Simon Saxton documenting two Ectemnius wasps fighting for a nest hole. Nest lining thicker end walls provides physical defence, and might not only protect against cleptoparasitism, but also against other bees taking over, stealing the nest hole and destroying the nest contents.
7th of July. A female Osmia leaiana working on her nest. Note the remains of last year's leafcutters nest in the cavity under it.
16th July, a female leafcutter emptying nest contents by scooping pollen.

1 comment:

George Pilkington said...

The leafcutter robber bee!! What a shame Africa. They are much larger than little ol' leaiana hope she found somewhere safer! Cheers, George