If you spotted a fuzzy bee with long antennae in your garden, there’s a good chance it was a long-horned bee. This bee is named for the distinctively-long antennae found on males. By contrast, the females are not so much identifiable by their antennae as they are by their full, hairy hind legs, called scopae. If you’re not eyeing their legs, you may notice lady long-horns are also characterized by having a fuller, sturdier frame than the males. Males of this species usually have a white or yellow patch on the face. This species is generally medium in size, ranging from 6.5 to 8 millimeters in length and have bulbous, protruding eyes of blue-gray and green color. Both genders are covered in tan or rust-colored hair, especially along their abdomens and faces. They have pale bands of hair around their abdomens. When exposed to sunlight, their hair can appear silvery. The two-spotted long-horned bee is a New York native and can be observed in the bee habitat on Governors Island and the Farm at Stone Barnes. They are called “two-spotted” because females all have two white spots on the back tip of their abdomens. The white spots are particularly noticeable because this subgenus is a dramatically different color than other long-horned bees, being grey-black with black wings, thick dark hair and dark eyes.
Photo above by Katja Schulz.
Long-horned bees dwell in underground solitary nests, but few of the species have found to be communal.
Females of this species collect pollen using the long hairs on their hind legs to carry back to their nests to prepare as food for their offspring. During the day, males are usually in search of their female counterparts to mate. Overnight and into the morning, males frequently gather to rest along the tips of blades of grass and other foliage, hanging on using their legs and mandibles. You’ll primarily find these bees active during the midsummer and fall. This bee can be found in the United States as far West as Kansas and has recently been seen as far East as Florida. There are 120 species of Long-Horned bees in the United States.
Photo above by Bob Peterson.
Bee orchids, of the Ophrys genus, are known to effectively “prank” male long-horns into thinking they have found a female mate instead of a flower. This witty orchid has evolved to have the appearance of a bee, in color, size and shape, giving them the power of sex appeal. To top off this ingenious disguise to seduce male bees, the orchids also emit an odor called allomones which closely mimic pheromones female bees release.
Photo above by Bernard DuPont
Long-horned bees are typically connoisseurs of particular flowers of their choosing, such as sunflowers or thistles. In fact, the common name of the melissodes subillata species is thistle long-horned bee because it is a specialist of the thistle flower. These extra fuzzy bees are advantageous to have around, as the multitude of hair on their bodies collects a great deal of pollen to transport from flowers and plants. The two-spotted long-horns are notably the only generalists of this species, making them a noteworthy asset. Long-horns have a particular taste for the flowers that grow from squashes. The more of these bees that there are, the more squashes can grow! Two-spotted long-horns are one of the most important pollinators of cotton, and are considered to be one of the most diligent pollinators of the entire bee species.
Do they sting? While males of this species may appear threatening, they do not possess stingers. Female long-horns have stingers but are not aggressive and typically only sting if feeling threatened.
Do they produce honey? These powerhouse pollinators do not produce honey.
Long-horned bees are essential native pollinators, so you’ll make a tremendous impact on this species and the environment by maintaining a safe, welcoming yard for them.
Here are a few key tips to promote a healthy space for these fuzzy gems:
Floral inspiration for your yard and a feast for this species supports pollination!
Check out our How to Save the Bees page for more simple ways to promote the welfare of our planet by supporting vital native species.
Photo above by Melissa Mcmasters