I peered inside the emergence box. They were still there, four fuzzy white cocoons about 1/4 inch around and 1/3 inch long… still waiting for the severe warm weather which would awaken the tiny insects resting inside. It was late summer and I had to think back to the previous year to determine whether my bees were late in emerging.
When I first spotted the cottony substance at the end of the bee tubes last summer, I thought my precious pollinators had been afflicted by a fungus. I was distressed that it didn’t look like any of the threats listed in the books I’d read on the subject and no amount of research seemed capable of revealing what it was. Since it wasn’t spreading, I decided not to worry. I still had plenty of tubes filled with healthy bees waiting for the coming spring and it seemed best to just let nature take its course.
It wasn’t until after the first freeze when I went to remove the cocoons that I realized the fuzzy wool wasn’t a fungus after all! I had attracted something else. Swathed in a substance not unlike quilt batting, I found five, paper-thin cocoons in each 6 inch tube. Since they didn’t fit the description of any of the native bees I was trying to attract, I was at a loss. I did the only reasonable thing I could think of and, laying aside the Nikon 3100 I had been using to document the cocoon harvest, picked up my iPod touch. A few snapshots later, I was ready to send off an inquiry to Dave Hunter of www.crownbees.com.
I first became acquainted with Dave while working as a buyer for a local garden store. I hadn’t yet convinced our owner that selling native bee habitats was a profitable business when, due to a reorganization of the company, my job abruptly came to an end. Still, I continued to follow Dave and his bees on Twitter and Facebook and looked forward to his regular “bee-mail” messages. I had been treated to a wealth of information on pollinator conservation and was certain that if anyone could identify my unusual guests, it would be Dave.
I was right. Within a few hours, we were chatting on the phone, as I described my find. “It sounds like you have wool carder bees,” he said, sounding a touch surprised. Anthidium manicatum or the European Wool Carder is, as it name suggests, a foreign import used to somewhat warmer climates than we usually experience in my part of the world. Unlike the the Megachilidae which had filled in most of the nesting tubes in my artificial habitat, these bees forgo waxy foliage in favor of the fuzzy “wool” produced by plants like the Dandylion. While a touch territorial (more so with other bees than with anything of the mammalian persuasion), they are excellent pollinators and Dave suggested that I harvest the cocoons and store them in my vegetable crisper until spring.
Acting on his advice, I sorted through the 15 cocoons (only those in one of the three tubes had been unaffected by an unidentified ailment which resulted in thin, squishy, slime-covered cocoons) and placed the good ones inside the ventilated petrie dish which would serve as their winter home.
Spring came and I removed my fuzzy soon-to-be friends to the emergence house, pinned them to the trellis beneath my bee-house, and began to keep watch. As of today, the cocoons are resting nicely, awaiting the end of the leaf-cutter bees’ season when (if things progress as they did last year), I expect them to emerge, mate, and set about making a home for next year’s pollinators. I intend to carefully the document the entire process, if only for my personal enjoyment.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t considered “managing” some of the wonderful pollinators in your own area, why not take a moment to stop by Dave’s site at www.crownbee.com. You’ll find a wealth of useful information and a hand to help in time of need!