Metallic Gem: Orchid Bee

ant & bee on hamelia patensBob Montanaro took this marvelous macro photograph of a green orchid bee (Euglossa dilemma) at the (Pelican Island) Audubon House on firebush (Hammelia patens). Thank you to Carol Thomas, especially Dr. Eric Blosser, and Dr. Roxanne Rutledge, all from the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, for identification help.

This bee with its stunning, iridescent metallic sheen is thought to be a recent accidental introduction from Mexico or central American, where it and about 200 other species of orchid bees are important pollinators of orchids. Fast and agile flyers, these long-tongued bees are quite conspicuous.

Female orchid bees collect nectar, pollen and plant resins (propolis). Solitary and unlikely to sting, female orchid bees provision their eggs with nectar & pollen; Plant resins are used to construct nest cells (up to 20 at a time) in enclosed cavities. Like female honeybees, female orchid bees collect pollen, mixed with nectar, on their back legs in specialized pollen baskets (corbiculae).
bee on hamelia patens
Male bees collect “perfumes”, scents from flowers, seeds, decomposing vegetation, rotting wood, and feces, coating them in a fatty substance produced by specialized glands in their body. Mop-like structures on their front tarsi (legs) are used to gather these scents. The entrapped scents are then transferred to the outside of their bottom legs and “stashed” in a “secret compartment”, a chamber on their extra large black tibiae (“shins”), known as the Hind Tibial Organ (HTO).

Males are thought to fan their wings while releasing their collected “perfumes” to woo mates in act called “spray ventilating”.

Click here to learn more about these pretty perfume-collecting bees.

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