NEW YORK – In the backyard there is a tree, an ornamental crab apple. It’s only purpose has been getting in the way while mowing the lawn and aggravating allergies in the spring. I want to cut it down.
But the other day, while working in the backyard, we found this tree awash in bees. A whole swirling, buzzing cloud of them. How had we never noticed this before? And looking closer, we saw that there were at least four different types of bees going about their daily business among the white flowers.
Identifying bees by sight – without catching them and closely examining their physical features – will only get you so far. But for the casual observer, this is often enough to appreciate the diversity that exists.
The were bumble bees (Bombus spp), bright yellow and black, and fuzzy. They lumbered through the air with their deep rumble. They crashed into their target flowers, grabbing hold and gathering sustenance with their long tongues.
There were honey bees (Apis mellifera), with their bellies stripped russet and black. Their whining buzz unmistakable. They hovered thoughtfully in front of flowers, with hind legs dangling and saddlebags packed with bright yellow pollen, before grabbing hold to gather more.
And then there were two different kinds of sweat bees (Lasioglossum spp). Both were shiny, black and slender, with relatively few hairs on their bodies. One was similar in size to a honey bee, while the other was so small it could perch atop a flower’s stamen to gather pollen. Both types were in perpetual motion, rarely landing. Very challenging to observe.
Clearly, I was wrong about this tree and its purpose in the world. My apologies.