The number of bees in the backyard has quadrupled (or more) since New England Asters and Yellow Oxeye Daisy have begun blooming. On warm days the bumblebees and honeybees swarm over the flowers, probing quickly and moving on.
But on closer inspection, I saw a number of smaller bees that were sharing the pollen and nectar resources as well.
The Common Eastern Bumblebee dwarfs the tiny metallic Green Sweat Bee, but there are so many flowers blooming now, there is little interference from competitors.
With the help of my trusty macro lens, I tried to zoom in on what these tiny bees were doing.
Miniscule Small Carpenter Bees were the perfect size to get their head and tongue into the tiny crevices in the disc flowers of Rudbeckia flowers.
Small Carpenter Bees, like their larger cousins, are good at chewing their way into plant stems, constructing nesting chambers in the central pith for their larvae.
A Dark Sweat Bee and an unidentified, slightly out of focus bee with very long antennae and a very fuzzy thorax shared one flower head.
Sweat Bees were supposedly named for their attraction to moist, salty sweat on exposed skin of humans. Species in this very large bee family are typically small, often less than an inch in length, may be eusocial (with a queen and worker castes), and are one of the most important pollinators of commercial crops, like squash, legumes, sunflowers, watermelons, apples, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers, as well as native flora appearing in all seasons in in woodlands and fields.
I followed one of the metallic Green Sweat Bees (an Agopostemon species) around the patch of New England Aster as it inserted its incredibly long tongue deep into the aster flowers. Males have a yellow and black striped abdomen (mimicking a wasp?), while the female is a glossy green all over.
They are a challenge to photograph because their head is usually buried in the flower, and they pause only very briefly on a flower, dipping deeply into it, before moving on.
It looks like this sweat bee has a leg coming out of its mouth, but that is its long, flexible tongue being pulled out of one floret. When it is not feeding, the tongue folds down on its ventral surface. Notice that this male’s body and legs are relatively pollen free, unlike the female in the next shots.
I don’t know if this female Green Sweat Bee is the same species as the male in the previous photo, but this shows how different the two sexes are in coloration. And unlike the case of sexual dimorphism in bird or mammal species, the female Green Sweat Bee is hardly drab or well camouflaged.
Her hind legs and head are covered with pollen, unlike the male in the photo above. She buried her head deeply into each flower as she foraged, transferring pollen as she went.
It’s possible someone that lives near me has some honeybee hives, because their numbers are way up this year. But there are still far fewer of them present on these early fall blooms than the Eastern Bumblebees and the small Sweat and Carpenter bees that swarm over these flowers.