Bees Cuckoo - UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab

The Cuckoo Bees by Jaime Pawelek and Rollin Coville

A female cuckoo bee, Melecta separata ​​p>


The habit of Cuckoo has evolved independently in many groups of bees and for entomologists is interesting from a phylogenetic and ecological aspect. Cuckoo bees are similar to Cuckoo birds that practice breeding parasitism, such as the brown-headed cowbird. Parasitism is one when a creature forms a relationship with another type of creature and benefits positively, while the other does not. For example, cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds (breeding parasitism) and when they leave the shell the other bird raises the cuckoo bird as if it were his own young man. The cowbird is usually larger than the parasitic bird and therefore can compete with other baby birds. With cuckoo bees, the cuckoo bee lays its eggs in the nest of another bee and its eggs break early, and the cuckoo larvae eat the other bee's supplies. The female cuckoo bee sometimes kills the other bee's egg or leaves it for its larvae to eat. Cuckoo bee larvae almost always have larger jaws that they use to chew and kill the other larvae.

Xeromelecta californica on Aster x frikartii.

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Epeolus minimus, a cuckoo bee.

Most cuckoo bees parasite the nests of a few species of bees (2-5), but some are very specific and only parasite the nests of a single species of bees. Most female bees spend the day visiting the flowers and collecting pollen and nectar to supply their nest with. A female cuckoo bee spends her day differently. She looks for nests so that she is flying low on the ground and only visits the flowers for the nectar in case she needs energy. The cuckoo bee will wait outside the nest and wait for the woman to leave. He then jumps at the opportunity to enter the empty nest and lay his own egg. Cuckoo bees actually represent a larger percentage of bees, possibly 15% of the world's bees.

A female cuckoo bee, Coelioxys rufitarsis.

In our garden in Berkeley, CA we have seen this parasitic relationship happen. We have cuckoo bees, Coelioxysrufitarsis, which parasitize the nests of a common leaf-cutting bee, Megachile perihirta. The Coelioxys rufitarsis women fly low over the ground in search of a Megachile perihirta's nest, and then wait outside for them to leave so they can enter and set their own egg inside. If you are an attentive observer you can even see this happening. Seeing this relationship in our garden is hopeful, because it means that a food web is developing and relationships between species are becoming increasingly complex.

  • Adam Floyd