European Wool Carder Bee

by Carl Strang

Sunday was the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Pollination Day event. Planned and assembled by Nikki Dahlin, the event drew a good crowd, families enjoying games, activities and group and individual learning opportunities that exposed them to the world of pollination. I helped set it up, and led walks to seek insect pollinators in action. It was a windy day, and most of that action was taking place in the gardens surrounding Mayslake Hall. One insect species in particular caught our attention.

The kids immediately concluded that these were bees. I wasn’t so sure.

The kids immediately concluded that these were bees. I wasn’t so sure.

They were hovering, zipping around, acting for all the world like flower flies, family Syrphidae. They even appeared to have just two wings when they landed. Eventually, though, one of them fanned his wings and showed that there were four. Bees, indeed!

They proved to belong to the species Anthidium manicatum, the European wool carder bee. The females are leaf cutters, but also gather plant leaf hairs to use as nest liners. The males are considerably larger than females, and aggressively defend territories around clusters of flowers from other species as well as their own. A European species first noted in North America in 1963, they now occur across the continent. They visit mainly gardens with Old World flowers, consuming pollen and incidentally pollinating flowers.

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