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Spring Beauty Pollen-Specialists

We hear a lot about honey bees and other species of social bees (that live in colonies) pollinating crops and other flowering plants, but there is another, larger,  group of bees, called solitary (nesting) bees, which plays a significant role in pollinating plants.  These bees live alone, forage for pollen for their larvae and in the process pollinate vast numbers of flowers.

Mining bees make up one group of solitary bees.  They are small and nest individually in the ground.  One species of mining bee you often see on Spring Beauty is Andrena erigeniae.  Females are hairy and often loaded with Spring Beauty’s pink pollen.  Males are smaller, slimmer and less hairy. The thing that sets this species of mining bee apart is the fact that it is a “pollen-specialist” —  it collects pollen from only two plant species, Virginia (or Narrow-leaved) Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) and Carolina Spring Beauty (C. caroliniana).

Pollen from these blossoms is formed into balls and placed into underground brood chambers the female bee has dug with her jaws and legs. She deposits a single egg on each ball of pollen for the larva to eat when the egg hatches.  During the summer the larva pupates and by late autumn development of the adult is complete. Winter is spent in the adult stage within the brood chamber and the bee emerges in the spring just as Spring Beauty flowers.  Male and female bees emerge at roughly the same time and their mating, as well as their food collection, is said to take place on the flowers of Spring Beauty. (Photo:  male Andrena erigeniae on Carolina Spring Beauty)

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15 responses

  1. Deborah Monnat-White

    I think this is the flower that Bev brought you? Spring Beauty.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    May 15, 2020 at 8:06 am

  2. Alice

    Lovely iridescent wings. The males really ‘work’ in this species, with Honey Bees, the Drones are just there to mate & don’t collect pollen. I’ve been seeing a great deal of Bumble Bees on the Weeping Crab, Cherry & Pansies & Andromeda, etc.

    May 15, 2020 at 8:29 am

  3. Thanks for adding the beautiful mystery of Spring!

    May 15, 2020 at 8:43 am

  4. Bunny Goodwin

    How many pollen grains in a ball?

    May 15, 2020 at 8:48 am

    • I’m afraid I couldn’t begin to tell you, Bunny!

      May 15, 2020 at 9:46 am

  5. Pat Thomas

    wow- so beautiful. thank you for sharing

    May 15, 2020 at 9:29 am

  6. sylviedesautels

    More earthly magic

    On Fri, May 15, 2020 at 7:49 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “We hear a lot about honey bees and other species of > social bees (that live in colonies) pollinating crops and other flowering > plants, but there is another, larger, group of bees, called solitary > (nesting) bees, which plays a significant role in pollinati” >

    May 15, 2020 at 9:34 am

  7. Oh my goodness! What a wonderful photo, accompanied by such an interesting story! Thank you (again and again) for sharing your knowledge and your eye for beauty with us!

    May 15, 2020 at 9:36 am

  8. Rachael Cohen

    Mary, do you know whether Spring Beauty is also (largely) dependent on Andrena erigeniae? That is, is this an example of “obligate pollination mutualism”?

    Thanks, as always, for your blog.

    Rachael

    May 15, 2020 at 10:56 am

    • Hi Rachael,
      I don’t believe so. I’ve observed many different Hymenoptera on it, as well as a variety of flies…just found this info from Illinoiswildflowers.info

      “Faunal Association: Aside from insect pollination, little is known about floral-faunal relationships. Various kinds of bees visit the flowers, include honey bees, bumblebees, little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), mason bees (Osmia spp.), cuckoo bees (Nomada spp.), Halictid bees (Agapostemon spp., Augochlorella spp., Halictus spp., Lasioglossum spp.), and Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.). An Andrenid bee, Andrena erigeniae, is a specialist pollinator of Spring Beauty. Many flies also visit the flowers, including Syrphid flies, the Giant Bee fly (Bombylius major), flesh flies (Sarcophagidae), and Calliphorid flies. Less often, various butterflies and skippers visit the flowers. These insects usually seek nectar, although some of the bees also collect pollen. The corms of Spring Beauty are dug up and eaten by some small rodents, including the White-Footed Mouse and Eastern Chipmunk (Martin et al., 1951/1961; Wrazen & Svendsen, 1978). The foliage is browsed sparingly by White-Tailed Deer (Augustine, 1997). While the corms of Spring Beauty can be eaten by humans as well, their small size makes this rather impractical.”

      May 15, 2020 at 11:18 am

  9. wooooowwww!!!!

    On Fri, May 15, 2020, 7:48 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland Mary Holland posted: “We hear a lot about honey bees and other species of > social bees (that live in colonies) pollinating crops and other flowering > plants, but there is another, larger, group of bees, called solitary > (nesting) bees, which plays a significant role in pollinati” >

    May 15, 2020 at 11:31 am

  10. Rachael Cohen

    Thanks, Mary, that’s helpful. I’m looking for an obligate pollination mutualism combo native (or at least prevalent) to Vermont for a piece of writing I’m working on. Even better would be one where the bloom-time is daylight triggered and the pollinator’s hatching or appearance is temperature triggered (or vice versa). Can you think of any or send me to a useful resource?

    May 15, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    • I wish I could be helpful to you. My only thought is the New England Wildflower Society. Good luck!

      May 15, 2020 at 5:23 pm

  11. Mary, I have only recently discovered your blog and I LOVE IT!!! (I am especially pleased that you provide previous blog posts for those of us that have to catch up.) I am a retired Wildlife Biologist, most of career in Alaska with USFWS, and I now live in the mountains of NC. The Carolina Spring Beauty is a flower that I look for in late winter every year because it is the first wildflower I see every year. I love the progression of spring here so much, and when I see these little flowers, I know it has begun. Learning about this bee has been a joy, and I will be looking for them next spring!

    I just ordered 2 copies of your book “Animal Legs” for my grand children in AK (ages 5 and 2) and Virginia (3 months old). I know that only the 5 year old is old enough for these books, but the other 2 will grow into them.

    I learn something new from you with every post! I greatly admire your knowledge and curiosity about Nature! Thank you for what you do!!

    May 20, 2020 at 9:34 am

    • Hi Russ,
      Thank you so much for your very kind words. I am very flattered to have them come from a Wildlife Biologist! I hope your grandchildren enjoy my books!

      May 20, 2020 at 1:06 pm

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