For my upcoming show, I've been spending a lot of time in two places - in the garden photographing bees (spring!) and at my desk, painting … yes, bees.
Today I was exceedingly puzzled.
There are honey bees on the lemon flowers and the gone-to-flower chinese cabbage.
There are honey bees and bumblebees on the crabapple flowers.
And there are bumblebees on the foxgloves and the lavender.
But there are two very odd bees on the purple toadflax.
They hovered, instead of flying in that swinging, focused way that honey bees and bumbles do. They were visiting flowers, but also sat in the sun on leaves, which only sick honey bees do.
And they also made a different noise.
They looked like wasps in patterning, but just like a bee in shape and fuzziness. Unlike honey bees they had lots of cream fur on their legs.
I looked 'em up. They are the wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum. A newish species to invade New Zealand. They collect fluff off plants like lamb's ear and use it to make a nest to lay and egg or two in. Aparently some people in North America grow plants in order to encourage them, much as we grow swan plant for Monarch butterflies.
Should we be concerned about them in New Zealand? I'm not sure. They are solitary, but in other countries where they are found, the males are very aggressive and will patrol bushes where the females are foraging, and chase off other bees. Jo-Anne Soper is studying their spread here. She seems to think they may be a threat to our solitary native bees, which have actually been thriving well up until now, as they like to make their burrows in open clay, like the sides of roads and farm tracks. They seem to co-exist well with honey bees in Europe.
I am fascinated by the complexity of interactions between environments and species on this Earth. Tip it one way, even extremely slightly, and the whole boat sometimes rocks. Or, sometimes, doesn't.