This highly entertaining and fiercely territorial bee emerges in May and may fly into late summer.
This bee is a relative of the leafcutter bees in the Megachile family and like its leafcutter relatives, it collects plant materials to line its nest in hollow plant stems, old wood beetle holes in standing timbers or the tubes used in solitary bee houses which it will readily use. It’s one of the easiest bees to attract into any garden as both its nesting habitat and food plants can easily be accommodated in any garden.
The females of the species collect the soft downy hairs from a plant called Lambs Lugs or Stachys bizantina to carder their nests. They also feed on the flowers of this plant but will feed on any type of Stachys flower including hedge woundwort, Betony and other garden variety Stachys. They also like Teucrium and catmint flowers.
Female Wool Carder Bee collecting nest material
The male bees patrol patches of Stachys and aggressively chase away any competing males from their patch of flowers. The best patches of flowers will attract the most females which they can mate with. Mating in Wool Carder Bees lacks romance as the male bees typically pounce on an unsuspecting female whilst she is preoccupied with her head buried in a flower! The male will pounce on her, rapidly vibrate his body and then fly off in a matter of seconds. The bewildered female then emerges from the flower and carries on about her business.
The male's aerial combat as they chase off other bees can be very entertaining to watch. The ensuing dog fights can be really impressive. I’ve seen male Wool Carder Bee chase off bees much larger than themselves, even chasing away Bumblebees, Butterflies and on one occasion a Hawker type Dragonfly. They have impressive jaws used to chew the plant materials they build their nests from and whilst they won’t sting you, they can give a surprising nip with their jaws if handled.
Written by horticulturalist, beekeeper and friend of Bee Good, Mark Patterson from ApiCultural