A new hope: One of North America's rarest bees has its known range greatly expanded

April 16, 2018, Pensoft Publishers
The specimen of Epeoloides pilosulus from Alberta, Canada. Credit: Ryan Oram, Royal Saskatchewan Museum

The Macropis Cuckoo Bee is one of the rarest bees in North America, partly because of its specialized ecological associations. It is a nest parasite of oil-collecting bees of the genus Macropis which, in turn, are dependent on oil-producing flowers of the genus Lysimachia.

In fact, the - which much like its feather-bearing counterpart does not build a of its own, but lays its eggs in those of other species instead - is so rare that it was thought to have gone extinct until it was collected in Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 2000s. As a result, the Macropis Cuckoo Bee was brought to the attention of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Recently, an individual reported from Alberta, Canada, brought new hope for the survival of the species. In addition to previously collected specimens from Ontario, this record greatly expands the known range of the .

Scientists Dr Cory S Sheffield, Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Canada, who was the one to rediscover the "extinct" species in Nova Scotia, and Jennifer Heron, British Columbia Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, present their new data, and discuss the conservation status of this species in their paper, published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

One of the host bee species, Macropis nuda, collecting oil from a Lysimachia terrestris flower. Credit: Dr. Cory S. Sheffield
"This species has a very interesting biology," they say, "being a nest parasite - or cuckoo - of another group of bees that in turn have very specialized dietary needs."

The hosts, bees of the genus Macropis (which themselves are quite rare) are entirely dependent on plants of the primrose genus Lysimachia. Moreover, they only go after those Lysimachia species whose flowers produce oil droplets, which the insects collect and feed to their larvae. Thus, Macropis bees require these oil-producing flowers to exist just like Macropis Cuckoo Bees need their hosts and their nests. Curiously, this reliance, as suggested by previous studies on related European species, has made the female cuckoos develop the ability to find their host's nests by the smell of the floral oils.

"This level of co-dependence between flower, bee, and cuckoo bee, makes for a very tenuous existence, especially for the cuckoo," the authors comment. "The recent specimen from Alberta lets us know that the species is still out there, and is more widespread than we thought."

In conclusion, the authors suggest that continuing to monitor for populations of rare bees, and documenting historic records, are crucial for conservation status assessments of at-risk species.

"Biodiversity Data Journal provides a great venue to share this type of information with our colleagues for regional, national, and international efforts for conservation," they note.

Explore further: Bees that go 'Cuckoo' in others' nests

More information: Cory Sheffield et al, A new western Canadian record of Epeoloides pilosulus (Cresson), with discussion of ecological associations, distribution and conservation status in Canada, Biodiversity Data Journal (2018). DOI: 10.3897/BDJ.6.e22837

Related Stories

Bees that go 'Cuckoo' in others' nests

August 30, 2012

The biota of island archipelagos is of considerable interest to biologists. These isolated areas often act as 'evolutionary laboratories', spawning biological diversity rapidly and permitting many mechanisms to be observed ...

Egg colours make cuckoos masters of disguise

November 19, 2014

Cuckoos are notorious cheats. Instead of building a nest, incubating their eggs and raising their chicks, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and leave the task of raising their offspring to the unsuspecting host.

Newly identified bacteria may help bees nourish their young

April 13, 2018

A team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside have isolated three previously unknown bacterial species from wild bees and flowers. The bacteria, which belong to the genus Lactobacillus, may play a role ...

Droughts mean fewer flowers for bees

April 11, 2018

Bees could be at risk from climate change because more frequent droughts could cause plants to produce fewer flowers, new research shows.

Researcher finds new bee in downtown Toronto

August 31, 2010

A York University doctoral student who discovered a new species of bee on his way to the lab one morning has completed a study that examines 84 species of sweat bees in Canada. Nineteen of these species - including the one ...

Recommended for you

Study shows city rats eat better than country rats

October 17, 2018

A pair of researchers, one with Trent University in Canada, the other the University of Manchester in the U.K. has found evidence that rats living in cities have a much richer diet than rats living in the country. In their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.