Putting the Metal to the Petals

These gorgeous metallic sweat bees (tribe Augochlorini) were only two of dozens buzzing about a thick colony of smartweed (Persicaria pensylvanica) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on September 19.

Bees in this tribe are brilliantly colored, ranging from gold-flecked green to pure green to various shades of blue-green.  Some may be copper-colored, or even an unusual metallic-pink; all are easily noticed despite their small size.

Some sweat bees build nests in soil or, less commonly, in rotted wood.  Occasionally they act cooperatively, constructing nests that share a common entrance and that are protected by a guard bee.

The yearly life cycle of certain species is split into spring and summer phases.  In spring, they construct an underground nest and provision it for the new generation. After the young emerge, males leave the nest while the females remain, readying the nest for a second brood.

Given the number of bees swarming around the smartweed, I wondered if I might have been witnessing the emergence of a second, late summer brood. Whatever the reason for so many bees, an unexpected absence of mosquitoes allowed me to linger at the pond’s edge, appreciating these little jewels.


Comments always are welcome.

54 thoughts on “Putting the Metal to the Petals

  1. Sweat bees are incredibly beautiful little creatures, yet many are unfamiliar with them. Your photographs have captured them exquisitely.

    1. One of the pleasures of a macro lens is its ability to reveal details in tiny flowers or insects. The colors of these bees are eye-catching enough that they can be spotted at some distance, but there’s far more than color to enjoy. These didn’t linger long at any one flower, so I was glad to be able to capture some of their details.

    1. Metallic bees (and beetles) are among my favorite insects. The way their colors seem to shift in the light is remarkable, and sometimes hard to describe. Some fall easily into the category ‘blue,’ while others clearly are ‘green.’ This one does ‘blue-green’ proud.

    1. I was so focused on automotive idioms that metal sculptures never occurred to me. There certainly is a good bit of metal garden sculpture around — including metal flowers — but in this case it was word play rather than welding play that was my focus!

  2. Wow, Linda–incredible captures! I love it when I see a metallic bee, glinting in the sunshine, covered with pollen, it’s such a treat! I’ve never been able to get photos as clear and beautiful as these–well done!

    1. Thanks, Tina. I came across your post on blue orchard bees (Osmia lignaria) while I was searching for information about these little gems; they’re equally beautiful, and you did a fine job of capturing their activity. I think I might have seen one in the hill country, but I’m going to have to do some archive-diving to find the photo.

      1. Thank you, Linda. I’m not always 100% on identification, but i think I got that one right. I didn’t have too many of them this past spring, but they were probably frozen with the February storm. They typically emerge just a few weeks after that happened. The other bees that have had a decline in population are the Horsefly-like Carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis. I’ve seen only a handful this year and typically, they’re very common in my gardens. I saw one today working the blooms of the Texas craglily. I was very happy to see that bee.

  3. Fantastic photographs of these gorgeous creatures! One of the best parts of the post is “an absence of mosquitoes”. Sounds like a fantasy to me.

    (Please forgive me for the literary sin I am about to commit.)

    Bee all you can bee,
    Oh, say, can you see?
    That pretty blooming flower?
    Then use your amazing power,
    Put the pedal to the metal,
    So you may put the metal to the petal.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, the mosquitoes sent in reinforcements, and the battle has resumed. I won’t say they’re winning, but their attacks are becoming sneakier and more frequent.

      I love your verse! I enjoyed the Do-Bees and Don’t-Bees of Romper Room, but now I’d much rather watch actual bees romping around. I’ve never seen so many metallic bees at one time; it was quite the experience. Their numbers certainly increased the odds of some decent photos.

    1. Can you believe I had to look up ‘hexapedal’? Of course I knew bees have six legs, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word applied to them. Now, I know that there are a whole lot of hexapedal robots wandering around out there — and even attempts to build robotic bees. I wish the scientists luck, but for the time being I’ll keep enjoying nature’s version!

      1. If they had 5 it would be pentapedal (I guess?) which is kind of snappy. But then they’d limp, or maybe walk in circles. I’ve been hearing about robotic bugs, cool, but I’m with you, the real ones are better.

    1. You would have enjoyed seeing them, Susan. I’ve never seen so many at one time. It’s common enough to see honey bees or bumble bees in large groups, but this was special — and colorful!

    1. When I happen to spot one, it always seems like a special gift. I’ve never seen so many at one time, and I was glad to be able to sit down and watch the activity. Their color is obvious, but I’ve never noticed how much some of their segments resemble hammered metal.

  4. Such pretty creatures! I’ve never seen one here, though I suppose that shouldn’t “bee” surprising, since I’m not much for bugs in general, ha! Great photos, Linda.

    1. It doesn’t seem as though you have these vibrantly colored bees, although there are around 40 species of sweat bees in Britain. During a quick browse, I came across a fascinating tidbit about a species of Mason bee that builds its nests in snail shells — rather like a hermit crab, I suppose. There never will be an end to the odd things nature gets up to!

    1. One of my favorite articles about bee-keeping involved the stories of people who have begun the practice on the rooftops of Paris. It’s not necessary to be in the heart of the country to appreciate and nurture the bees that are so important for our food crops and gardens.

  5. Bob beat me to it but I liked the title right off and was pleasantly surprised by the subject that inspired it. Great shot of this sweat bee. I photographed my first this year and look forward to more. Yours would be hard to beat…not that we are competing.
    As we are now experiencing a cooling down mosquitoes are fewer just like your experience photographing these. Happy Days.

    1. Your comment brought to mind one of my favorite passages from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. As so often happens, he references writing, but the insights are more broadly applicable, and always a pleasure to recall:

      “…each venture
      Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
      With shabby equipment always deteriorating
      In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
      Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
      By strength and submission, has already been discovered
      Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
      To emulate—but there is no competition—
      There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
      And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
      That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
      For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. “

    1. They’re beautiful creatures. You surely have some around your garden, too. They aren’t large, but with colors like these, they don’t have to be. I’m glad you liked the photos. I do, too — every now and then I get some images I enjoy looking at multiple times, and these qualify.

    1. Just today a tiny one — truly tiny, only a quarter the size of this one — landed on my leg at work. It was the cutest darned thing, wandering around and enjoying the sweat. Even without my macro lens I could see that teeny-tiny tongue at work — so cool!

          1. I admire your bravery, Linda. I’ve read they don’t have much of a sting. Still… BTW, I am going to include a photo of the African Quilt on Monday’s ‘This and That’ post. –Curt

  6. Lovely light, color, and detail in the first image. I know these beautiful bees as halictid bees, I haven’t learned to distinguish the species. Odd they are called sweat bees, I only see them on flowers, not on my sweaty arm!

    1. From what I read, some will seek out sweat, while others don’t. As for distinguishing the species, after a few hours with difficult to pronounce names and references to genetic and microscopic analysis, I decided to stick with the tribe. I was certain of that, but my level of confidence declined rapidly even with the genera. I did find multiple references to them as “Halictid or sweat bees” and decided to go with the more familiar name.

      That first image is a favorite. It was fun watching the sun play over the surface of their bodies, and seeing the colors shift from blue to green and back again.

    1. Don’t you think the abdomen segments look ‘hammered,’ like some old copper pieces? The colors always catch my eye — the fact that so many of these were busy on the flowers made it easier to catch photos of a few. There’s certainly nothing heavy about this metal!

    1. I’d happily wear a little pin or brooch that looked like one of these. You can’t believe how striking they are, despite their small size. Especially on a sunny day, they can sparkle; I’ve noticed them even from the car a time or two, getting their sip of nectar from a roadside flower.

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