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Sunday 9 August 2009

When is a Blue bee not a Blue bee? When it’s a Cuckoo Wasp.

Many thanks to Anna at Anna’s Bee World I found her great blog about her bee research after I had posted the drawing. She identified it immediately. If only I had googled “blue metallic “Wasp”” instead of “Bee”.

wonderful photo by D & K Kucharscy from

Family Hymenoptera: Chrysididae
Scientific name is from Greek, chryso, meaning "gold", referring to the metallic golden coloration of some species'.
from the excellent site “What’s That Bug”

I always assumed wasps are slim waisted and more slender in general than this rather chunky one. But there is no doubt about it. The pitted surface of the body and its habit of curling itself into a ball, confirm its identity. It has fewer body segments and a concave abdomen which allows it to roll itself up as protection against understandably irate hosts. They are parasitic…on bees. Hmmm..would you rather not have known that? But we all have to live. They are also called jewel wasps and come in many wonderful dazzling colours.

Thanks Anna.

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Saturday 8 August 2009

Blue wasp.. Title change!

** I have just changed the title of this post due to people not reading through to the end and telling me I am wrong!

I had thought this was an orchid bee, a little Euglossa, but after some confusing internet research (I found many varieties of green metallic bees but not many blue metallic bees), I think it may be a solitary mason bee, an Osmia. Or it could be a Sweat Bee, so called because they just love sweaty people. Florida must be sweat bee heaven especially in August. I think the Euglossa bees have much more robust legs than this little metallic bee. It is tiny and almost curled around in a complete circle. Straightened out it can’t be much more than half an inch.

tiny bee

I did not, of course, attempt to draw it so small but a nice big 3 inches so that I had a fighting chance of some detail. The glittering iridescent armour plating is pitted, with, I presume, hair follicles. It shimmers like petrol, purple through blue to green. But the middle section is definitely more green than the tail. The wings are a dark browny colour.

Here is the study with the tiny bee top right.

bee and model

If my drawing is good enough for a positive ID on this bee, I would be interested to know what it really is.

Here is the study .. it's not quite finished but I have run out of time. I don’t think I have tried to paint iridescence before, but surely must have tried a peacock’s feather at some point in my life. Anyway I feel that a better medium would be oils for this. The watercolours are a bit dull.. but then nothing can really match the brilliance of nature’s colours. These are stunningly beautiful little creatures.

There is an interesting article here about these Osmia bees. The description, especially the lack of conspicuous bands of hair, seems to be right.

**** update, I emailed Anna at Anna's Bee World who put me right.. this is a blue Chrysididae wasp see next post ...

sweat bee

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Thursday 6 August 2009

Number 2 Bee

After some more research and finding both helpful, unhelpful and plainly inaccurate diagrams of bees and their anatomy, I put together my own rough sketch. Drawing definitely helps me to remember things. With a little more understanding I was able to make more sense of the tangle of legs and the curled bodies, which are difficult to analyze without a microscope. I have learnt some curious things too. Bees have 5 eyes... lucky things, 2 compound eyes and 3 extra small ones on top of their head called ocelli. They also have hairy tongues, in fact their mouths are incredibly complicated and multifunctional. As I am drinking my tea I am trying to make some comparisons. I think we humans have been sold short.

bee sketch anatomy

So I have painted another of Joe’s bees, this one much darker than the one I drew in pencil. I am amazed at the variety of colours and furriness.

I have tried not to get involved with my models, after all, these are dead bees, but having to look so closely, trying to understand how they are put together, I have inevitably become fond of them. To see them so small and helpless, some with their little tongues out, to hold their weightless tiny papery bodies while trying to unravel some of their mysteries, is to get involved. I was OK until I drew the eye.. but as soon as you draw an eye on something it has a personality. I am trying not to give this one a name. How very beautiful and delicate it is… I do have 9 more and tomorrow I might try the euglossa bee... but there again I might not… it looks difficult.


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Tuesday 4 August 2009

Joe’s Bees

Yesterday we had the pleasure of a brief visit with Joe who is a local beekeeper and who runs Dansk Farms here in Orlando. For the last few weeks I have been doing some background research into honey bees and wanted a bee to draw. I returned with 9 honey bees and one beautiful irridescent orchid bee which Joe had found for me, all carefully packed for the short trip in their own neat little crate. It’s actually a queen bee transporter, roomy enough for a diminutive royal and normally well equipped with candy. My little bees were not, I hasten to add, alive.


I had met Joe a couple of weeks ago at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market, where he sells not only the 100% pure honey, but bees wax, and lovely honey based bath and body products.
It was completely fascinating to see the workings of one of the hives which at 9.00 am was busy. Joe’s particular bees are gentle and goodnatured, a cross between Buckfasts and Carniolans and so a mixture of dark and lighter coloured bees. Their joint characteristics make them good all round bees, docile, disease resistant, good producers and good housekeepers. (The story of Brother Adam and the Buckfast bee needs another dedicated post). There is so much to know and admire about bees and I am just at the beginning.

joes hives

frame 1

I had not realised that the honey bee was not a native species in the USA. The bees that Joe keeps, as with most of honey bees in the USA, are descended from the European Honey bee, Apis Mellifera. Bees were probably introduced into Florida by the Spanish but the first documented arrival of bees from Europe is from a letter dated December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia. It was a motley cargo.

Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532). The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622.

from “Honey Bees Across America” By Brenda Kellar

And the name ..

The genus Apis is Latin for "bee", and mellifera comes from Latin melli- "honey" and ferre "to bear" — hence the scientific name means "honey-bearing bee". The name was coined in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus who, realizing that the bees do not bear honey, but nectar, tried later to correct it to Apis mellifica ("honey-making bee") in a subsequent publication. However, according to the rules of synonymy in zoological nomenclature, the older name has precedence. Wikipedia

I have never looked in such detail at a honey bee before. These little bees are a variety of colours and delightfully hairy, even the eyes are hairy. I am sad they are dead but the practicalities of trying to draw live bees in such detail would try the patience of even Joe’s docile bees. I am hoping to make a good detailed painting but before I do I need to understand a bit more about their anatomy. For now, some studies.

My models and sketchpad.

bee sketchessms

sketch blog


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