A thoughtful lady commissioned this little blue bee painting for her bee enthusiast partner. We had discussed what might be most relevant for the area of the USA where she lives and I knew he was keen on mason bees so the beautiful little Osmia aglaia came to mind. It is the blue “Berry bee” and not only are they the most beautiful colour and very dainty, but I also have 4 little specimens here to help me. They had been sent to me last year by Dr Karen Strickler who is the Queen of “Bobs” (Blue Orchard Bees) in the USA. See more about her here at Pollinator Paradise.
Here I on my hand are three little female bees, shimmering blue/greens in the light and with the characteristic large heads. There is one smaller male on the left who is distinguished by size and his nice white moustache.
The Osmia aglaia is another member of the most charming Osmia family of bees, they are in turn members of the Megachile family of leafcutters.. Oh, and an interesting little fact is that “megachile” means “big jaws”, for cutting away at those leaves and carrying mud etc. I guess. I know it is bad science to attribute human traits to insects but when you watch megachiles for a while, they seem particularly pert, very business like… and very very charming!
Apart from being gorgeous, these little bees are extraordinarily useful to us because they pollinate many fruit crops amongst them the cane “berry” fruits particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. They may be metallic blue, green or rust/bronze in color and nest in tunnels in wood,about 3/8 - 1/4 inches in diameter. Sometimes these will be old holes left by beetles or woodpeckers (a bit dangerous I think as woodpeckers are rather partial to a bee grub or two ) or just hollow woody twigs You will see them out and about as adults in the late spring, when the Rubus is in bloom… but only in the USA. (We do have our own very beautiful Osmia bees here in the UK just not quite so colourful).
Image of osmia aglaia from USAD Raspberry Page. Photo Credit Steve Werblow, Homestead Magazine
Osmia aglaia are particularly partial to raspberries and are becoming more and more important to berry growers as the honey bee population is in decline. Jim Cane from the Bee Lab at USDA Agricultural Research in Utah and Karen have been seeing how useful they might be to local raspberry farmers in Oregon. Read more about the Oregon Berry Bee project, here.
Do your best to encourage these sparkling little bees into your garden. Plant some delicious soft fruit to give the bees some pollen and then enjoy the produce they help to create for you. Keep in mind that they seal their nest tunnels with mud, so a mud source nearby is handy. They will look for food close to their nesting sites so they need flower and water sources to be close to hand.. or rather wing! Foraging is a hard work and uses up lots of energy so they don’t tend to venture too far from home.
See a recent article about native bee pollinators in the USA here from Goodfruit.com.
Osmia aglaia. The Berry Bee, approaching Raspberry flower
Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP … 9x9
I had an anxious nail biting wait of two weeks for the parcel to arrive in the USA. It’s sometimes hard, when you have spent a long time on a painting, to entrust it to the vagaries of the British and US postal services. But eventually it arrived and I am so pleased that the little bee has found such a very appreciative home! I always tell my clients that if they are not happy they can return their bee to me!.. but they never do. Somehow bees just creep into your heart somewhere.. sounds a bit soppy but it’s true…. :)