Wednesday 6 January 2016

Townsendiella ensifera: A new species of Cuckoo Bee from the Pinnacles National Park in California.

Cuckoo Bees, Nomadinae, are cleptoparasitic Bees which resemble Wasps in appearance, and to some extent behavior. The group get their name from their habit of laying their eggs inside the nests of other Bees, the larvae emerging withing the sealed cells of the host species, killing the host's larvae with specialized elongate mandibles, then proceeding to eat both the host larvae and the food provided for it by its mother (cleptoparasitism).

In a paper published in the journal ZooTaxa on 16 December 2015, Michael Orr of the Biology Department at Utah State University and Terry Griswold of the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Institute's Pollinating Insects Research Unit describe a new species of Cuckoo Bee from the Pinnacles National Park in San Benito County, California.

The new species if placed in the genus Townsendiella, which is indigenous to the southwest United States and northwest of Mexico, and is given the specific name ensifera, meaning 'sword-bearer', in reference to the shape of the mouthparts and cleptoparasitic lifestyle. These are black Bees with a covering of largely white fur, though this is brownish or even reddish in places. The fur of the males is whiter than that of the females.

Townsendiella ensifera, female specimen in lateral view. Scale bar is 0.25 mm. Orr & Griswold (2015).

The Bees were active from early May to late August on the flowers of California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, and Greasewood, Adenostoma fasciculatum. The host Bee for this species is unknown, though Orr and Greenwold note that Townsendiella ensifera is closely related to Townsendiella pulchra, which parasitzes Bees of the genus Hesperapis. Two species of Hesperapis are known to be present in the Pinnacles National Park, Hesperapis regularis, which is considerably larger than Townsendiella ensifera, and Hesperapis ilicifoliae which is approximately the same size, leading to the suggesting that this may be the host species for Townsendiella ensifera.

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