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September 2018 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Oct 10, 2018, 11:10 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Oct 10, 2018, 11:11 AM ]
We really do have an amazing group of naturalists connected with the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project. Insects can be very difficult to identify, but many of you rose to the challenge. Everyone who wrote in correctly placed this local pollinator in the order Hymenoptera. Congratulations to Kirsten Welge, who correctly identified the genus, and to Dave J Crawford who both identified the species and shared some key characteristics to distinguish it from similar looking insects, including flower flies.

Kirsten's identification is all the more impressive as she started with little background in insects, describing her process as “a wander through online guidebooks.” Fortunately the “furry” body and black and yellow stripes drew her intuition and she focused her search on bees. From there, she began searching Wikipedia, then the Minnesota Bee Atlas, and iNaturlaist. As she explains:

"On the Wikipedia page for Anthopila, I found a picture of a solitary bee (Anthidium florentinum) that looked very similar to the mystery bee. Anthidium florentinum showed additional v-shaped yellow markings on the abdomen above the wings, but the similarities pointed me towards solitary bees (Megachilidae), where I found this picture, which looks like a match. I tried hunting for range maps for MN and found a brief pdf about native bees. And I finally turned to iNaturalist. It does look like Anthidium manicatum has been reported in the Midwest. I checked a few pictures there to see other angles, and it seems a strong match."

I'm inspired by Kirsten's process. Her combination of research and intuition correctly identified the genus of this animal (from about 4,000 genera of bees world wide). This is indeed an Anthidium sp., also known as a Woolcarder bee. I'll let Dave Crawford pick it up from here:

"We can tell this is a bee rather than flower fly because of the eye size and long antennae. This is a female, showing the pollen-collecting hairs on the underside of the abdomen, leaving no doubt that this bee is in Family Megachilidae. It is a member of the Anthidium genus because of the yellow abdominal stripes which don't meet in the middle. Forward stripes being shorter than rear stripes narrows it to two species: Oblong Woolcarder, Anthidium oblongatum, and European Woolcarder, Anthidium manicatum. The orange tegula (the root of the wing) distinguishes this as an Anthidium oblongatum. Resources used for ID: Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm, and BugGuide."

Thanks so much, Dave! And thanks for the list of resources. Heather Holm's books look excellent and I'll probably be adding one to my own reference library soon.