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I checked out the blooming Prickly Pear Cactus in our backyard the other afternoon. As I gazed at the flowers I noticed that the center of one of them appeared to have an object in it. Looking more closely, I realized that the object was a smallish bee, seemingly inert. I didn’t have my camera with me at that moment, so I went back to the house, pulled out my camera, and brought it to the cactus. That took a couple of minutes and I didn’t expect the bee to remain where I’d left her. However, there she was, not having moved a bit since I first saw her. I made a couple of images. My camera’s flash evidently startled her because, after I made the second image, she moved about a bit, then flew off.
The bee is a member of the genus Melissodes. She is slightly smaller than a honeybee and bears only a superficial resemblance to a honeybee. One feature that makes it easy to distinguish this bee from a honeybee is her eye color. This bee has jade-green eyes. Honeybees’ eyes are extremely dark. Other Melissodes bees have blue eyes.
Melissodes bees are solitary. They don’t live in hives although they may build their nests in close proximity to other bees of their species. Typically, one of these bees digs a tunnel in the ground in which she lays her eggs. Male Melissodes bees sometimes are called “Longhorn Bees” because they have extremely long antennae. Females, like this individual, have relatively short antennae. Antennae are insects’ primary sensory organs. It’s likely that the males’ extra-long antennae contain receptors that enable the males to locate females of their species.
My image may appear to be a bit surreal to you. Interiors of flowers often look kind of weird, especially in that most of us don’t examine flowers all that closely. Those long yellow strands are the flower’s stamen. The stamen are pollen producing organs. The tiny yellow dots that you see everywhere in the image are individual pollen grains, which are plants’ versions of animals’ sperm cells. The circular green object in the center of the flower is its pistel. That is the flower’s female sex organ. It is the flower’s ovaries and it produces a germ cell that may be fertilized by pollen. By rummaging around inside the flower the bee pushes some of the stamen into contact with the pistel, thereby transferring pollen to the pistel and fertilizing the germ cell. Pollen from this flower adheres to the bee’s hairy body. She may transfer that pollen to a pistil in another cactus flower, thereby assuring genetic diversity in the Prickly Pears. These bees are thus beneficial insects in that they play an important role in plant reproduction.
It’s not unusual, by the way, to find bees napping in the hot part of the afternoon. I’ve seen this phenomenon on multiple occasions. I wonder: do sleeping bees dream and, if so, what do they dream about?
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens, illuminated by Canon Ringlite, stabilized by monopod, M setting, ISO 100, f18 @ 1/160.