The Nomad Bee

Gooden's Nomad Bee - Nomada goodeniana could easily be mistaken for a wasp.Gooden's Nomad Bee - Nomada goodeniana could easily be mistaken for a wasp.

Nomad bees (Nomada sp.) can easily be mistaken for small wasps.  Most feature yellow and black waspish markings, or have brick-red/brown-red and black bodies and heads.  They are a 'cleptoparasite' (cuckoo) species.  

Cleptoparasites are organisms that take over the nest or nest cell of the target host species. In doing so, the cleptoparasite's offspring feed off the food supplies intended for that of the host.  

Nomada lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, especially Andrena species.  Some species have very specific hosts, whilst others have several target host species.

I know from experience that some readers may take an instant and understandable dislike to this species, it being a cleptoparasite, but at the very least I am cheered to think that its very existence depends upon a healthy population of the host species.  

Panzer's NomadBee - Nomada panzerei female in flight.Panzer's NomadBee - Nomada panzerei female in flight.

They have a slow, almost gliding flight, with legs splayed outward to the sides.

They are quite easy to spot, lurking around the nests of host species, which will often be a dry mud, sandy or grassy bank, or around crevices in logs, tree stumps, walls and rocks - i.e. the locations of solitary bee nests.  They might also be found foraging on patches of flowers nearby.

Flavous Nomad Bee - Nomada flava - female, lurks outside the nest of a potential target host.Flavous Nomad Bee - Nomada flava - female, lurks outside the nest of a potential target host.

Upon identifying a target host nest, the females nomad bee lands and waits, typically facing the entrance of a potential host.

Gooden's nomad bee just leaving the host nest.Gooden's nomad bee just leaving the host nest.

After a while, she enters the host nest where she lays an egg in a cell wall, then leaves. 

The host bee will continue to provision the nest cell with food and then seal up the cell.

The larvae that hatch from the egg of Nomada have large mandibles (jaws), which they use to destroy the grub of the host bee, and eat the food supplied by its parent.

Nomada worldwide

The Nomada, genus is one of the largest in the entire Apidae bee family, and the largest genus of cleptoparasitic "cuckoo bees."

Some authors assert the number of species is more than 700 species worldwide (Wilson & Messinger Carril), whilst others state that there area about 850 described species (Falk).  From them we can glean that:

  • Nearly 300 can be found in the US, fewer than 40 in Canada  (Wilson & Messinger Carril)
  • There are 34 known Nomada species in the British Isles (Falk).

Read more about nomad bees and their hosts:

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