Species of Invasive Bee Leaves Carnage in its Wake

Photo: Ersin Uyanik

When Terry Allen planted a flowerbed outside his home 20 years ago, he could never have imagined it would become the sight of a blood-soaked bee battleground. Terry, an entomologist from Sacramento, discovered some European wool carder bees had taken up residence in his front yard, the first time the species had been spotted in California -- ravaging native honeybees. The large invasive insect "cuts off their wings, cuts off their antenna, cuts off their heads, cuts off their torsi, and stabs them to death," he says. European Wool Carder bees were originally shipped in from Europe to the United States because of their great pollinating ability, but it didn't take long before they went rogue. As an invasive species, the bees spread throughout the continent, but Terry's discovery is the first evidence that they've found their way to California.

To make matters worse, the bees are known to be quite aggressive, territorially killing other insects with the help its five deadly stingers. Unfortunately, much smaller, native honeybees hardly stand a chance against such a threat -- and that has folks like Terry worried. He was tipped to the wool carders' presence by the dozens of mutilated honeybee corpses they left in their wake.

He thinks that he may have stumbled upon one of the reasons honeybee populations have been in dramatic decline across the country, and he worries that without further study, the loss of this cornerstone of the agricultural process may have disastrous consequences on the preservation of society.

Terry plans to continue his flowerbed observations, but he's met with some unexpected resistance.

Honeybees, evidently, aren't the only ones bothered by the bullying invasive counterparts. Terry recently received a letter from the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) telling him he must dig up his flowerbed, citing its 'illegal' proximity to an electricity box in front of his house -- only they didn't mention the bees Terry has been studying there.

Interestingly, no one else in the neighborhood received the notice, despite the fact that their landscaping is similar. All the more curious, Terry says he even consulted SMUD two decades earlier and was told it would be okay to plant in that spot.

But just as it was starting to seem as though SMUD and the invasive carder bees were in cahoots, when pressed by the local CBS news station, the utilities district retracted their demand, allowing Terry to keep his bee-infested garden. He says he had no intention of moving it, anyways.

The entomologist, on the case of the mutilated honeybees, says that he's got 20 years of study left before he's through. Until that time, though, Terry plans to carry on in the type of important work few people will get the chance to partake in -- helping to save the world without every having to leave the front yard.

Invasive European wool carder bees and public utility departments, apparently, are no match for an entomologist and his flower garden.

Thanks to Donna for the tip.
More on Invasive Insects
Invasive Species: When Small Creatures Do Big Damage
Fungus in Invasive Insect's Gut Could Lead to Better Biofuel
Tiny Wasps Could Be Natural Alternative to Pesticides

Tags: Bees | Biology | California | Insects

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