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Category — Invertebrates

No Need To Fear The Carpenter Bees!

Spring has sprung at the Cincinnati Zoo, and so have the Carpenter Bees! However, the Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Winton Ray, has some comforting news for you. It’s time to stop fearing the bee. At least the Eastern Carpenter Bee!

The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylacopa viginica) is the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on Zoo grounds at this time of year. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate nest tunnels in wood. They only nest in the wood, they do not eat it. And while nesting bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage associated with them is sometimes caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

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Carpenter Bees are among the first insects observed in spring. The Carpenter Bees Zoo guests are generally encountering are males. Male Carpenter Bees can be easily distinguished from females by the white or gold patch between their eyes. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything will be investigated. It’s these investigative flights that bring them into close proximity with you, the innocent bystander zoo guests. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression even though they’re essentially harmless. Male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees or wasps cannot sting. Let me repeat that: they cannot sting! The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ). Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do. They spend most of their time visiting flowers or in their underground nest tunnels.

In a few weeks the Carpenter Bees we’re seeing will be gone but in the tunnels they’ve created their offspring will live on. In late summer young Carpenter Bees will emerge to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter hibernation. They’ll generally hibernate in the same tunnels their ancestors survived previous winters in. Carpenter Bees on Zoo grounds are going about their lives the way they have for countless millennia, they’re just doing it at the Zoo instead of in an Eastern forest.

So, good news for your next Zoo visit! Carpenter Bees pose essentially no danger to us. You’re actually more likely to be injured trying to swat or flee from Carpenter Bees than by the bees themselves. Next time you see a Carpenter Bee, you can let your friends know, there’s really nothing to fear!

 

April 25, 2015   2 Comments

Meet Insectarium Keeper Mandy Pritchard

Contributors: April Pitman, Wendy Rice, and Jenna Wingate

Mandy Pritchard works as a keeper at World of the Insect, also called the Insectarium. Mandy has a solid entomology background and she is very knowledgeable of the biology and taxonomy of a variety of different species of insects. As a keeper, Mandy is in charge of maintaining and breeding 15 species. Most of her species require fresh plant cuttings, so you will see her out in the park every day (rain, shine or snow) looking for the best plants for her cultures.

According to her colleagues, Mandy is an awesome coworker. She helps train volunteers and new hires, and whenever her coworkers go to her with questions, she is always open and willing to help. Mandy is very easy to get along with and is one of the reasons the Insectarium is such a team-oriented and cohesive department.

Mandy Pritchard introducing American Burying Beetles

Mandy Pritchard introducing American Burying Beetles

Additionally, Mandy is an awesome representation of the zookeeping profession because of her passion for conservation. She goes above and beyond her job as a keeper. Currently, she is in charge of the American Burying Beetle reintroduction program at the Zoo. She successfully collaborates with other agencies outside the Zoo (Ohio Fish and Wildlife, Fernald Preserve, and more) to work towards a lasting conservation solution. The program itself is requires much diligence and hard work. Mandy is in charge of organizing dates for the release, helping to staff the release, raising the beetles, setting traps to survey the area before and after the release, and much more.

One of the most important things keepers do is educate the public on conservation and Mandy does a great job of that. Sharing her passion with the public comes naturally to Mandy. She just recently gave a talk at the Fernald Preserve (where the beetles are released) to help educate the public on the importance of this species. It is not the easiest thing to show people why this beetle should be saved. Most people just see it as another bug! But Mandy does a great job of enlightening everyone, keeping the audience interested and even getting a few laughs, too! Mandy has the ability to make people care about something they never thought they would. Keep it up, Mandy!

 

July 24, 2014   2 Comments

A Tale of Two Mantises

Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).

The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.

Carolina Mantis

Carolina Mantis

The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.

Chinese Mantis

Chinese Mantis

Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.

Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.

Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

July 1, 2014   1 Comment