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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.


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

Come See the New Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Numbering in the billions in 1800, the passenger pigeon was formerly one of the most abundant bird species on Earth. On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo after tireless efforts over several years to find her a mate.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014, the Zoo renovated its Passenger Pigeon Memorial, transforming it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts.

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

A small crowd of Zoo visitors and staff along with media representatives gathered at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2014, as Zoo Director Thane Maynard dedicated the Memorial and officially reopened its newly restored doors. Watch the dedication video here.

Visitors to the Memorial are greeted by a large reproduction of John Ruthven’s 2013 painting of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon on the entry wall.

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven's Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven’s Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

A display case on the back side of the entry wall contains a reprint of John J. Audubon’s Passenger Pigeon hand-colored engraving from The Birds of America, along with an actual net used to catch passenger pigeons, a platform stool to which blinded pigeons were tied as decoys, a cast model of a passenger pigeon and an Aldo Leopold quote.

Display case

Interpretively, the exhibition flows from left to right along the interior walls, circulating around an octagonal case in the center of the building containing passenger pigeon sculptures carved by Gary Denzler.

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Signage was designed based on elements from Ruthven’s painting with pop-up panels featuring colorful images and text. The first wall tells the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss.

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

Next, it describes how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer.

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

The last wall introduces conservation champions of the Zoo and presents examples of how we are working to save species today, including the Sumatran rhino and the American burying beetle, from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

The rehabilitation of this historic building and exhibit was made possible through the generosity of the H.B., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Trust Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, and Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees.


September 10, 2014   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