Michigan’s first completed bee census, led by Michigan State University scientists, revealed that the state is home to more bee species than previously thought. In total, the census recorded 465 known bee species, a number of new entries, and one intriguing new discovery.
The census combines dozens of existing bee records into a comprehensive master list, including reviews of published literature, museum specimens, academic database records, and new field collection surveys. It was on one of those field surveys that researchers discovered a peculiar bee in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Triepeolus eliseae, named for co-author Molly Rightmyer’s daughter, Elise, is a cuckoo bee. Rumors of its existence have floated around since the early 1940s, but never confirmed. The bee does not collect pollen and it does not live in colonies. It is more parasitic. Triepeolus eliseae enters the nests of more industrious bees to lay eggs alongside those of the existing species. For the first time, researchers were able to observe, identify, and classify this elusive bee intruder. Images of the bee may be found on BugGuide.
Co-author and MSU entomologist Rufus Isaacs spoke about the importance of their research. “It was illuminating to learn of the high number of species; one reason that our count could be higher than other nearby states, however, could be attributed to our overall efforts to document bee diversity. Regardless, this will be an indispensable reference that will help guide current and future research on our region’s wild bees, which is a focus for a group of us at Michigan State University.”
Pollinators play an important role in the environment and for the economy. A Cornell study found that pollinators, in addition to their many ecological benefits, contributed $29 billion directly and indirectly to U.S. farm income in 2012. Understanding and knowing about the health and status of our wild bee populations is vital.
A full taxonomic description of the cuckoo bee and data for the other 464 species was published in the journal Jootaxa as “The bees of Michigan (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila), with notes on distribution, taxonomy, pollination, and natural history”
Photo: Jason Gibbs / Michigan State University