The frantic antics of a male Wool carder bee-video

October 16, 2017

in A selection of my garden wildlife videos, Gardening For Wildlife, Other solitary garden bees, Solitary Bee Observation Box

The victorious gladiator male Wool carder bee.

Watch this magnificent male Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) as it fights, hassles, grapples, hovers, pounces, mates, patrols and chases other bees. It attacks a wood chip on a string, a male bumblebee and a male solitary bee on film. All in defence of its territory. Why expend so much time and energy? Read on!

Ladies first!

Unusually for solitary bees, females emerge first in this species. They are generalist feeders and after feeding up, they seek out suitable nest sites usually inside pre-existing cavities. They sleep overnight in such cavities waiting for the males to emerge. Interestingly, I am not sure if they start their nest in preparation of the male emergence or only after they have mated. They use their sharp mandibles to remove hairs from suitable plant stems and leaves. Roll them up into a ball and carry them to the nest site where they tease them open to make their nests. Then like other solitary bees forage for pollen and nectar then lay a single egg, seal the cavity and start again. Lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina is a top woolly plant for them.

Fighting males and attacks

The larger and aggressive males arrive on the scene sometime later (due to there being no selection pressure as the females are polyandrous and the males are polygamous). They soon start to carve out a territory of suitable floral resources which they will defend, and they defend it aggressively against other wool carder males and even other insects. Males will attack, chase and harry any insect if it flew into his domain or was feeding upon any plants. Once he has laid claim to a patch of flowers, he will, when the opportunity arrives, and he is large enough, oust other males from adjoining areas and claim them as his own. I watched exactly this occur in my own garden with the male bee in the video.

A lethal weapon of offence carried by the male Wool carder bee, Wikipedia

Abdominal mace!

To back up his territorial claim, males are armed with 5 sharp ‘mace-like spines’, at the end of his abdomen. If another male or other insects arrive or feed in this area, he will grab the intruder, whilst they are still feeding, in a bear- like ‘hug’ and press the mace-like spines into its body. If the intruder was flying, defending males observe the intruder and suddenly rush into and ram it and high speed. Shortly before impacting the intruder, males curve their abdomen forward to strike at the intruder with the 5 spines. The intruder can be injured by such an attack or even killed.

Resource defence polygyny

Males defend a resource-rich territory containing flowering plants which are attractive to females and mate with any females that enter it. This is known as known as resource defence polygyny.

Large male wool carder bee, the conquerer!

Modus operandi

Over the course of a few days, it became apparent to me that one very large male was carving out a territory. There were many hours of observation spent in my garden and I am assuming it was the same male as I never marked him. The Modus operandi for this male was to preen himself on a raised bed every morning, weather permitting. He would start to patrol his patch, regularly checking flowers for females to mate or males to fight. If he spotted a female, I noticed that mating occurred when the females were nectar feeding within his territory. If he spotted something else which was on a flower, he would observe it a while. Slowly he would move nearer then speed up the flight, rush towards and pounce on the unsuspecting bee. If his target was already flying he would chase it. He chased any flying insects he saw that entered his patch. Woe betide any other males or even any other insects that entered it! This male was a large aggressive resource defender.

The conquerer

At first, several smaller males fed in the toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) area (which was also very popular with the females) and also on the French lavender growing in pots. After a few mace attacks, they were soon banished to the much larger wildflower meadow, which did contain several forage resources but more scattered around it than the toadflax area. After conquering the patch of toadflax in which he patrolled, he extended his patch to include the French lavender, a favourite for these bees. This magnificent beast of a bee then slowly extended his territory to include a few small areas within my wildflower meadow, which contained bird’s foot trefoil. Having less forage in a larger area was harder for him to monopolise as easily as the rather smaller and more densely packed toadflax area. I saw smaller males ‘sneak’ into this new larger territory whilst he was in the toadflax area and would mate with females or feed themselves before he returned. These smaller mating males did not want to be maced!

He chased bumblebees, solitary bees, honey bees, hoverflies, flies and even butterflies in order to monopolise his ever-increasing forage patch. I watched him mate many times, especially in the toadflax patch which was very popular with the females. Usually, he mated with females whilst they were nectar feeding on the toadflax and often in quick succession if females were available.

Did this female starting her nest mate with the conquerer?

There can be only one!

It reminded me of the film “Highlander” whereby male warriors sought out and killed other male warriors as “There can be only one”.

Samurai warrior. Male Wool carder bee

The attack on a male bumblebee and solitary bee.

The poor bumblebee male, a Bombus lapidarius, immediately after the unprovoked attack, crawled up a flower stem and was attacked again by the male wool carder bee. It tried to fly away several times but simply could n’t. I watched as it climbed up to the top of several other flowers, and tried in vain to fly. Several minutes later it was still trying to fly. The solitary bee took the hint and flew off!

Male wool carder bee pounces on male bumblebee

The wood chip

Watch as he checks out a piece of wood chip on a piece of string. After he checked it out and flew away a few seconds later he returned again. In slow motion, though it’s too long so that part was edited out!

Why defend the territory?

Females solitary bees usually only mate once, but females and males of this species mated many times. It boils down to a strategy known as “Late male sperm precedence”. In other words, the male who mated the last was more likely to father any offspring. There is an excellent article which explains this in more detail by Africa Gomez at her brilliant website  ‘Why do male Wool -carder bees defend a flower patch?’ species.

Wool carder bees will use a Nurturing Nature observation nest box as will several others bees and by planting these flowers in your garden you just may attract your own Samurai warrior bees!

“All my articles and videos, available free, are funded by my presentations and sales of award-winning bumblebee nest boxessolitary bee boxes,  and wormeries. Please help by spreading the word and forwarding this link to your friends and colleagues.  Thank you” George Pilkington

Excellent overview of Wool carders here

Download a BWARS Information Sheet about wool carder bees

Bumblebee Conservation Trust

For info and link to buy an excellent book Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk

An extremely useful resource supports this book by a special website feature within Steve Falk’s Flickr website which furnishes extra photos and other useful resources to assist with identification.

Solitary Bees book by Ted Benton

Interested in Citizen Science and pollinators? The Buzz Club 


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