A beautifull bee with astriking appearance: the European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) [1,2,3,5].
The reference to ‘wool’ in the name refers to the female behaviour to scrape hairs/wool from plant leaves which she uses to dress and fill the nest.
The European wool carder bee is a common species in the Netherlands. In the garden it is a yearly returning guest.
||1 (identified on photgraph)||
1 (identified on photgraph)
The resident male and two other intruders that were dispatched
|2016||No exact numbers but the bees were present in large numbers. During this year I planted Lamb’s-ear in the garden.|
|2017||No exact numbers, the bees were present but not many and no male. Presumably this is related to the Salvia that was struggling this year. The Lamb’s-ear was doing well.|
|2018||This year no wool bees visited. I think this is related to the Wall germander that was overgrown by Tufted vetch and had died for the largest part. The Salvia had disappeared as well and the Lamb’s-ear suffered due to late freezing.|
|This year I pevented the Tufted vetch from overgrowing the Wall germander, which recovered nicely and bloomed exuberant. Also I planted new Salvia and Lamb’s-ear clusters (after the bee had re-appeared).|
The bees fly from May until September with a peak in July for the male (end July) as well as the female (mid July) .
The species develops one generation per year and overwinters as a pre-puppa . She uses different kinds on holes in wood and loam, in brickwork cracks and hollow stemms .
She has a preference for nest locations on higher heights. In a research artificial nesting sites were applied on 35cm, 80-95cm and heigher than 165cm and the latter category was significantly more used .
Also the nests are located relatively far from the foraging sites with flowers .
bee hotel guest
Woolbees, especially the males, use the bee hotels to spend the night or cover from the weather, see also here. Seldom they will nest inside the hotel as the presence of other bees is to busy for them and they prefer a more quiet hidden nesting site .
2.3. POLLEN SOURCES
A. manicatum is polylectic and forages on different kinds of plant families, with a restriction to mainly the families :
- Legume (Leguminosae)
- Mint (Labiatae)
- Figwort (Scrophularicceae)
She is also seen on the family Plantain (Plantaginaceae).
In the garden the bee flies on the following plant species:
- Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
- Common restharrow (Ononis repens)
- Wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)
- Lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina)
- Salvia (Salvia spec.)
- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
- Purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea)
In the garden there are a number of plants from the Figwort familie but I haven’t seen the bee on it (yet).
|Wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)||x||x|
|Purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea)||x||x|
|Salvia (Salvia spec.)||x||x|
|Common restharrow (Ononis repens)||x|
|Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)||x|
|Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)||x|
|Lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina) *||x|
*A. manicatum uses especially Lamb’s-ear as a source of plant hair/wool that is applied to dress the nest cells and fill the nest.
As mentioned in paragraph 1, I suspect the Wall germander to be a ‘key plant’ for this species, at least in the garden.
2.4. POLLEN COLLECTION
Like all non-parasitic Megachilidae the female has a pollen brush at the underside of the abdomen that consists of hairs in which the collected pollen are pressed and transported.
Besides the abdominal pollen brush A. manicatum females have another brush in the front of their face, the clypeus . The clypeus is densely covered with small wavy hairs, that are thick at the base and exetend in long thin curls .
This collection device is an adaptation to collect pollen on Mint and Plantain plants because the stamen in these plants are positioned in such a way that they touch the back of the bee when it would collect in the ‘traditional’ way. So instead in these plants she collect pollen by repeatedly rubbing her face over the anthers .
Depending on the planttype A. manicatum uses different body parts during pollen collection 
- the hindlegs
- the facial pollen brush
- the frontlegs
In Legume plants the stamens are exposed by pushing the keel leaves to the side using the middle. The pollen are collected using the hind legs and put in the abdominal pollen brush .
In Foxglove this approach does not work because the flowers are large compared to the bee’s body size, so in this case she will climb up the stamens and collect the pollen using her front legs, and sometimes the mandibles .
2.5. TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOUR
The European wool carder bee males are territorial and express remarkable behaviour. The males defends its territory against other males and other bee species. Other insect families are chased as well but with less feriocity and those insects are often less impressed and will return immediately after being chased.
The male approaches the ‘intruder’ with low speed only to suddenly accellerate and jump theennemy from behind. They seem to be intentionally wound the other bees on purpose. Especially the main vein near the attachment of the wing to the thorax is often fatally broken after such an encounter. The victim will wander around on the ground buzzing its wings and every now and then will try to fly up which is impossible with one working wing so it results in a tumble. All wounded specimen will die eventually. At first I thought the bee bites the wing with its mandibles but in an artile this behaviour is described and it turns out that the male uses the thorn-like structures on the last abdominal segments as weapons by pointing them forward just before it’s high speed ramming off the intruder , resulting in the wounded animals.
As long as A. manicatum is present in this part of the garden I will regularly find bees with broken wings wandering the gardentiles. The victims are from the following species and genera:
- Honey bee (most victims)
- Ridge sadled carpenter bee
- Stelis punctulatissima
- Bumble bees (including large specimen)
It depends on the overall character of the male how much agression is shown. The male of 2019 is rather gentle (it is also a smaller specimen that previous years) and has made one victim, a Honey bee, so far, in 2015 and 2016 the males were very aggressive.
Every now and then one or two males appear in the territory to take it over or mate with the females. The resident male will chase them around the garden and fight them untill either side gives up. It haven’t seen a resident male loose yet.
The territory preferably contains:
- Wall germander
- Brid’s-foot trefoil
Remarkably the Lamb’s-ear does not seem to really belong to the domain. The plant resides a little bit further away from the territory hotspot with the plants mentioned above. It does get visits from the male but not as often and intensive like the other plants. In previous years a Foxglove cluster located on similar distance did become part of the territory; they were continuously patrolled by the male.
The flowers of the Lamb’s-ear are visited by the bee but I haven’t seen them collecting the leaf hairs yet. Some leaves do not look that nice and seem roughed up but I contribute that to the wet weather.
The resident group always consists of one male and a number of females. The females appear first and are joined later by a male that starts the territory. The largest group I’ve seen consisted of one male and about five females, the smallest had three females.
The male is obsessively patrolling from plant group to plant group. The females move quickly as well while foraging the flowers. They are often disturbed by the male that jumps them to mate. He is capable to hover like a hoverfly and will manouvre himself in the direction of the female and then accellerate towards her.
Research has shown that larger males are usually the territory owners, whereas smaller males roam for mating opportunities. The females seem to prefer larger males as they copulate more with them also after a roamer has replaced the territory keeper .
The grown European wool carder bees are noticable due to their size, color and sounds they produce.
|Length||16,0 – 18,0||14,0 – 16,0|
These yellow striped bees resemble wasp but are much more hairy and broadly built.
The males as well as the females produce a lot of sound while flying, so one often can deduce the presence of the bees based on their sounds before seeing them. The sound is a continuous high pitched humm like some of the larger hover flies.
The species has male biased sexual dimorfism in which both sexes have different characteristics with an emphasis on the males. The males are larger than the females.
The females are smaller and have a more stocky appearance than males and less long hairs.
The abdominal pollen brush has yellow colored hairs.
The males are impressive and large bees with long white hairs on the legs, side of thorax and face that, combined with the yellow and black, give them a tough appearance. The side of the abdomen is lined with light-orange hair brushes .
On the last two abdominal segments the male has five thorn-like structures, one on each side of the 6th segment and a crown of three points on the 7th segment.
4. NEST PARASITES
References1 Nederlands Soortenregister
2 Peeters, T.M.J., H. Nieuwenhuijsen, J. Smit, F. van der Meer, I.P. Raemakers, W.R.B. Heitmans, C. van Achterberg, M. Kwak, A.J. Loonstra, J. de Rond, M. Roos & M. Reemer 2012. De Nederlands bijen (Hymennoptera: Apidae s.l.). - Natuur van Nederland 11, Naturalis Biodiversity Center & European Invertebrate Survey - Nederland, Leiden.
3 wildebijen.nl, "De Nederlandse bijen en hun relaties, overzicht van in Nederland en Vlaanderen voorkomende solitaire en sociale bijen (Apidea s.l.)"
4 Breugel, P. van 2014. Gasten van bijenhotels. – EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten en andere ongewervelden & Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden.
5 NIEUWENHUIJSEN, Hans. Determinatietabel voor de bijen van het genus Anthidium in Nederland. Bzzz/HymenoVaria, 2011, 3.1: 57-58.
6 STARKS, P. T.; REEVE, H. K. Condition-based alternative reproductive tactics in the wool-carder bee, Anthidium manicatum. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 1999, 11.1: 71-75.
7 Wirtz, Peter & Szabados, Michael & Pethig, Horst & Plant, John. (2010). An Extreme Case of Interspecific Territoriality: Male Anthidium manicatum (Hymenoptera, Megachilidae) Wound and Kill Intruders. Ethology. 78. 159 - 167. 10.1111/j.1439-0310.1988.tb00227.x.
8 Payne, Ansel & Schildroth, Dustin & T. Starks, Philip. (2011). Nest site selection in the European wool-carder bee, Anthidium manicatum, with methods for an emerging model species. Apidologie. 42. 181-191. 10.1051/apido/2010050.
9 Müller, Andreas. (1996). Host-Plant Specialization in Western Palearctic Anthidine Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Megachilidae). Ecological Monographs. 66. 235-257. 10.2307/2963476.