Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum)

Wool carder male (Photo credit: Steven Falk)

Species distribution map from https://nbnatlas.org
Red: records 2000-present. Yellow: pre-2000 records.*

Wool carder bees are very distinctive bees with yellow spots down the sides of their abdomens. They are one of the few bee species in which the male is larger than the female. Females comb wool fibres from plants to use as nesting material, while males fiercely guard areas of these plants for potential mates.
All photo credits: Steven Falk

Males

Males are large, with a series of yellow spots down the sides of the abdomen, making them very distinctive. They also have visible spikes at the end of their abdomen. They have pale hair around the sides of the thorax and abdomen, and on the head. They are known for their territorial behaviour and will fiercely battle any other insect that invades their patch of flowers, which they are keeping for potential mates.

Females

Females have similar markings to males, but are smaller and less hairy, and lack the abdominal spikes. They collect wool fibres from various plants and can be seen transporting silvery clumps of these fibres to their nesting cavities.

Habitat, nesting and flower preferences

Commonly found in lots of different habitats, especially gardens containing their favoured plants, also present in heathland, woodland rides and clearings, wetlands and river banks, soft cliff areas, chalk downland and brownfield sites. They nest in existing holes or cavities, including hollow stems, dead wood and human-made structures. They will feed on many flowers including labiates like Lamb’s-ear, Black horehound, and legumes like vetches and Bird’s foot trefoil. The females prefer to harvest fibres from hairy plants such as Lamb’s-ear, Great Mullein and Yarrow, which is where males are more likely to be encountered.

Flight season & Distribution

Seen from May to August. These bees are common throughout most of southern England, and on the south coast of Wales. They are scarcer elsewhere but records exist from Scotland and Ireland.

Male Wool carder bees may not have a sting but they do come equipped with a set of spikes on their tails. They will fiercely guard a patch of flowers for their female suitors and chase, head-butt and wrestle any other insect, which dares to enter their territory. This often involves crushing a trespasser (very often to death) against their spiky abdomens.

Further information:

Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) species account

Steven Falk’s Anthidium manicatum Flickr album

 

* This map displays the data currently publically available on the NBN Atlas website at http://www.nbnatlas.org. Data have been contributed by a range of organisations: see here for the full list. Please note that records from the national recording body (BWARS) are not yet available on the NBN so this map may appear incomplete.

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