Evidence for mutualism between a flower‐piercing carpenter bee and ocotillo: use of pollen and nectar by nesting bees


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33 Scopus citations


Abstract. Carpenter bees (Xylocopa californica arizonensis) in west Texas, U.S.A., gather pollen and ‘rob’ nectar from flowers of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). When common, carpenter bees are an effective pollen vector for ocotillo. We examined ocotillo's importance as a food source for carpenter bees. The visitation rate of carpenter bees to ocotillo flowers in 1988 averaged 0.51 visits/flower/h and was 4 times greater than that of queen bumble bees (Bombus pennsylvanicus sonorus), the next most common visitor. Nectar was harvested thoroughly and pollen was removed from the majority of flowers. Hummingbird visits were rare. Pollen grains from larval food provisions were identified from sixteen carpenter bee nests. On average, 53% of pollen grains sampled were ocotillo, 39% were mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and 8% were Zygophyllaceae (Larrea tridentata or Guaiacum angustifolium). Carpenter bee brood size averaged 5.8 per nest. We measured the number of flowers, and production of pollen and nectar per flower by mature ocotillo plants, as well as the quantity of pollen and sugar in larval provisions. An average plant produced enough pollen and nectar sugar to support the growth of eight to thirteen bee larvae. Ocotillo thus has the potential to contribute significantly to population growth of one of its key pollinators. Although this carpenter bee species, like others, is a nectar parasite of many plant species, it appears to be engaged in a strong mutualism with a plant that serves as both a pollen and as a nectar source during carpenter bee breeding periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-240
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1993


  • Carpenter bee
  • Chihuahuan Desert
  • Fouquieria
  • Xylocopa
  • larval provisions
  • mutualism
  • nectar
  • nectar‐robbing
  • ocotillo
  • pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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