In a patch sandy scrub in southern Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County, Florida, A rare blue bee has been spotted for the first time in 4 years. Osmia calaminthae, the Blue Calaminthae bee, named for its distinct dark blue color and it’s host plant, the Ashe’s calaminthae (or mint), is a rare find. Its only ever been documented in four sites of sandy pine scrub habitat know more than 16 square miles combined. It’s a type of Mason Bee endemic to Florida, broad bodied and fuzzy. It could easily be mistaken as a bumblebee by the untrained eye. Chase Kimmel, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, spotted the bee while installing a bee condo. It was grabbing flowers and rubbing the top of its head on them before moving onto the next. If that sounds odd, that because it is. It’s just another distinctive trait of this rare animal.
A solitary native bee, the blue calamintha does not live in a large colony. Each female builds its own nest, not a hive like the honey bee. They also don’t care for their young. No nests have ever been found, but other bees of the same genus tend to use existing burrows in the ground, holes in dead trees, or hollow stems. To see if these do the same, more bee condos have been installed, basically to see if the empty spaces may gain some new, blue tenants.
Orange grove and other human activity have made their habitats one of the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the country. It’s also a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot. As the habitat disappears, so does their food source.
Since this spotting back in March, 6 new sites have been located. This is excellent news for the scientists who are hoping to learn more about the species. It was first described in 2011, and scientists weren’t sure it even still existed. COVID-19 has hindered that research, leaving researchers like Chase Kimmel working much like the bee itself—alone.
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