To Bee Or Not To Bee, The Return Of The 'Blue' Calamintha Bee

Like Hamlet, the Calamintha Bee might have wondered whether or not it will survive [to be] or die from extinction [not to be]. It's a fact these rare bees have to endure the metaphorical "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from the insidious effects of habitat loss and lethal pesticides.

Even up against the odds, they recently emerged once again in Florida. Maybe now we might start to show a little love to these Hamlet bees, and allow them to pollinate another day,

What's in a Name

What's in a name? That which we call a Calamintha Ashei, by any of other name would smell as sweet. Hamlet's Juliet noted "roses" in her soliloquy, but it could apply to the scent of any flower. The bushy Calamintha ashei grows up to 1.6 feet tall, and its scent is an aromatic favorite for the Calamintha bees.

Florida's long-lost blue bees were once thought by scientists to no longer exist. No recorded specimens had been detected in recent decades and the plant which the bee depends on for survival, the Calamintha Ashei, is regrettably also considered endangered in Florida.

The Hunt

In February 2015, there was a petition presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add the Blue Calaminth Bee to the list of threatened and endangered species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Fortunately, we have Dr. Chase Kimmel, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Florida to thank for turning things around.

On March 9th, Dr. Chase Kimmel began a search for the Calamintha Bee. By setting traps, his research team uncovered the unmistakable movement of a bee bobbing its head. The bobbing motion is the result of the transfer the pollen from its head down to its stomach. The bees uncovered were Calamintha.

New Habitats

To date, this blue bee has new habitats in four locations totaling just 16 square miles within Central Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge.

Being such a rare insect, there is little known about this coveted bee.

"We're trying to fill in a lot of gaps that were not previously known," Kimmel said. "It shows how little we know about the insect community and how there's a lot of neat discoveries that can still occur."

So Rare

According to the Florida Museum, the "Sunshine State’s iconic wildlife includes the American alligator, the Florida panther, the scrub jay, and the manatee. But some species unique to Florida are less familiar, like the ultra-rare blue Calamintha bee."

The blue Calamintha is a reclusive bee, creating unique nests instead of hives like honeybees. While no nests have been found to date, the species is part of the genus Osmia, which tends to use existing ground burrows, hollow stems or holes in dead trees as nests. Like Mason bees, bee houses can be purchased or made from wood, thick paper straws, or hollow reeds.


To Bee Or Not To Bee, The Return Of The 'Blue' Calamintha Bee


It seems like everything is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, Kimmel's research has faced substantial setbacks.

Kimmel originally had received special permission from the University of Florida to continue working on the blue bee project, but the university’s restriction on ceasing travel prevented Kimmel from continuing.

The timing is unfortunate as well. Kimmel is facing a shutdown during the bee's flight season from the middle of March until early May.

“It’s a very time-limited flight. Now is when the bulk of that activity has to take place,” said  Kimmel's adviser, Jaret Daniels, director of the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “Chase Kimmel is doing a fantastic job and we’re getting a lot of great data, but if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 virus we would have had more people in the field, so it has definitely scaled back what we’re able to do.”

'So to Bee, or Not To Bee' is on hold.  Hopefully, this time lag is not too long. Hopefully, Kimmel will be able to resume before these little guys depart from this world.

"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."


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