Wool Carder Bees on Salvia


Anthidium manicatum, or the European wool carder bee is not a native bee to the US. It is a leaf cutter bee though, like some of our natives. You would think this bee is a living terror to other bees if you watch it in attack mode. It hovers mid-air, stalks then goes in for the attack. It is very agile flyer too. Let the battle begin…

What I found very interesting is how this bee circled the plants in its territory for hours. Each time I went outside, it was circling the same plants. I was just waiting for any other bee to land on the Salvia so I could photograph the battle. Much easier said than done though. These bees make short work of the invader, making it leave the area.


Males are territorial and very aggressive, attacking any insect that enters its territory that isn’t a wool carder female. It was introduced to New York sometime before 1963 and has since made its way across the country.  The male patrols an area around a patch of flowers in search of females.

I watched these bees fight off large Carpenter Bees and Bumblebees, but never cause any real harm. They ram into another bee knocking it off the flower, and keeping it from foraging. Being smaller, they are just an annoyance to other larger native bees. They also do not land very often or at all, patrolling constantly.

Wool-Carder-Bee-2These bees below were on the Wool Carder’s plants. Bombus pennsylvanicus sonorus or Bombus fervidus, I am unsure. I have no clue since bees are of such variety.

BumblebeeThese two were run out of dodge by our male carder. The wool carder bee does have spikes at the tip of its abdomen that it uses when fighting other bees though. I am not sure of the danger.

Bumblebee-2Common Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens?

In August 2012, I did a funny story called Bee Bombing – Happy Monday Funny,  and this is when I learned about this bee. I noticed it hunting out bees in my garden. The confrontation looks like it is a fight to the finish, but that was not the case. You must see this post just for the action photos.

Wool-Carder-Bee--6The male above and below is protecting its territory.

Wool-Carder-Bee-6Then it runs into a female wool carder, a much smaller bee. See below?

2-Wool-Carder-BeesThey commingle for a few seconds…


I am not sure if they are mating, but since that is the main reason why the male circles his territory, I am guessing that is what is occurring.


Here are two article that gave these bees a very bad name for its battles with honeybees, saying the wool carder bee, “cuts off their wings, cuts off their antenna, cuts off their heads, cuts off their torsi, and stabs them to death.” Other entomologists say this is just not true and they are pollinators just like other bees.

You just might believe these accounts if you watch this bee for a while. They do look vicious, but I never saw it hurt another bee. I saw bees run and hide, but not get hurt. I even saw a honeybee fight today, but the honeybee went on its merry way after the skirmish. No carnage like in the two articles above.

Next, I show the garden and flower groups that these bees are protecting.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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50 Responses to Wool Carder Bees on Salvia

  1. Annette says:

    How interesting! Which lens did you use – great images. There are so many fascinating creatures out there and we know so little about them. I have several books about insects but find it often needs lots of time and patience to identify them.

    • I started with a 105mm macro, then switched to a 300mm zoom. The bees were starting to bounce off me, so I needed some distance on them. No stinger, so I did not really mind, but it made me jump each time. I too have a hard time identifying them. Too many are very similar.

  2. Rose says:

    So interesting, Donna! I wasn’t familiar with these bees, but then I have trouble identifying most of the different species of bees, anyway. I wonder if this bee could be trained somehow to attack Japanese beetles:)

    • Since they are somewhat new to the US, many might not see them unless they are really looking. They like my Salvia and Caryopteris. What drew my attention was the loud buzz noise of the two bees fighting. Then I looked closer.

  3. Great post. I love your garden posts and things related. I love to watch bees as a bee keeper. Thank you!!!

    • I can imagine if I had hives to maintain how much more fun I would have. In the city, the neighbors would revolt. They are the ones spraying nests which really makes me sad. I have given a bee keep’s name to some to have the bees and wasps relocated and it is free too. Yet most prefer the annihilation method.

  4. I am learning so much and your posts are so interesting. The photos are so amazing! You are very talented.

  5. Kevin says:

    Great images! Not only am I a fan of your photography, but also of the patience you have to capture these bees (and birds and leaves) in flight.

  6. My Heartsong says:

    Oh my goodness, I went through the series. .This is a side of you I haven’t seen before.(still shaking my head) I did not know there were so many bees-my ignorance.Curious if those aggressive ones go after people.Thanks for the entertainment and education.

    • They do sometimes, but not having a stinger, so what I say. They bounce off me if I am too near their flowers. I had on a macro lens that I changed to a zoom just because the bees were “bombing” me.

  7. alesiablogs says:

    I can not even imagine getting close to these creatures. By reading some of your comments–looks like you were well prepared with different lenses, etc, but I would still scared staring at my computer screen! lol

  8. Pat says:

    Fascinating post.

  9. Stunning photos and post. 😀

  10. chevaliascookingwithnature says:

    Amazing photo!

  11. How lucky to have witnessed and captured such an tender moment between them! 🙂
    Happy Sunday, Donna!!! 🙂

  12. meghan80 says:

    Incredible photographs and very interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

  13. debsgarden says:

    Fascinating post; it just shows that all it takes is a cute lady to turn the tiger into a pussycat! Please excuse the cross-species analogy!

  14. Debra says:

    What a special treat to learn about a new bee. Brilliant shots and great story to go with them. Thank you. We are all so lucky you share your talents with us.

  15. Great shots! I’ve been meaning to tell you– You should read T. C. Boyle’s novel, When the Killing’s Done. It looks at two sides in an animal debate: One side wants to clear an island of introduced species such as rats and pigs that are harming unique native species. The other side wants to protect all the animals, including the introduced species. I haven’t finished it yet, but it is thought provoking.

  16. Hi, Donna,
    Nice shots! Re identification of bees, there’s a newly published book on Bumble Bees of North America. Co-author/native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis (where I work) can identify. We have a lot of Anthidium manicatums in our yard, too. It’s fun catching them in flight. See my photo on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/c971YL

  17. A.M.B. says:

    Wow! I love being able to see the details on the bees (while the salvia looks almost like a painting!). These pictures are beautiful.

  18. Indie says:

    I remember your other post about the bees fighting and thought how interesting it was. Fascinating! I’m quite glad the other bees do not seem to get hurt in the attacks. Beautiful photos!

  19. Donna, those are the most fantastic photos, and before reading this, I knew nothing about this bee. Thank you so much for all the information. I was alarmed a couple of times when I thought of the other bees just trying to eat. Nature isn’t always friendly is she?~~Dee

  20. I had no idea! Thanks for the information on this non-native bee. I’ll have to watch for it. I find the pollinators antics and behavior so fascinating, and your photos bring it all to life so well!

    • Honeybees are non-native too, but articles I read mention the wool carder as non-native, but not the honeybee. In Europe, these bees both native, forage together with the same aggressiveness exhibited by the wool carder and they do not suffer a loss of honeybee as one article mentioned as a cause of colony decline. I bet you see this bee too. It is not hard to find because the fighting is very noticeable.

  21. Hi there! I just stumbled across your blog through a comment you left on The Misfortune of Knowing. Love your blog and all the beauty here 🙂 Can’t wait to see more!

  22. I have never noticed these bees or any bees circling and attacking other bees but I will keep a sharp outlook…very interesting bee.

  23. Great action shots of the bees. I don’t think I have the wool carder bees, which is too bad, as they seem to have significant entertainment value.

  24. Cool pics!
    Sunny regards from the Netherlands, Mariëtte

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