Morning Glory Bees, Cemolobus ipomoea, are rare, solitary bees that specialize on the pollen of morning glory flowers (Ipomoea spp.). This bee is relatively large, over a half inch long and it is covered in branched hairs used for pollen-collecting. Until very recently, morning glory bees had only been found in eastern North America, overlapping with the range of its host plant, Man of the Earth Flower (Ipomoea pandurata). During wild bee surveys conducted on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, CU Museum staff collected six Morning Glory Bee specimens, expanding the previously known range of this species by over 600 miles westward1. Moreover, finding six specimens in two Colorado counties suggests there is an established population of Morning Glory Bees in eastern Colorado, which had never been comprehensively surveyed for wild bees until 2013.
Man of the Earth Flower does not occur in Colorado, but another closely related species – Bush Morning Glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) – was found where the bees were collected9. This suggests that this specialist bee does not limit its diet to a single species—rather it uses several species in the morning glory genus Ipomoea. Man of the Earth Flower and Bush Morning Glory bloom only very early in the morning, which is the only time Morning Glory Bees are found in flight2. Few bees fly so early in the morning, and entomologists rarely survey in these early hours, perhaps why the Morning Glory Bee remained undetected in Colorado for so long! Surveys of previously unsampled rural lands can reveal missing puzzle pieces for our understanding of insect distribution and abundance, and museum collections preserve these puzzle pieces for future research3. The understanding and preservation of biodiversity is more important now than ever before, as the earth undergoes rapid climate change and habitat degradation that results in the loss of species diversity.
Longhorn bees (note the long antennae on the pictured bee) are solitary, meaning they do not have colonies with queens, workers and drones, like the better-known honey bees. Morning Glory Bees, like all bees, develop through a process called complete metamorphosis passing through four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. After mating, a single mother carries out all nesting duties. In the summer, she collects pollen from morning glory flowers, which is then mixed with floral nectar deposited into a nest she digs in the ground. When enough pollen and nectar have been collected, the mother lays an egg on top of this food resource for her babies and seals the nest. She will lay several eggs, repeating these steps for each egg. The eggs will hatch into larvae in the summer and these larvae feed on the pollen and nectar supply. When the supply is depleted just before winter, they mature into pupa. Upon the arrival of summer when morning glory flowers begin to bloom, adult bees will emerge from their nests and the cycle will begin anew.
Catalog number: UCMC 0147591
Label data: USA: Washington County, Colorado; 31 July 2013, Camille Zwaan & Collin Schwantes