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U.S. Forest Service

Orchid Bee - Eulaema meriana

By Kelly Rourke and Evan Cole, Pollinator Partnership

There are about 25 species in the genus Eulaema throughout the New World tropics. They are big, hairy and velvety insects unlike their smaller, shiny, metallic cousins, the blue and gold and violet colored orchid bees, (Euglossa species). Eulaema meriana is one of the largest and most widely distributed of the orchid bees. They have a black head and thorax, and a yellow-striped abdomen. The males have small hollows on their hind legs to help carry pollen, while the females have exterior pollen baskets, or corbiculae. The hair around the stinger is burnt-orange colored. The wings are yellow and translucent with distinctive veins.

Studies have found the nesting ecology of Eulaema meriana to be quite complex. Nests can range from small single-female nests to large nests with multiple females and a possible division of labor. Mud is the preferred building material, along with some resin from wounded trees. Nests have also been found in pre-existing cavities in hollow palm trees or in the walls of double-walled buildings. Nests are generally constructed close to, but not on, the ground’s surface. Each female constructs 8 brood cells, rearing her larvae on the pollen and nectar of many tropical trees, bushes, and orchids.

Orchid Bee - Eulaema merianaOrchid Bee - Eulaema meriana Photo by Miriam Arrueta.

The orchid bee is an essential pollinator in tropical rainforests, but it does not work for free. Male Eulaema meriana come to collect nectar, as well as the spicy perfumes of the flowers. Each male needs to make his own personal cologne to attract a female and complete his life-cycle. Therefore, if a male Eulaema meriana visits a vanilla flower, it may only be looking for something to add to its cache of perfume and not for food. Once it has collected enough scents, the territorial male bee will choose a specific perch to sit and wait for an attracted female. Males often choose a tree for their perch location and grasp the trunks with their mandibles, positioning their abdomen in an arch with hind legs out stretched. Then they buzz their wings back and forth rapidly on repeat. Studies have suggested this buzzing behavior may be a thermoregulatory mechanism as well as a mating ritual. This intriguing display and scent accumulation enhances the male’s chances of successfully attracting a female while simultaneously contributing to the pollination of countless flowers. Some species of orchid are exclusively dependent on orchid bees for pollination. visits a vanilla flower, it may only be looking for something to add to its cache of perfume and not for food. Once it has collected enough scents, the territorial male bee will choose a specific perch to sit and wait for an attracted female. Males often choose a tree for their perch location and grasp the trunks with their mandibles, positioning their abdomen in an arch with hind legs out stretched. Then they buzz their wings back and forth rapidly on repeat. Studies have suggested this buzzing behavior may be a thermoregulatory mechanism as well as a mating ritual. This intriguing display and scent accumulation enhances the male’s chances of successfully attracting a female while simultaneously contributing to the pollination of countless flowers. Some species of orchid are exclusively dependent on orchid bees for pollination.

Female Orchid bee - Eulaema meriana Female Orchid bee - Eulaema meriana visiting a Brazil nut flower (Bertholletia excelsa). Photo by © 2012 M. C. Cavalcante et al.

According to a study conducted in 1789, the orchid bee is one of the most important pollinators of the Brazil nut tree, as it was found to visit the most flowers per tree of any bee species in the experiment. Male Eulaema meriana may rely on orchids for their mating scents, but mostly depend on other plants like the Brazil nut for pollen and nectar. Without pollinators like Eulaema meriana, much of the native vegetation in the American tropics could not exist. Likewise, without plenty of native habitat and floral resources, these pollinators would be unable to sustain themselves.

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