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Manitoba Museum

Bees, Wasps, and Ants (Hymenoptera)

Cuckoo Bees

Apidae (Subfamily Nomadinae)

Cuckoo Bees do not have pollen collecting or nest building abilities of their own. Instead, they live a parasitic lifestyle. They lay eggs in the nests of other bees, relying on food collected by the host bee to feed their young. They are less hairy than many other bees, reducing their effectiveness as pollinators. Adults obtain their daily needed energy by feeding on flower nectar.

Representative Genera and Species:

Nomada, Epeolus

Pollinator Life Cycle:

Females lay their eggs in the cells of their host’s nest. They depart, but may return later to lay more eggs when new cells are built and food provided. The Cuckoo Bee larvae emerge after the host has sealed the cells. They are specially adapted to kill the host eggs and larvae, and then feed on the nectar and pollen provided by the host female.

Rarity Status:

No Cuckoo Bees are legally protected in Canada. The status of Canadian species has not yet been assessed.

Physical Appearance:

Cuckoo Bees are very diverse in appearance, and are often more brightly coloured than nest-building bees. Many appear wasp-like, and perhaps even mimic them. They are usually less hairy than other bees, and do not have a mechanism for transporting pollen.

Pollinator Habitat:

Cuckoo Bees can be found looking for the nests of other bees. They may invade nests in the ground, in stems, or in holes in wood or walls. They often fly low over the ground, enter holes or cracks in the soil, or investigate anything that looks like an entrance. They are also seen feeding on the nectar of flowers, especially late in the day once hosts have returned to their nests.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland/Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie
Cuckoo Bees