2018-04-16 / Community

Conservancy CONNECTION: There’s one invasive species for which we may be thankful


Walking through the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Hall of Invasive Species, visitors see animals that have made their homes in Southwest Florida, but don’t really belong here. These include the lionfish, infesting local Gulf waters; the cane toad, a large, noxious species that can harm dogs and other animals that eat or lick it; and a widely publicized invasive, the Burmese python, which can grow to extraordinary lengths in the Everglades.

I recently discovered that we have another invasive species that is surprisingly common on the Conservancy’s grounds, and likely equally as common throughout Collier and Lee counties. This is the small, bright metallic green orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma.

Together with the USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab in Patuxent, Md., we have been identifying native bee species that are present on the Conservancy’s grounds. Bees are critically important to agriculture and in many cases are the only means for pollinating plants. Pesticide use over the years has caused populations of native bees to dramatically decline, leaving agriculture vulnerable to problems that affect commercial supplies of honeybees. Knowing the abundance and diversity of wild bees across the country has been the basis of an important govern­ment research program.

The orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma, has recently been the most common wild bee spotted at the Conservancy. The orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma, has recently been the most common wild bee spotted at the Conservancy. This species of orchid bee was found for the first time in the United States in 2003 in Broward County. It is a semi-tropical species related to the honeybee. Unlike the honeybee, the orchid bee is a solitary spe­cies, meaning it nests by itself and not in large social groups or hives.

There is no mistaking this bee if you see it — it is a bright metallic green, about the same size as a honeybee. The male orchid bee has pockets on its legs that it fills with chemical fragrances it finds in orchids, using them for courtship. This habit is helpful to both the orchid and the bee; the orchid bee receives the fragrance and the orchid plant is in return pollinated, a relationship termed mutualism.

When first discovered, scientists hypothesized that it would rapidly spread across Southwest Florida, in the zone that best reflects the environment and temperatures it was accustomed to. This has proven to be true, with confirmed records of the orchid bee being sighted in Lee and Collier counties. In fact, during February and March, it has been the most common wild bee spotted at the Conservancy.

In the case of the orchid bee, perhaps its spread is not a bad thing. While every introduced species has the potential of upsetting the balance of the ecosystem, and the orchid bee is no different in that regard, it is a pollinator, and perhaps will help rebuild populations of the wild bees necessary to help perpetuate our flowers and crops.

You can see it all for yourself at Conservancy’s Nature Center seven days a week at 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, FL (just south of the Naples Zoo). To learn more, visit www.conservancy.org.

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