The sneaky behaviours of Nomada or cuckoo bees

, 06 February 2024
The sneaky behaviours of Nomada or cuckoo bees
Vestal/Southern cuckoo bee nectaring on Black Knapweed © Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Matt Rich

Ranger RHNR

Nomada, commonly known as cuckoo bees, are a group of bees that exhibit a rather unconventional lifestyle. Unlike their hardworking relatives, these bees have mastered the art of deception and parasitism. Let’s explore their behaviour, their hosts, and the curious ways they survive.

1. Kleptoparasitism: stealing resources

Nomada bees are kleptoparasites. Their modus operandi involves infiltrating the nests of other bees, primarily targeting the genus Andrena but also exploiting other ground-nesting bee species like Agapostemon, Melitta, Eucera, and Exomalopsis. These crafty bees lay their eggs in the host’s nest. She sneaks into the host nest, avoiding detection by the host bee effectively stealing resources that the host bee has diligently collected.

2. The Art of Disguise

Nomada bees lack the characteristic pollen-carrying scopa found in non-parasitic bees. They are mostly hairless, as they don’t collect pollen to feed their offspring. Instead, they rely on their hosts’ provisions. Despite their parasitic lifestyle, Nomada adults still visit flowers and feed on nectar, although they are considered poor pollinators due to their lack of pollen-carrying abilities.

3. Wasp-like appearance

Nomada bees often sport an extraordinarily wasp-like appearance. Their colour palette includes red, black, and yellow hues. Their abdomen may bear yellow or white integumental markings.

4. Global nomad

Nomada bees are true globetrotters. They occur worldwide, adapting to various habitats and climates. Their distribution correlates with their hosts—ground-nesting bees. These hosts nest in soil, whether in open areas or vegetated landscapes, with a good floral source nearby.

So, next time you spot a bee that looks suspiciously like a wasp, take a closer look—it might just be a Nomada bee, a clever kleptoparasite weaving its way through the intricate tapestry of the bee world.

Remember, in the realm of Nomada, deception is the name of the game, and their parasitic behaviour is a testament to nature’s endless creativity.

Leave a comment


  • Malcolm coppin:

    Brilliant piece matt

    16 Feb 2024 11:30:00

  • Linda Wren:

    Really enjoyed reading your article Matt. Great work!

    19 Feb 2024 18:46:00