Peponapis: Squash Bees
These bees get their common name from their very close association with squash flowers. Peponapis is a small genus of 13 species limited to the Americas. They are most abundant and diverse in the deserts of Mexico and the southwestern United States, but one species, Peponapis pruinosa, is transcontinental and has spread as far north as Canada.
Fairly robust, hairy, moderate-sized bees, 0.4 to 0.6 inches (10–15 mm) long. Squash bees typically are brown with sparse bands of brown hair on their abdomens. The protruding lower face of many species is distinctive and gives the appearance of a big nose. Males have a small yellow patch on their faces.
Similar Types of Bees
Similar to the closely related genera Melissodes and Svastra, but Peponapis males have shorter antennae and a big “nose,” and both males and females are typically seen around squash flowers.
All specialize in gathering nectar and pollen from flowers of squash plants (Cucurbita), including pumpkins, watermelons, squashes, and gourds. Females provide their young with nectar and pollen strictly from squash. Peponapis forage most actively early in the morning (beginning half an hour or more before sunrise!) when the squash flowers open. Squash flowers have large pollen grains and consequently, squash bees have sparse hairs in their scopae to handle them. The close relationship with squash is reflected in other aspects of Peponapis behavior: mating occurs inside squash flowers, and males take shelter overnight in them. You can often find Peponapis bees in closed squash flowers by gently squeezing the flower.
Peponapis pruinosa nests in the ground, usually in large aggregations. Nests may be more than 2 feet deep and are generally dug in areas with thin or patchy vegetation. Often, these types of bees nest under the leaves at the base of the host plant, even in agricultural fields.
Did You Know?
Since Peponapis bees depend on pollen from Cucurbita, these types of bees must have been limited historically to the area within the natural range of squash and pumpkins: the desert Southwest and Central America. One species, P. pruinosa, has experienced a dramatic range expansion as humans have planted pumpkin and squash crops across the country. It may now be found in the eastern states from Georgia to Maine and northward to Ontario, and in the western states as far north as Oregon and Idaho.
To learn more about Squash bees and other types of native pollinators, read How to Attract Native Bees to Your Organic Garden.
“Bee” an expert! Identify more types of bees from Attracting Native Pollinators
Regional Plant Lists for Native Pollinator Gardens
The following charts list plant species that are native to their respective regions and commercially available from nurseries, specialty seed producers, and local native plant societies. The plants listed here tolerate a wide range of soil and light conditions. They are listed by season, to make it easier to design a garden that provides forage in spring, summer, and fall. If particular species are difficult to find in your area, look for closely related ones.
Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada
Southeastern United States
Midwestern United States
Great Plains and Prairie Provinces
U.S. and Canadian Rocky Mountain Region
California and the Southwest
Pacific Northwest and British Columbia
Lower-Cost Ornamentals for Many Regions
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society, published by Storey Publishing, 2011. Buy this book from our store: Attracting Native Pollinators.