Don’t worry if you have to do a double-take: abrupt chimney bees (Anthophora abrupta) can fool even the most seasoned bee watchers. This fast-flying Bombus-mimic is active in mid-summer where it occurs in both rural and suburban landscapes. Unlike bumble bees, however, A. abrupta have brush-like scopae on their hind legs and fly much faster. They are well known for building nests with conspicuous chimney-like tumuli that occur in prodigious aggregations.
One generation per year, active from April through July (with scattered records into late summer).
Widespread across southern latitudes. Reaches up into northern New Jersey along the coast, and farther north inland. Largely absent from New England.
Size >honey bee
Females: black head and entirely black abdomen; protruding clypeus, pale thorax; brush-like scopae. Very zippy in flight.
Males: like female, but smaller; conspicuous bright yellow clypeus and face; hairy moustache, used to carry pheromones; no scopal hairs on hind legs
- Bombus impatiens is most similar, but has yellow on T1 and carries pollen in corbiculae, not brush-like scopae. Flight of A. abrupta is much faster and zippier than Bombus.
- Anthophora bomboides has multiple tergites with yellow. In the east, A. bomboides is found at more northern latitudes than A. abrupta, and is generally less common.
- Habropoda laboriosa by slightly flatter face (and males have less yellow on face), distinct preference for nesting in sand and Vaccinium spp., and earlier flight phenology.
- Osmia bucephala is similar but has earlier phenology, light vertex hairs, broad cheek, and carries pollen in abdominal scopae.
Solitary and form huge ground-nesting aggregations in clayey, hard-packed soils, with each nest having a distinctive “turret” nest entrance each about the width of a cranberry. Nests in bare or open hard-packed soil washes, ranging from sand to clay, often on steeply sloping banks, the sides of road, hard-packed dirt paths, river banks, or even in exposed soil in backyards. Females soften the hard-packed soil by moistening with water. Nest sites persist for many years, though each nest is active for only a single year.
A. abrupta is highly generalized. Known to visit milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), bee balm (Monarda spp.), beardtongues (Penstemon spp.), and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata).
Melecta pacifica is a possible cleptoparasite of A. abrupta, but is seemingly very rare within our region despite A. abrupta being fairly common.
Rau P. 1929. The biology and behavior of mining bees, Anthophora abrupta and Entechnia taurea. Psyche 36: 155-181.
Norden, B.B. 1984. Nesting biology of Anthophora abrupta (Hymenoptera: Anthophoridae). J. Kans. Ent. Soc. 57: 243-262.
Page last updated:
February 22, 2023