Blueberry cellophane bee (Colletes validus) is never found far from sand and blueberries. Both males and females have an exaggerated malar space, which enables them to access the deep goblet-shaped flowers of their favorite ericaceous plants, including blueberry (Vaccinium), huckleberry (Gaylusaccia), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos). When conditions are right, this spring-active species can form large gregarious nesting aggregations. It is found locally throughout the region, especially in dry uplands, powerline right-of-ways, pine barrens, and coastal sandplains.
C. validus is active from mid-April through early-June. One generation is produced per year.
From Virginia through southern Maine. Distributed patchily throughout the region in open, xeric habitats, e.g. pine barrens in southern New Jersey and southeastern Massachusetts.
Size ≈ honey bee
Highly exaggerated malar space in both males and females is unique among Colletes.
Females are stocky bee with bronze thoracic hairs and strongly banded abdomen. Hind scopae of foraging females are typically packed with cream-white Vaccinium pollen.
Males are also very hairy, with coloration ranging from ghost-white to golden. Males are smaller and more slender than females.
- Colletes inaequalis has earlier phenology, shorter malar space, and is often associated with suburban habitats.
- Colletes thoracicus has short malar space and bright-orange thorax hairs.
Note: Colletes ultravalidus also has very long malar space, but has earlier phenology (February) and only occurs in gulf coast sand hills of the southeast U.S. outside of our region.
Females build nests underground on open sandy soils near their ericaceous host plants. Nests are most often seen when the ground in sparsely vegetated, but nests can also be built beneath pine needles. When visible, tumuli are big, conspicuous, and often aggregated.
Males patrol host plants and nesting sites looking for females, and will mate aggressively with females in large mating balls. Males will take refuge in their emergence holes at night, but typically disappear after the first two weeks of activity.
C. validus primarily forages from variety of ericaceous taxa with urceolate (i.e. goblet-shaped) flowers including blueberry (Vaccinium), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Females also supplement pollen and nectar forage with other taxa alongside host plants like fire cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), false heather (Hudsonia ericoides), and bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia).
Blister beetles (Tricrania sanguinipennis) and bee flies (Bombyliidae) are known brood parasites of C. validus. Robber flies (Asilidae) and conopid flies (Conopidae) are known to target adults.
Batra, S.W. 1980. Ecology, Behavior, Pheromones, Parasites, and Management of the Sympatric Vernal Bees Colletes inaequalis, C. thoracicus, and C. validus. J. Kans. Entomol. Soc. 53: 509-538.
Page last updated:
February 3, 2023