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KU News Release

Nov. 6, 2008
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

Researcher of invasive bee’s expansion collects first specimen in West near KU

Giant Resin Bee

LAWRENCE — Three years ago, University of Kansas doctoral student Ismael Hinojosa-Díaz investigated the spread of an invasive species of Asian bee, called the Giant Resin Bee. From data previously collected, Hinojosa-Díaz and four colleagues foretold in an academic journal of that bee’s potential to inhabit the entire eastern half of North America, as far west as the Great Plains.

Yet, until this past summer, the Giant Resin Bee had not been identified authoritatively west of the Mississippi River.

Then the extraordinary happened: Hinojosa-Díaz himself captured a Giant Resin Bee in Lawrence near the KU campus.

“At the end of June, a fellow grad student had a get-together in his backyard — we were having a barbecue,” Hinojosa-Díaz said. “And he had told me previously that he had seen huge bees in his yard. I said, ‘Those should be either bumblebees or carpenter bees, which are the cute ones that we can see around here.’ So we were at the barbecue and he said, ‘Look there’s one of those there!’ ”

Ismael Hinojosa-Díaz

Hinojosa-Díaz wheeled around and was shocked to see an insect with the telltale markings of the Giant Resin Bee, the object of his many hours of research.

“I said, ‘Wow!’ ” remembered Hinojosa-Díaz. “You know, when you’re an expert on something, you recognize things right away. Everybody there was like, ‘What’s going on with this guy?’ Because I went crazy … I said, ‘Help me! Help me!’ I had people bring me stuff to collect the bee. And I did.”

The Mexico City native quickly produced the first scholarly report on the Giant Resin Bee’s pioneering presence in Kansas, the westernmost sighting of the insect since it was spotted in Tennessee a few years earlier.

The Giant Resin Bee (Megachile sculpturalis) is thought to have arrived in North America via cargo ships from China or Japan, probably at the Port of Baltimore. The first collection of the insect occurred in 1994 on the campus of North Carolina State University. Since then, it has appeared all over eastern North America.

Hinojosa-Díaz said there is little concern over the bee’s territorial invasion.

“People believe that it’s not a threat at all for native species,” he said. “Most of the plants where it’s been seen feeding are introduced plants also from Asia and some others from Europe, so there’s no competition with native bees. In these terms it’s not a threat to native species so far. It takes nesting sites from other bees, like carpenter bees, but those are mainly abandoned nests. They are not aggressive at all, so they wouldn’t bother you although they are big. It’s not a good thing to be introducing exotic species, but with this one we shouldn’t worry.”

The KU graduate student says Kansans should look for the solitary Giant Resin Bee in shady places at about 1.5 feet above the ground. He recommends searching around houses or in hollow stems or empty wood burrows made by other bees. The sizable bee has a yellow thorax and black abdomen.

“The lines of their body are parallel so they are slender and they have huge mandibles,” said Hinojosa-Díaz. “But they wouldn’t bite you — the mandibles are for handling their resin. People can see them if they pay attention to the holes in their porches.”

Hinojosa-Díaz’s doctoral thesis focuses on the phylogenetic study of a genus of orchid bees, and his work has taken him to Spain, Costa Rica and his home country of Mexico. The collection of the first Giant Resin Bee west of the Mississippi is not his only discovery.

“I am an entomologist and a systematist,” he explained. “We try to make sense of the organization of living things in terms of their evolutionary ties. When you do that, you deal with lots of specimens. When you do these comprehensive reviews, you come across new species. I’ve described five or six new species, which is not much — but I’ve done it.”

Although his academic focus in no longer on the Giant Resin Bee, Hinojosa-Díaz will maintain interest in the bee’s progress across North America.

“I would like to keep track of it, although it’s not my specialty now,” he said. “But I’ll try to keep an eye open.”

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