Safeguarding The Rare Blue Calamintha Bee

A rare plant species being safeguarded at Bok Tower Gardens in the Center for Plant Conservation National Collection, Ashe’s Calamint (Calamintha ashei), has received some popularity in the local and mainstream news media as a result of the recent rediscovery of the rare blue calamintha bee (Osmia calaminthae) in Highlands County, FL.

The pollen and nectar from Ashe’s Calamint is the bees’ sole food source as available information suggests. The bee was last observed in 2016 before its rediscovery by University of Florida postdoctoral researcher Chase Kimmel during an ongoing 2-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The project is designed to determine the bee’s population status and distribution and to learn more about the bee’s nesting and feeding behavior. The blue calamintha bee is believed to have a very restrictive range and has only been observed along the Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County, although Ashe’s Calamint has a wider distribution. Members of the genus Osmia are solitary bees, meaning they don’t live in a hive, but live in little burrows in the ground, in hollowed plant stems, or in holes in dead trees, and researchers are trying to determine their nesting preference.

Research also suggests that the bee strictly feeds on the pollen and nectar of Ashe’s Calamint and the 2-year project is hoping to verify this information by obtaining and analyzing pollen samples from captured bees, which are quickly photographed and released, to determine if the blue calamintha bee is collecting pollen from flowers other than Ashe’s Calamint. The female blue calamintha bee has specialized hairs on its head used to trap pollen and has been observed bobbing its head while inside in the flower to dislodge the pollen. This is a behavior unique to the blue calamintha bee and not observed in the 23 other species to visit the flowers of Ashe’s Calamint, suggesting a specialized relationship.

Ashe’s Calamint (Lamiaceae) is a state-listed threatened species native to Florida and Georgia and found in scrub habitat. The bright green revolute leaves of this low-spreading shrub have a pungent fragrance of basil, particularly when crushed, and the pale pink flowers are stippled with purple on the lower lip. This species is threatened by the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat and consequently so is the blue calamintha bee. As the ongoing project headed by Dr. Kimmel unfolds, his research will help provide the information needed to determine if this species qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Blog was written by Whitney Costner, Conservation Biologist for the Rare Plant Conservation Program at Bok Tower Gardens.