Natural History

Top 10 Craziest Animal Lifestyles in North America

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Cactus Bee
Greg Wood/Staff/Getty Images

8. Cactus Bees

Ahhh … spring in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert!

That’s when the cacti — having stored water for 8 months — burst into beautiful flowers. For the cacti, it’s pollination time; for cactus bees, it’s the chance to drink and feed that they have been waiting for.

Their whole lives revolve around cactus pollen, and they must act fast.

Those actions can seem a little bizarre (okay, a LOT bizarre).

Thousands of females jackhammer the soil with their heads (yes, we said their heads), digging nest chambers for their eggs.

They then rush to pack it the chambers with pollen — crucial food for their hatchlings.

But danger lurks.

Parasitic flies like to feed their young on bee larvae. So they hijack the cactus bees’ nests and diabolically insert eggs of their own along with the bee larvae.

If the flies’ young hatch first they will devour bee larvae, so the bees must race to seal their burrows before the parasites can strike.

If the bees are successful, in two short weeks a new generation of cactus bees emerge.

It’s the fastest development of any bee in the world. And there’s no time for childhood pastimes — it’s already time to mate.

As many as 50 males swarm into a mating ball around a single female.

Meanwhile, not only do most of the male swarm get disappointed, many get picked off for good by desert birds taking full advantage of the frenzy of unbridled bee passion.

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