Pollinators Support Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variety of life.  It showcases the relationships between all life forms on Earth.  It is the web of life, connecting all life on Earth in an interdependent web of function, purpose, and necessity.   It can be a protective mechanism against catastrophic failure of life.

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Biodiversity provides:

A wide array of foods and materials, which contributes to the survival of all.  Examples include: medicines derived from plants; 7000 species of plants are also food sources for other species.

Genetic diversity, which defends against diseases and pests.

Example:  Monoculture crops are not diverse, genetically or otherwise,  and are thus             susceptible to influxes of pests and disease, which is one reason why farmers of these crops are so dependent on chemicals to sustain crops. Planting hedgerows with a variety of plants encourages natural pest control for crops via predatory insects and birds.

Ecological services, which are functions performed by many species that result in sustaining life on Earth, and are a supported by biodiversity. Within each ecological service there are many species at play.

Some examples of ecological services are:

Decomposition of waste

       Water purification

       Pest control

       Flood moderation

       Soil fertility

       Pollination

Adaptability to disturbances, which is achieved by a concerted effort of many life forms repairing the damage done by a natural disaster, or another form of disturbance.

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Every piece of every ecosystem is important and each piece depends on the other pieces. We, as humans, are part of a planet-wide ecosystem, and we depend on many different systems for our survival.  One extremely important web we depend on is that of the pollinators.

Pollination supports biodiversity!  It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinator and the pollinated. One without the other would be catastrophic. Pollination supports diversity of plants, as well as the animals that feed on those plants.  This beneficial relationship reaches broadly to birds, small mammals, large mammals, other insects, and us!  If this relationship were lost, many ecosystems would implode.

Pollinators contribute to biodiversity and life on Earth in ways that are significant to every ecosystem existing today.  Roughly 90 % of all flowering plant species are specialized for animal-assisted pollination!  7000 plant species are a form of food for other species.  Many of these flowering plants develop food only as a result of visiting pollinators, and this food supports the lives of countless species, including humans!  The disappearance of pollinators would inflict catastrophic consequences on the entire planet.

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The diversity of pollinators alone is staggering!  There are 20,000 bee species accounted for on Earth, and there are likely more. This number does not account for the hundreds of thousands of species of flies, moths, butterflies, birds, bats, and beetles who also pollinate flowering plants.

Our pollinators are struggling due to habitat loss.  The US alone hosts 40 million acres of turf, which useless to supporting biodiversity (The Humane Gardener). Some populations of butterflies have declined as much as 90%!  Honeybee colony losses are at an all time high!  What do you think that means for our native bee species?  I can tell you it isn’t good.  The struggle is due to: loss of habitat, lack of food, and pesticide use.  

The fact that pollinators are broadly struggling threatens the balance of biodiversity, and life on Earth!  

You can help by doing the following: add back habitat (shelter, food, and water), plant flowering plants, STOP the use of all pesticides (including: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides), and teach future generations how to coexist.

 

Leafcuttter Bee (Megachile) in Action

If you’ve noticed half moon cuts in your broad-leafed plants, you have Megachile living in your yard.  Check out the video below and click on the link to learn more.

Yesterday was one of my lucky days, as I was able to capture leaf cutter bees cutting their half-moon shaped pieces out of my raspberry bushes, not just once, but three times!  I think you should see what this looks like up close too!  If you’d like a quick refresher, or you’d like to learn about the leaf cutter bee, follow this LINK.

Thank you for joining the movement!

 

Caught in the Rain

We had a long anticipated rain yesterday, and many of our buzzing friends got caught in the storm before they could get home to take proper cover.  So, what do bees do in this case?

Bees seek refuge inside a flower and nestle in tight, riding the storm out with cold rain drops splashing all over them for as long as it takes for the storm to clear. Bees cannot fly with wet wings, and they cannot operate at low temperatures either.  With cold water hitting their bodies, they slow down, and must take cover for safety, lest being washed away by the cold rain waters rushing below them.

I was lucky to find five different species taking cover in the flowers of my front yard.  I wouldn’t have found them had I not gone out to look for them.  It’s amazing what you see when you are looking!  Check out the slide show below.  Look for the water droplets on the bees.

 

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Digging Into Nature

I was hiking with my daughters, and noticed perfectly drilled holes in the trail itself.  At first I thought it might be due to the poles so many hikers use for stability as they climb, but as I looked closer I realized these were tunnels.  And upon the entrance of some of these tunnels were traces of pollen!  This, of course, made me pause and wait for a few minutes, in hopes of crossing paths with my favorite pollinators, native bees.

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The three of us patiently waited, and before long in came a bee, a very fast bee who dove into the tunnel bearing loads of pollen all over her legs.  I was ecstatic, and began clicking away with my camera.  The unfortunate part was I was without my trusty macro lens, which would’ve been so much better at capturing the tiniest of details.  This just means I need to go back soon!

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These two bees were fighting over the tunnel.  Maybe they were confused about whose tunnel was whose?  The one on the top was finally shoved off by the one in the tunnel; bee battle at its best.  You can see the leg warmer hairs on her legs in the photo below.  These hairs are called scopa, which are thick hairs that curve back toward the surface from which they grow. This works well for carrying pollen without having to mix it with nectar and pack it in as honeybees do.

IMG_9157I suspect these bees are of the Diadasia genus, as many of the tunnels we saw had walls around the entrance of the nesting tunnels.  Additionally, they were nesting in the compact soil of the trail itself, which is also characteristic of Diadasia bees.  Finally, they had thick hairs on their hind legs.  Diadasia love cactus and mallow blooms, making them key players in the reproduction of these plants.

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As we were observing this area, we came across two more species of bees.  One was nesting in the side of a hill, and she had a much different appearance from the bees nesting on the trail.  She lacked the thick scopa on her hind legs, which makes me think she had a belly full of scopa, but she was too quick for me to get a closer look. She also had really pretty green compound eyes, whereas the others had black compound eyes.  This bee looks to be Anthidium, a wool carder bee, who uses the hairs of plants to line their nests, and to partition between developing bees.  She is known for taking over abandoned tunnels, or sometimes even digging her own, but this is the exception to the rule.

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As if these two discoveries weren’t enough, we found one more buzzy bee nesting in a tunnel on the trail. Her coloring was much different from the other two with black and yellow stripes and black eyes.   She appeared to be playing Peek-A-Boo with us as she peered out and dropped back into her tunnel upon seeing our persistent presence. This is a bee I was very excited to see, as I suspected it might be Paranthidium, and upon a closer look, I can confidently say it was!

Paranthidium typically uses vacated nesting tunnels and partitions between rooms of developing bees using two plant resin walls with pebbles in between.  However, I have a hard time believing she did none of this excavating, as the pile of soil around the opening appears to be fresh.  Paranthidium bees like sunflower family plants, which is where all the resin comes from, and there were many in bloom where we went hiking.

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What a fantastic day this was!  I had a big smile on my face, as my girls jumped with delight at all the activity in one small area.  All of these sightings because we took a few minutes to wait and watch the ground beneath us.

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The next time you see perfectly drilled holes, take pause and see who resides there, chances are it’s a bee of sorts! Now waggle with us, and share this story with your friends!

 

 

Beneath Our Noses

The peculiar thing about humans is, we don’t notice many things unless we are cued to do so.  Thousands of different bees flies beneath our noses without us ever noticing simply because we don’t know to look for them.  My challenge to you is to stop and look closely at the flowering plants along your walk to work, or within your yard, and count the different insects you see visiting those flowers.  There is a world to discover just by observation.

 

Xylocopa: A Carver of Wood

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While visiting Madeira Beach my family ventured up to Florida Botanical Gardens and found a bee that is very rarely found in Colorado.  The carpenter bee, Xylocopa, is known for carving perfectly round tunnels into soft wood for nesting.  Carpenter bees are solitary nesters of wood and plant stalks.  They use sawdust to partition between developing bees (See a PHOTO here) .  In the eastern parts of the US carpenter bees nest in wood, but in the desert areas of the west, they nest in yucca stalks, among other plant stalks.

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They have large, meaty mandibles that are used for creating these perfectly round openings, and can sometimes become a perceived nuisance.  However, they are important pollinators all over the world. They pollinate passionfruit flowers, Brazil nuts, and in some countries, tomatoes  (Learn more with The Bees in Your Backyard).  Their size can make it challenging to fit inside some flowers to extract nectar, so you will see them robbing flowers of nectar, as seen below.

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Nectar robbing consists of grabbing onto the outside of a flower and cutting a slit at the base of the bloom to suck the nectar out without ever touching the pollen, or reproductive parts of the flower.  Thus, not serving as an important pollinator to that flower.  However, flowers replenish nectar stores within minutes of a bee’s visit, so this is unlikely to have a significant negative affect on the flower’s reproductive potential with the thousands of other species of bees taking an interest in these blooms.

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Bumblebees are visiting some of the same flowers the carpenter bees were also robbing.  The difference between the bumblebee and the carpenter bee is the amount of hairs on their bodies.  The abdomen of carpenter bees is smooth and shiny, whereas the bumblebee’s abdomen is hairy, and often striped with various color patterns.

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Interestingly, I did spot a honeybee sucking nectar from the holes this little carpenter bee had made in these blooms.  The ‘bad’ habit seems to be appreciated by some other bee species…might as well benefit from another’s efforts.

This is what makes vacations that much more exciting for me; collecting more bee photos, and opportunities to share with you!  I would love to hear stories of carpenter bee experiences from you, and any photos you have tagged with #thebeeswaggle.  Thank you for joining the movement to know our bees, and protect our bees.