Mr. and Mrs. Digger Dining Together

Digger bees are devoted sunflower seed setters, as they love the sunflower family blooms.  I was very lucky to capture both male and female digger bees dining side by side.  Learn a bit more about digger bees here.IMG_6934

Lady digger is on the left and mister digger is on the right.  The male has very long antennae for mating purposes.  Check out the video posted on YouTube by Karla Thompson.

Please do share what you learn, and thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!

Colorado Pollinator Garden

Happy spring!  I often get the question, “what can I do to really help pollinators?”  My response is always to encourage people to plant more flowers.  These flowers must be pesticide free to really be of any use to “helping” pollinators, and a tri-season blooming garden is most helpful, as there can be dry spells otherwise, leaving little to no food sources for our pollinating friends.

Lucky for you, Colorado is nearing the “safe” time to plant, and I thought it would be beneficial to share with you a list I have compiled to for pollinator gardens in Colorado yards!

I did some research to construct a garden consisting of food for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, as well as many other pollinators in Colorado.  Additionally, I have chosen plants that would bloom at varying times to provide food for pollinators from spring to fall.

Here’s the list:

Lavender

Yarrow

Turkish Veronica

Dalmation daisy

Catmint (bees of all sizes congregate on this plant)

Hissop/Agastache (of any variety, especially the red ones)

Coneflowers

Columbines

Hummingbird trumpet mint

Chocolate flower

Smooth blue aster

Cashmere sage

Russian sage

Bluebeard

Rabbitbrush

Mountain Mahogany

Sedum

Yucca 

And here are some more with pictures for your enjoyment!

img_4848Sunflowers are always wonderful for pollinators, and later for songbirds.

img_4447Salvia 

IMG_4477

Lupine

IMG_4037

Bee Balm

IMG_3683

Blanket Flower

IMG_3718

Penstemon

IMG_3753

White Aster

IMG_1605

Black-eyed Susans 

IMG_2859

Wildflower mix from BBBseed

IMG_2861

It’s the perfect time to get a plan together for planting in just a few weeks!  And with Colorado Pollinator Month on the horizon (JUNE), it would be good to have flowers blooming in your yard so you can snap some pictures of pollinators and join the #pollinateCO campaign across the state.  Let’s recognize the creatures that make our state colorful.  Look for these posters across the state this June.  At the end of May go to coloradopollinatormonth.com for a list of events related to pollinators.

12 x18 CO Pol Month Poster

If you like to plant seeds, bbbseed, a company based out of Boulder, has some wonderful seed mixes that produce beautiful flowers all three seasons too!

Come join the movement and help our pollinators!!

#pollinateCO #thebeeswaggle

Leafcutter bees are great craftswomen!

 

With a name like leaf cutter, you would think these bees are scary for plants, but they only use what they need.  A leaf cutter bee will carefully carve a half-moon shape out of broad leaves or petals to fashion egg cells for her young, and the size of that cut corresponds to the size of the leaf cutter species.  One leaf cutter variety is around 1″ long, while the other is roughly 1/4″ long.  So, if you see different sizes on your leaves, you have different varieties of leaf cutters in your yard.

img_4116

If you see half-moon cuts like this one in your broad leaf plants, you have leaf cutter bees living in your yard.

Leaf cutter bees will use flower petals too!

Leaf-cutter bees are another native species of bees found in most parts of North America. They are smaller than a honeybee, and have darker stripes paired with pastel yellow colored stripes across the abdomen.

IMG_0939

The scientific name for this species is Megachilidae, and their name says it all, they do cut leaves for a purpose. They get their name from the way they use pieces of leaves to form egg cells which they then store in long, hollow cavities.  They use a glue-like substance from glands near their mouths to sew pieces of leaves together, which they have carved from leaves of lilacs and other broad-leafed plants. The shape is that of a half-moon, and the size of the piece they take is very consistent. They only take as much as they need, never destroying the plants from which they take the leaf fragments.

fullsizerender

This is what the inside of a leaf cutter bee nesting hole looks like, as seen in our observation house (soon to be available again).

IMG_2064

A row of beautifully crafted nesting cells from my leafcutter bee house.

Leafcutter bees are a solitary breed, like the mason bee. This translates into a more docile creature with nothing to defend but her life. So the only time she would sting would be to defend her life, and this is a rare occurrence, making her a very welcoming guest in your own yard!  I have spent many minutes peering into the nesting blocks while these busy bees fly in and out going about their nesting business.  I never once felt threatened by them, and in fact, felt ignored, entirely!  This is also true of the nature of mason bees.

 

IMG_1299

There is one row capped with leaves! And there is a leafcutter bee going into another row to nest.

IMG_1314

Here she is coming out!

Unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating of soft rotting wood, or holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.  They also like having conveniently located nesting blocks with inviting holes as well, and we have had success with them nesting in ours.  Nesting blocks need protection, so they must be paired with a nice house, and we have many options.

Like mason bees, leafcutter bees are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee, because of where they carry pollen.  One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate at least what 20, and even up to 40, honey bees can pollinate. Leaf-cutter bees do not have pollen carrying baskets on their hind legs, but they do carry lots of pollen via static cling created by the hairs on their abdomen called scopa. The way they visit flowers is much like the mason bees, diving into the pollen as they fly from flower to flower. This technique sets them apart from honeybees and makes them very effective pollinators.

img_4447

Look at all that pollen on this leaf cutter bee’s abdomen!

Finally, leaf-cutter bees do not make honey, but they cultivate quite the production of food sources, as well as flower seed production, through their fierce pollinating efforts, and it would be foolish not to recognize this talent useful to us as humans. Like the honeybee, leafcutter bees, along with all other species of bees, need our help!  Become a great host to these fascinating creatures, along with other species of pollinators, by setting up a complete habitat for them this season.

Thank you for joining the movement!

Leafcuttter Bee (Megachile) in Action

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!

 

Melissodes: Longhorned, Digger Bees

Digging for the future…

IMG_4336

I introduce to you, the Melissodes bee! Look at the pollen all over this bee, and check out those antennae! Commonly named the Long horned digger bees, these beauties are late to emerge, and pollinated flowers of similar timing, such as gumweed seen in this photo.  I spotted these bees on a hike up Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, CO, last week (August), and of course had to pull out the camera!

The bee in the picture is a male, and I know this because he has very long antennae, whereas the females have shorter antennae, about half the length of the male’s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any females the day of the Mt. Saints hike.  This is likely due to the fact that males emerge sooner than females, and I was lucky enough to witness the beginning of digger bee season!

However, I may have seen a female on a hike last fall near Frisco, CO.  Have a look. What do you think?

IMG_2109IMG_2112

Another difference between the sexes of these bees, is where they slumber.  Males will cluster together on plants, or in crevices in rocks stacked on top of each other to keep warm until morning.  Females sleep underground in the nest they are building.

The title “digger bee” has a literal meaning here.  The females dig into the ground to create nesting cavities.  They like loose sandy soil, because they will backfill the nesting hole with loose sand every time they leave to forage for nectar and pollen.  This serves to camouflage the nest, thus protecting it from predators.  Although these bees are solitary, they will happily form aggregations of neighboring nests, and sometimes even sharing an entrance leading to many different nesting rows of different lady bees!

IMG_4350

Longhorned bees are late arrivals, and have been known to fly into October, pollinating fall blooms. They gravitate toward flowers in the sunflower family, but they’ll happily behave as a generalist and take whatever nectar and pollen is available at the time.

IMG_3870

Look at this photo bomber bee! I was photographing the butterfly, and didn’t realize I had captured two pollinators!  Can you identify this bee now?

If you’d like to see these bees nest in your yard:

  1. Grow lots of sunflowers and late blooming perennials.
  2. Provide a small mound of sandy soil.
  3. Take the time to observe everyday, because the smallest creatures are also the hardest to catch in the act of living!

Cheers to joining this very important movement!

 

 

Moth to Yucca to People

This week I have the opportunity to teach children about the benefits pollinators presented to the Pueblo People, and I know you will enjoy this topic just as much, so here it goes!

YUCCA POLLINATION

Yucca plants rely on yucca moths to pollinate them, and yucca moths rely on yucca to feed their young.

Obligate mutualism is the name of the game with the yucca: yucca moth relationship.  One cannot survive without the other.

IMG_5993Female Yucca moth collecting pollen from the anther of a yucca bloom.

Yucca blooms open early summer, inviting visitors with sweet nectar and shelter within its petals.

Yucca blooms release the most concentrated scent at night, and produce the most nectar in the evening hours, and reason for this, is their most important pollinator flies at night.

Yucca moths fly at night, making them nocturnal. They search for a yucca bloom to take refuge in, and scent plays a large role in moths finding the blooms.  Inside the yucca bloom, the yucca moths will mate.

Once mated, the female yucca moth will collect pollen from the anthers on the yucca bloom, and store it under her chin.

She will then fly to another yucca bloom, lay a few eggs, and deposit some pollen from under her chin onto the stigma of the bloom where her eggs will hatch.  She knows this will result in seeds.

The larvae of the yucca moths feed on the seeds of yucca plants.  The mother moth knows to lay only a few eggs in each bloom, so the bloom doesn’t abort and fail to feed her young.

yucca larvae

Yucca larvae feeding on the seeds inside a yucca fruit.

In many cases, pollinators do not know they are pollinating flowers to form seeds, but this clever girl is very much aware of her purpose for the yucca plant.  Her efforts benefit more than just her young. 

YUCCA AND THE PUEBLO PEOPLE

The Pueblo people used the yucca plant from top to bottom!

The blooms are sweet, and can be eaten straight off the plant.  Those blooms will also become a tasty fruit that can be eaten alone or paired with other foods.

IMG_5925Yucca bloom wide open for visitors.

The leaves are tough and fibrous, and can be shredded down to pieces perfect for weaving baskets, sandals, and blankets.

IMG_5955Yucca plant bearing a row of seed pods.

The tips of those fibrous leaves are sharp, and can be used as needles for sewing.

The roots of yucca plants make excellent soap and shampoo when ground into a pulp and mixed with a little water.  The roots can also be used as a remedy for rashes and sores.  They can be eaten, but have a soapy flavor.

yucca root and pulpYucca root and its’ pulp.

This pollinator isn’t a bee, but very important nevertheless! What a plant, and what a moth!

Thank you for joining the movement!

Jessica

Mason Bee Larva!

Check out this video to spy some live mason bee larva.

Below is a picture of the inside of my observation native bee house.  You are looking at two males nestled in the top rows resting, and three individual egg cells filled with pollen and nectar, and separated by mud in the bottom rows.  This is before the eggs hatched into larva, and the video I took tonight shows the larva, which are growing more chubby every day.  The next phase will be the larva spinning a cocoon around themselves to develop into pupa and then adults, which will emerge next March.  This is so cool watching the entire process!

IMG_3374