Was THAT a BEE?

If you are an aspiring bee enthusiast, and find it very difficult to quickly distinguish between the bee, wasp, or fly, this is the lesson for you!

I’ve often been told it is very hard to tell the difference between these insect groups, and I honestly take it for granted that I can quickly ID them, but I do spend hours observing them. These hours of practice made me pretty fast at identifying the bees flying among us. I call it the BEE-dar. I am THAT person; the one who stops mid-sentence because I just saw a bee “over there”. Maybe it’s not your aspiration to be THAT person, but you’d like to know how the heck people like me see it right away. There are some very important ways to tell right away, and I’ve covered them below.

Visits to flowers: Flies, wasps, and bees visit flowers, but not for the same reason.

I have noticed that most bees are very fast and intentional about flying from one flower to the next, stopping only to frantically collect pollen and/or nectar, in the case of females. Male bees will lounge on a flower for some time, sipping nectar, and waiting for lady bees to show up; some even slumber in the flowers at nightfall (Peponapis-squash bees-males do this). However, bees are not the only insects familiar with the nectar induced energy jolt, and not the only ones visiting flowers, so how do I know which visitor is a bee?

Flies and wasps both visit flowers, but not with an agenda to collect food for their young. They visit to get a sip of nectar, for energy, of course. Wasps are also inclined to also collect plant resin, thus you’ll often find them walking the stems of plants more frequently than sipping nectar. This may also entail hunting for insects along the stem to feed their young.

I’ve also observed flies sipping nectar, and then lounging for a bit, for as long as there is no disturbance. A bee would never lounge around for long; they are always working.

These tips are still not quite enough to effectively distinguish between these insect groups.

Distinguishing Physical Characteristics: 5 key differences are dead giveaways.

  1. Bees are often the hairy ones of the three insects, whereas most flies are not (though there are some hairy species), and wasps appear bald compared to bees. Bees use their hair to collect pollen, thus you’ll often see pollen packed onto some part of the bee’s body (legs or underside of the abdomen).
  2. Bees have long and straight, or straight with an elbow bent downward, whereas flies have short stubby antennae, and wasps have long antennae with curves at the tips.
  3. The eyes are different. Flies have large eyes that take up a large portion of their heads. Bees and wasps both have large compound eyes, but they don’t take up quite as much space on their heads as the eyes of the fly.
  4. Body shape varies. Flies body segments seem to flow into each other, rather than section off as a bee and wasp bodies do, though they are segmented. Wasps have spindly bodies that taper to a very narrow connection between the thorax and abdomen. Wasps also have long, gangly legs. 
  5. Wings are the final physical characteristics worth noting. Wasps and bees both have four wings-two forewings (front) and two hindwings (back). Flies, however, only have two functional wings. 

Now, for the visual studies. See the photographs below, all mine, of course. If I am going to spend hours stalking insects, it might as well amount to beautiful photographs for you to enjoy!

Take a look at the bees below:

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Make note of all the hairy bodies, and in some cases, loads of pollen on the bodies.

Take a look at these flies:

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Make note of the short antennae; the most important distinguishing characteristic.

Check out this wasp:

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Make note of the curly tips of the antennae, and lack of hair on the body. Still quite beautiful in her own right.

This brings us to the end of our lesson. I implore you to practice in your yard, and follow on Instagram, as I will be posting quiz photographs for you to continue studying. I think this will be so much fun! Thank you all for joining the movement!

Jessica

Plant it Forward

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Our yards are a platform for change. Flipping them from grass to native scapes enhances many aspects of life. It helps wildlife live and traverse the landscape that is now inundated with human developments. It provides a space for us to unwind from the constant race we choose to live in on a daily basis. It makes what was once a dull, lifeless canvas, into a vibrant space filled with color and biodiverse activity. It influences others to do the same. This is what we all need, and as landowners, we can flip this landscape on behalf of wildlife as well as ourselves. Even a small plot makes a difference, and has immediate rewards, because wildlife is desperately searching for resources.

If you need help selecting native plants for your area, contact your local native plant societies. I have constructed a page, Native Gardening Tools, on my website that has links to many native plant resources for all 50 states as well.

Let’s get our shovels and start digging in for change! Want a little more? 

 

 

MAD BEE SKILLS: Built to Carry Pollen

IMG_9672Bees are the super pollinators, as they have a vested interest in pollen.

Interactions of co-dependence exist everywhere in the natural world, demonstrating that we are all a significant part of the overall life-giving function of Earth.  This year I will take you on a journey through the striking ways that bees are built to perceive and interact with their surroundings, making them essential to plant life, as well as animal life .  From lessons on carrying pollen, to smelling molecules, we will approach 2020 with a new appreciation for these tiny buzzing creatures.  Our first lesson begins with the story of pollen.

img_2688Powder containing hope of a future generation sits waiting for a taxi ride to its desired destination.

Pollen is half of the equation in plant reproduction, and must be transported to its destination by wind, water ,or pollinators. It is the male offerings in plant reproduction, while eggs are the female offerings. Pollen is composed of a hard shell (a wall consisting of an inner and outer shell) that protects its contents from destruction. It consists of proteins and fats. The challenge all pollen is faced with is transport to the eggs of corresponding flowers.

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Image borrowed from: pollinator.ca

Wind has been used by plants since the dawn of botanical life on Earth. Wind transport is very inefficient, as most pollen is blown everywhere but its desired destination.  This form of pollen transportation is very expensive to the plants using it, as these plants must manufacture a lot of pollen to get the job done.

Interestingly, wind transported pollen is smooth and aerodynamic, sometimes even sporting air sacks, designed to catch the wind like a sail. Another well designed partnership in achieving pollen flight! Look at the electron micrographs of wind carried pollen grains in the images below.

Scanning electron micrographs of pollen grains from seven wind-pollinated gymnosperm species. (a) Á (c) Cunninghamia lanceolata , (a) equatorial view exhibiting oblate spheroidal shape due to natural dehydration after pollen dispersal in the air, (b) polar view with a sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (c) exine with orbicules on the sculptured surface; (d) Á (f) Cryptomeria japonica . (d) equatorial view exhibiting ellipsoid shape, (e) polar view with a slightly sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (f) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (g) Á (i) Metasequoia glyptostroboides , (g) equatorial view exhibiting oblate spheroidal shape, (h) polar view with a slightly sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (i) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (j) Á (l) Chamaecyparis obtusa , (j) pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after pollen release in the air, (k) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (l) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (m) Á (o) Sabina chinensis , (m) many pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after dispersal in the air, (n) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (o) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (p) Á (r) Podocarpus macrophyllus , (p) equatorial view showing body and two sacci, (q) polar view with two sacci, (r) many small apertures on the surface; (s) Á (u) Cephalotaxus sinensis , (s) many pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after release in the air, (t) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (u) many orbicules on the sculptured surface. Scale bars 0 50 m m (j, m, s), 10 m m (a, b, d, e, g, h, k, n, p, q, t), 5 m m (c, f, i, l, o, r, u). 

Image of wind carried pollen grains was borrowed from: “Adaptation of male reproductive structures to wind pollination in gymnosperms: Cones and pollen grains.
Canadian Journal of Plant Science 91(5):897-906 · September 2011 with 1,451 Reads

Pollinator assisted pollination is much more efficient, as the pollen is carried from its origin to its desired destination much more readily, at a higher success rate than wind transport.  Millions of years ago flowers developed, and became advertisements containing a sweet bait, nectar, consisting of sugar-water with vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

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Word about this sweet, energy packed food source spread, and a large group of interested seekers developed-pollinators. The number of pollinating species grew to 180,000, 20,000 of which are bees. All pollinators know about and seek nectar, but most know nothing of what they are doing to help plants reproduce, and have special characteristics that make them better helpers in this way.

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Many pollinators are hairy, feathery, or have some way of attracting and gripping pollen to their bodies, faces, or legs. Interestingly, pollen carried by pollinators has a Velcro-like surface, or the surface has deep grooves. These physical characteristics of pollen help pollen to get wedged in the hairs or feathers of pollinators. Bees are the focus of this article, and are super pollinators. Look at all that hair!

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Why is a bee a super pollinator? What do I mean by super pollinator? Bees are interested in collecting and carrying pollen, because they feed pollen and nectar to their young. They are built to carry their needs. I will get to how they transport nectar in the next article, but let’s get to how they are built and motivated to carry pollen.

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Most bees have hairs on their heads, thorax, abdomen, and sometimes legs. This isn’t just for show, the hairs serve two purposes.

The first function is to attract the pollen to the body of the bee.  This is achieved through electrostatic charge; the same trick you used to enjoy with a balloon and your hair. When the bee is in flight, the hairs generate positive charge all over the hairy parts of the bee. Flowers carry an electric field across the surface of the bloom, making pollen negatively charged. Opposites attract, and pollen will leap from the flower to the body of the bee, due to a large difference in charge between the two. An interesting fact here is some hairs on the bee have mechanoreceptors at the base of the shaft. Mechanoreceptors send signals to the brain in response to physical movement.  Mechanoreceptors on a bee are affected by the pull of very negatively charged pollen tugging on the positively charged hairs! Isn’t it cool enough that the hair and pollen carry opposite charges?!

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The second function of bee hair is to grip the attracted pollen. It isn’t enough that the pollen and hair are opposite in charge, because the charge on pollen will wear off, so physical characteristics step in to ensure effective transport.  Bee hairs are split and frayed along the shaft.  This characteristic makes it more likely the Velcro-like, or deeply grooved, surface of pollen will get wedged and stuck inside the forest of bee hair. The ways bee secure pollen for the long ride home varies.

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A scanning electron microscope image of pollen grains from a variety of common plants, both wind and pollinator carried. William Crochot – Source and public domain notice at Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility

Some bees such as honey bees and bumblebees have Corbicula (pollen baskets) on their hind legs. These structures consist of a solid smooth back with stiff rounded hairs the reach out and across the front of the smooth back. The pollen carried in this way is mixed with nectar to a Play Dough like consistency and stuffed into the Corbicula for transport. Not much pollen falls out of these pollen patties.

img_6246Look closely at lady honeybee’s hind leg, and you’ll see the Corbicula packed with a moist  pollen and nectar paste.

IMG_0023That orange ball the lady bumblebee’s hind leg is a mixture of pollen and nectar stuffed into her Corbicula.

Another way bees transport pollen is in thick hairs called Scopa. These hairs could be on the abdomen of bees or on the hind legs. In this mode of transport, pollen is loosely stuffed into the hairs, and readily pass off onto flowers visited by these bees.

IMG_7023This squash bee (Peponapis sp.) has Scopa on her hind legs, and you can see some pollen granules stuck to the hairs here.

img_4447This leaf cutter bee (Megachile sp.) has yellow pollen all over her abdominal Scopa.

The final way some, and very few, bees carry pollen is inside a transport tummy, which we will not go into any depth, as this will be next month’s topic.

IMG_7285This masked bee (Hylaeus sp.) carries pollen in her transport tummy, as she was born practically hairless.

I hope your mind was blown at least once in reading this post, and if so, share your knowledge with friends, family, strangers. Let’s get this movement buzzing louder than ever! Thank you for your continued support, following, and for joining the movement to advocate for native bees, and really all bees!

All photos, unless otherwise noted, belong to Jessica M Goldstrohm, owner of The Bees Waggle.

 

 

A Treat Suitable for a Spooky Night!

Buzzworthy Cider Card

We can buzz for bees all year.  With exception to cinnamon, the ingredients in this cider all began as flowers, and had a pollinator visit to make them into resources to us.

I hope you enjoy this spicy treat this holiday season!

Thank you for joining the movement.

 

Bee-Blitz

If you haven’t heard of a bio-blitz, you won’t understand the title of this post.  A bio-blitz is a recording of all living species (biodiversity) in an area over the course of 24 hours.  I did not perform my bee-blitz over 24 hours straight, but I did record what I witnessed at three time points over the course of 24 hours.  My focus was on the front yard, and on bees.  This is nowhere near the scale of an actual bio-blitz, but the results are worth sharing nevertheless.

I recently completed my goal of replacing my front lawn with useful vegetation.  Last year I replaces 1/2 the lawn with native flowering plants, and this year I did the other 1/2.  I used Resource Central’s Gardens in a Box to do so, as they are complete with a plant by number map.  I thought it would be interesting to see how many species of bees are appreciating this change, as the flowers are plentiful.

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I had this bee in my bonnet beginning on August 23rd, and began counting from 7-7:45pm.  

It had been a sunny and hot day, and the evening was buzzing with activity in my front yard.  I was curious who was responsible for all the buzzing, and began taking note of the bees bouncing from flower to flower.  I cannot claim with confidence that I was able to spot every possible bee in my yard at that time, I am only one person, but I am proud to say I found 8 species I could identify.  This number seemed low to me, but let’s acknowledge the time was evening, and many bees are home nestled in for the night.  I decided to repeat this the next day, but at different time points.  I thought I would see a lot more diversity during the day.

August 24th

9:45-10:15am

It was another sunny day, and was much busier than the previous evening, as I had predicted.  At this time I identified 15 different species of bees in my front yard; that’s nearly double the evening activity!

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I thought I would look again later in the day, when things really heat up to see if visitors would increase or decrease in diversity.  I found 16 species this time, not significant from the morning count, but still significant from the previous evening.

You are probably wondering who I saw, so here’s a photographical collage of my buzzing guests over the 24 hours I recorded…well, only three time points during those 24 hours. The photos below were taken on different days, but the visitors remain the same.  A few of the bees I spotted were not familiar to me, so I didn’t put a name to the face, yet, but I did count them.  Some species that were found at all three time points are: bumble bees (more than one species), digger bees, honey bees, sweat bees, and wool carder bees.  The diversity was astounding, and so exciting, as this is my goal, to provide a bee haven.

So, where do I go from here? Next year is another opportunity to record visitors in a more thorough manner, beginning in March.  It is my intention to take 24 hours out of each month of the buzzing seasons, and see who I am supporting.  I’d love to find their nests too, as this has been an ongoing mystery, but not one I’ve spent much time with.

Do you know who’s buzzing in your yard? I’d love to hear what you’ve seen in your yard, and see photos too!  It’s never too late to create a buzz and move that grass over for useful landscapes.  This action supports birds and small mammals too.

Share this post to spread the word.

Thank you for joining the movement!

Jessica

#thebeeswaggle #lawntoflowers #feedbees #nativebees #solitarybees #bees

Growing Dye

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We decorate ourselves daily with a rainbow of colors in our clothing choices, and yet, many of us do this without knowing exactly how this color comes to be.  Much of it is synthetically made now, however, there was a time (prior to 1856) when fabric was dyed with plants.  Why am I writing about this?  Well, many of the dyeing plants are also flowering plants that bees buzz for.  This year I am taking the fall months to learn new skills, one of which is dyeing using plants.  Denver Botanic Gardens is offering a wonderful array of skill building classes I will easily use in my business operations this fall. So, I’m diving in to feed my insatiable appetitie for knowledge, and in doing so, benefit you as well by writing about it.

mMcIwB35Sj6nwZ+vv6YNQwJanice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is one of my favorite places to go to photograph wildlife, mostly bees, but there are many other opportune moments when I cross paths with other wild residents while visiting.  DBG Chatfield has many themed gardens, one of which is the dye garden entitled: “Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden”.  The purpose of this garden is to grow natural dye, and as you can see, it’s a bountiful buffet of pollen and nectar provisions to our beloved bees.  You may recognize some of the plants growing in this garden.  Yarrow, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Hollyhocks, Indigo, Dyers Coreopsis, Marigold, Weld, Madder, and more grow happily in this compact, yet sizable plot proving food to pollinators and dye to the dedicated gardeners of this plot.

Most of the plants in the garden provide dye through the blooms on the plant, which made me feel a little guilty at first.  As I was plucking blooms for the project bees were everywhere feasting on the large supply of blooms.  One bumblebee insisted the blooms should be cleaned out before we took them out of the garden.  I cannot blame her as I would also be offended if someone was removing a perfectly good zucchini from my garden just to make stamp art with it.  I’d rather eat it!

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The bees had plenty of blooms in the dye garden, as well as on the surrounding acres, despite the work of our harvesting hands.

The process of dyeing using plants is quite simple.  This fact has inspired me to create using plant dye, as many of the flowers we used already grow in my garden; how fortuitous! Below, I am providing a simplified flow of steps for this process. If you are interested in doing this yourself, I suggest getting at least one of the dye books listed below.

The first step  to using natural dye is harvesting plants, as well as preparing the items you plan to dye.

Preparation differs for different material, so I recommend you get an instructional guide to assist.  Some books that came highly recommended were: “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan; “Wild Color” by Jenny Dean; “ECO Colour” by India Flint; and “Natural Dyes” by Linda Rudkin.

Second step is steeping the plant material in mesh at a low temperature of 160 degrees until you see a fair amount of color in the hot liquid.  It is important not to boil, as this will brown the color to mud color.

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The third step is to soak the pieces of fabric, clothing, yarn in the dye ‘tea’ for as long as it takes to obtain the color your desire.  It smells so good!

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The final step is to wash the dyed items in soapy water and hang them to dry.  We used silk scarves, which dried very quickly.

Natural dyes can turn out just as vibrant and beautiful as any.  Look at the rainbow of colors from plants below; spectacular!

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The workshop sent me home with some beautiful scarves.  I don’t know what I will do with these scarves yet, but I do know what I will do with the knowledge I now have, use it!  I am excited to add some dye plants to my yard and use them next year.  If you have room in your yard, I highly recommend making a space for this functional, and natural relationship.  You can even use these dyes for watercolor paintings, all my artist followers.

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Who knew flowers had so many fantastic applications?  Feeding bees, feeding us, beautiful bouquets, precursor to fruit, feeding birds, providing dye, and the list goes on. If you decide to do this yourself, please take only what you need, leaving some for our buzzing friends to feed.  Poetic!

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Thank you for joining the movement and continuing to buzz for bees! Please share this post with everyone you know:)

 

 

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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