Melissodes: Longhorned, Digger Bees

Digging for the future…

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

 

Orchid Bees

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Euglossa is the scientific  name of the orchid bees.  Orchid bees are beautifully colored in metallic green, blue and copper tones, striking enough to stop you in your tracks when you notice them.  They live in tropical places, most of which are located in Central and South America, however, some do live in Florida.  The most obvious way to find orchid bees is to first locate orchid blooms, or blue and violet flowers, and the striking colors of these bees will give them away.

Collecting nectar and pollen is most important to female orchid bees, along with collecting resin for building nests.  The resin is used to partition between individually developing orchid bees, and to seal the front of the nesting cavity to keep the developing young safe from predation.  Female orchid bees are cavity nesters, which means they look for existing cavities to build a humble nest of young bees.  She then collects pollen and nectar for her young as they grow, which is different from her tunnel nesting cousins, the leafcutter bee and mason bee, and many other solitary bees who will leave a large provision for the developing bee to feed on in their absence. From the appearance of this nest, orchid bees might have been social at one time in their ancestry, as their nest looks much like the nest of a bumblebee.  Interestingly, these bees to occasionally share nests with sisters and work as a team to raise their young. It’s hard work providing food to every mouth as they need it!

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This photo by Paul Bisceglio, and the associated article from the Smithsonian can be found HERE.

Males, on the other hand, like to smell good, so they look for various sources to collect scents that will attract females.  This is where the orchid bee gets its name, because often, males are found swarming around orchid blooms, collecting the perfumes to be stored on their hind legs.  In the process of collecting the perfumes, male orchid bees become the primary pollinators of orchids, and you can view male orchid bees doing just that in this VIDEO  from the movie, Wings of Life by Disney Nature.  Here’s a video of a male resting on a leaf, as they do not sleep in the nests females have built.  This footage is so great!

I hope you enjoyed learning about a new bee species our planet benefits from! Cheers to joining the movement!  If you are hungry for a little more footage, HERE YA GO!

 

Sunflowers: Good for Bees and Birds

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Sunflowers are an icon of summer, and sometimes a beautiful centerpiece in a fall bouquet.  Our eyes are captivated by their varieties and astonishing heights they can reach in a growing season. We enjoy their seeds at baseball games, and their oil in salad dressing, but there is more to the story of the sunflower that includes the lives of bees, and birds.

The sunflower blooms do not appear until the middle of summer, and will continue to bloom into the fall months.  Each flower is host to as many as 2000 individual flowers called florets.  Sunflowers are adorned with copious amounts of pollen, and deep within each floret is a tasty drink of nectar for any interested visitors.  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see yellow dust all over the bottom petals!

Pollen is half of the reproductive equation in flowers, and is produced on the male part of the flower, the anthers.  The other half is the egg, which lies deep within the female part of the flower, the ovary at the base of the stigma.  Interestingly, the sunflower has evolved to display anthers with pollen on them first, sans the stigma of the flower.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this “one” sunflower contains up to 2000 individual flowers, each containing both male and female parts.  So, each floret stands the chance of becoming an individual seed capable of growing into another sunflower with 2000 more florets!  This is a seed producing machine!

Who is responsible for transferring the pollen to the right place at the right time? Bees!

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Photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Bees are after a vegan meal consisting of nectar, first and foremost, and then pollen.  As they traverse across the sunflower bees transfer pollen from florets with pollen baring anthers to florets baring open stigmatic structures ready to pick up pollen.  If you look closely at the top photo of the sunflower with a pollen-caked bumblebee snacking the nectar in each floret, you can easily recognize that the bee is very effective at picking up pollen and transferring it to just the right spot.  The bees do not know that their visits to flowers results in the plant’s replication; they are really only there to feed.  The middle photo shows a green sweat bee feeding on the florets of the sunflower, and you can really see where the anthers (yellow dots) are, and where the stigmatic structures are (on the periphery of the yellow dots).  The anthers are the first to appear in this process, while the stigmatic structures show up after, and this order of events prevents self-pollination of the plant, which results in fewer seeds and oil of lesser quality.

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

So, the bees spend their time traversing and reveling in the nectar provisions of the sunflower from mid-summer into the fall, and then something remarkable happens.  The flower goes from this beautiful, bright bloom like the one above, to this…

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And what was once covered in pollen and filled with nectar becomes a seed-filled delight for birds! Each seed is full of protein and fat for birds, and other interested visitors.

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All photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

What started out as a wonderful provision for bees became a delicious meal for birds, because each piece fed the other. The flower fed the bees, the bees transformed the flowers into seeds, and the birds enjoyed their feeds!  What a lesson of interconnectedness this is.

Sunflowers are native to North America and grow well everywhere! Consider adding them to your yard next spring so you can feed both bees and birds, and maybe you’d like a taste of the sunflower seeds too!

Here are some wonderful resources on all things Sunflower:

History of the Sunflower

Following the SUN

Plant Them

Sunflowers

Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!  What’s good for the bees is also good for the birds!

 

 

 

Digger Bees in the Old Iris Box

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These lovely female digger bees set up shop in my mother’s cleared out Iris box. I was lucky enough to capture this beautiful aggregation of these solitary ground nesters, and I love sharing it with you!  I believe they are Melissodes, which I wrote about a few weeks ago and you can view that post here.   There are a few points of interest in this slide show.

First, you will notice that some mounds of soil do not show a hole in the top.  Well, that is because lady digger has temporarily plugged it for safety, or she could be finished nesting in that tunnel.  They spend a lot of time moving soil, but I didn’t see it happening, as everything they did was in fast-forward motion!

It was challenging capturing these beauties in action, as they were hasty to retreat into the tunnels, and speedy to take flight for another round of foraging!  I tried to catch them collecting pollen and nectar, but all I could get was a blur of wings and antennae.  I am happy with the photos of the two I did capture heading into their tunnels; it is proof these holes are bee holes.

I observed them visiting snap dragon blooms in addition to sunflowers.  I couldn’t believe the amount of pollen all over these girls; they were always bright yellow with the dust of pollen upon return from foraging.   They are excellent pollinators with that pollen-carrying capacity!

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Melissodes, as is true with many fall flying bees, seek out sunflowers, and if you look closely you’ll see the pollen dust on the pedals of this bloom.  That’s a load of protein rich goodness which will give bees long sustaining energy.  Sunflowers are a long awaited treat to many!

I do hope you enjoy these pictures, and I hope you are fortunate enough to see these busy bees this fall.  Don’t forget to look down at the soil and under plants or between rocks; that’s where the good stuff can be found!

Cheers to the movement!

Bees of Summer

Spring and summer bee populations overlap in some regards, but there are newcomers once the month of June arrives.  This is not a complete list of bees for the summer months, but I think it gives you an idea of how many different varieties you can find while enjoying the outdoors!  This list only includes bees, but there are a wide variety of moths, butterflies, flies, and even wasps out and about doing their job for the circle of life.

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Peponapis, or squash bees, begin flying as soon as there are squash blooms, as they are specialists, and rely solely on squash resources.  You’ll find them nestled inside squash flowers early in the morning, so don’t forget to take a peek on your way to work or school!

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Bumble bees persist throughout the summer, and you will recognize them by their loud buzz as they fly by, as well as their very furry coat.  There are 40 species of bumble bees, with all sorts of banding patterns on the backs of their abdomens.

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Anthidium, or wool carder, bees are also present throughout the summer.  You will identify them by their hover-like flying technique around mint plants as well as Lamb’s ear. The males are very territorial, and will chase even bumblebees off the plant they are guarding!

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Honey bees are among the summer flyers as well! They are the most recognizable of all bees, because we know them best.

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Ceratina is a petite black bee who joins the forces in the summer months. If you are not paying close attention, you will miss this tiny flying insect.

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Here is a leafcutter bee. They join the pollinating forces in May, but persist all summer.  They have a very furry abdomen, which is where they carry pollen, so it is often dusted with orange or yellow powder.

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Osmia, or mason bee, made her appearance in March, but will carry on until late May, and sometimes may even have a second generation of bees mid-summer!  They are very dark and easily mistaken for a fly, but when you look closely, you can see they are black bees with a hue of blue in the sunlight.  They also carry pollen on their abdomen, so may even see a yellow dusting underneath.

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Andrena, or mining bee, is another spring riser, but will be around all summer too.  There are many colors and sizes of mining bees, but here’s one brown example, and this one is rather small too.

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This large black flyer is likely a carpenter bee who will begin flying in the summer months.

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This is a halictus bee who flies during the summer months as well.  They can be petite bees, but larger than Ceratina, with baskets on their legs, and usually a grayish color.

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Here are some more Carpenter bees emerging early June.  Look at all that sawdust!

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This is a metallic green sweat bee, who is highly active in the summer months as well!  Females are all green while males have the combo of stripes and green.

Cheers to observing and joining the movement!

Jessica