Andrena Mining Bees

Andrena are early risers, and this year I was very luck you witness the emergence of a very large aggregation of these solitary bees in Highlands Ranch!

Andrena bees are solitary bees who happily live next door to many other solitary nesters. Some bees in this family will begin their season early spring, as is the case with these mining bees. Others will begin late summer, hoping to visit many of the sunflower family plants.

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Andrena can be social or solitary, depending on the weather conditions.  They can live in large aggregations, which is like a large housing development for humans.  This seemed to be the case with this group, however they can also live in a social structure with one queen laying all the eggs, and workers collecting all the necessary resources.

To identify the nesting hole of Andrena bees, you must be very observant of the smallest of details.  The following pictures show mounds of sandy soil, with and without holes.  This is evidence of some kind of ground burrowing bee.  The mounds without holes are either finished, and full of developing bees, or the mother bee has decided to close up shop and get some rest.  They will use dirt, plant debris, petals, or any kind of small covering to cover the holes.

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It can be alarming to stumble upon the activity of a large aggregation, however, there is no cause for concern.  These bees are too busy to concern themselves with humans or other animals, so long as there is no threat.  A perceived threat would be digging into their nesting site, or grabbing a bee out of pure harassment.  Wouldn’t you sting something if you felt threatened?  I sure would, and sometimes I wish I could sting to get the “point” across…he,he.

Andrena are of the few early rising bees, and that means the few flowering plants that are also early bloomers depend on these bees for their pollinating services.  So, consider yourself pretty darn lucky when you have been chosen to host these tiny ladies on your property.  Sit back and enjoy the very busy show.

Thank you for joining the movement!

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Look at all that pollen! She’s covered in yellow dust.

Let’s Make a Plan to BEE Good Hosts

In previous posts I have gone into great detail about the ways we can bee good hosts in our own yards.  You can review by clicking here.  There are lots and lots of great bits of information inside that link!

Here’s a quick list of to dos for a good host to pollinators:

  1. PLANT lots of flowers of a wide variety, and make sure they are organic.  I love seeds because if they grow, they will likely survive the rest of the season in my Colorado soil.
  2. DIRT won’t hurt. Leave a little bare soil for native bees to use for nesting sites.
  3. WATER is for everyone! Place a watering dish with marbles, rocks, or sticks for insects to land on and safely get a drink.

Cheers to another season buzzing with pollinators!  Thank you for joining the movement!

Jess

Mason Bees Are UP!

Today I shared the article I had written about Mason bees last year, and left for a meeting, only to return to, what is Christmas morning for every bee lover, Mason bees flying in my backyard, and more emerging!  It’s so much fun to watch them cut through their cocoons, and begin grooming.  They have the cutest little abdominal dance as they groom.

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An eager male waits for love.  Poor guy will live a very short life, but his is an important role!

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Vinca is the only bloom in my yard at this time, so I am always happy to see my mason bee residents take notice and indulge.

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I opened up my nesting trays, because I spotted a dead mason bee blocking the entrance where these lovely ladies had already emerged.  I’m happy I opened it up; what a nice surprise!  The yellow powder is unconsumed pollen-nectar bundles, and the clay-like discs were the doors between each developing bee.  All three of the bees you see here are females; males are much smaller, and have a lot more hair around the head and face.

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This little lady is grooming before her life commences, beginning with finding a worthy mate.  I always think it’s amazing they find each other the way they fly all over the place, and how few of them there are to begin with!   I’m hoping for another successful nesting season…please bees.

If you have a native bee house or block, get them up now so you can offer a home to Mason bees.  Many more native bees will be flying soon!

Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees.

Jess

Death of a Queen

It still makes me cringe with sadness to think about losing my honeybee colony.  This video was taken at the beginning of our journey.  I lost them in February, and up until January, my colony seemed to be doing fine.  We nearly made it to our one year anniversary of teaming up.  I say teaming up, because I gave them a home when they were orphaned, or searching for a new home, last June.  They were a swarm, and they were my first rescue ever, and it was an incredible experience.  One I will surely repeat many times more.

I planted double the flowers in my front and back yards, upon the arrival of my rescued swarm.  My yards were already filled with native bee species, and to add thousands more bees without planting more flowers, would mean to starve my existing residents. My yard was gorgeous from spring to the end of fall, and buzzing with all kinds of delightful insects and birds.  It was bliss to a bee-hugger like me.

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I know my honeybees were in heaven too, because I found pure gold inside the hive just before the chill hit.  They had been very active in my flowerful yard, as well as miles away in the open spaces where many native flowers were blooming.

I had also rescued two small bumblebee colonies who were unwanted in their chosen estates.  The results were amazing!  Tomatillos were so plentiful that many of them never grew larger than the size of a grape tomato; there wasn’t a branch without fruit on those plants!  I had food coming off the many garden vines all the way into late October!  All of my bees, native and honey, were thriving and helping my garden thrive too.

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This colony was in a chicken coop! Chickens killed their queen, but they went on living all summer.

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This colony was living in the crawl space of a town house, and many were flying into the house, dying by the dozens, because they were confused.  Once relocated to my yard, they thrived, and gave me much to be grateful for in my veggie garden!

Native bees die off at the end of fall, and queens, as well as cocooned adults, go into hibernation for the winter, but honeybees overwinter, so I watched them very carefully, as it was our first winter together.  They were doing famously until January, which is when I began to see bees doing strange things on my patio below the deck where my hive sits. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, because bees die, and some of this behavior might be normal, but the number of deaths was increasing, and at the end it was by the thousands, as if a plague had hit the hive.

The bees had a Parkinson’s like tremor when they walked, and often failed to launch into the air to fly, as if the nervous system was compromised.  I looked for mites, but to no alarming avail, were they present.  I would see one bee with a mite, out of thousands of bees with no mites.  So, I concluded it wasn’t a “mite” problem, but their presence never helps when it comes to fighting disease, as they are very good vectors, as mosquitos are for humans.

As I was searching for answers, the populations continued to drop, and then the day I found the queen came, and I knew it was over for my honeybee colony.

I opened the hive to inspect on a warm day in February, and there she lay, at the very top of the hive, on her side, barely clinging to life.  She too had the Parkinson tremor, paralytic movement, and shear weakness, with no workers surrounding her.  My heart sank.

As I ventured deeper into the hive, I found the workers clustered in a very small ball; their numbers down to the hundreds.  My heart sank twice more.  I was witnessing the death of my hive.

I carried the queen to her workers, but they were too confused to acknowledge her, so I took some of their honeycomb and put it in the top, where I found her, and soon workers flew over.  That’s when they realized who she was, and the events that followed were surreal.  I watched them see her to the other side, gently caressing her and surrounding her weak body.  I thought this day was sad for me, but this must have been devastating to the honeybees.

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When a queen dies, the honeybees lose the order of the kingdom, and don’t know what to do without her.  Her tireless dedication to laying eggs for her colony is lost once she is gone, as she is the only fertile female capable of laying both male and female eggs.

When she is alive and present, the queen’s pheromones suppress the development of the worker bee’s ovaries, making her infertile, so the worker can only lay male eggs, as these are haploid, requiring no mating to exist.  A hive full of males would only be good for another hive full of new queens ready to mate.  The point is, the queen is irreplaceable, and the loss of her will result in the loss of the colony, unless you are able to acquire another queen to replace her, which I could not do in the middle of winter.  The timing of it all was so very unfortunate, and outside of my control.

I believe the cause of this loss was Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) Type 1, and my conclusion is only based on the symptoms I was seeing with my bees: trembling motion of wings and bodies, unable to fly, and dysentery.  Disease transmission occurs via bodily contact through open wounds.  Winter requires honeybees to pack in close together  to generate heat, and bees generally do not leave the hive during the winter months, unless the days get warm.  So, the conditions were perfect for the virus to take hold.

The infection reached a tipping point in February, and at the end, bees were dropping by the thousands! It was swift, shocking, and nauseating. I felt awful, and helpless.  Viral infections are without recommended treatments, so bees are at the will of their immune systems, as is the case with viral infections in humans.

This situation is like hundreds of us living inside an airplane for several months, that contains all the provisions we need to survive, but one person boards the plain with a deadly viral infection that will spread to everyone on that plane, just by touch, because we are all stuck inside of it for months.  People would be fine for a short while, yielding only a few deaths, but as the virus spreads to more individuals, people begin to drop by the dozens, and eventually no one would remain.  This is what happened to my colony.

After that day, I left my empty hive alone for a week.  All my bees died or left days after the queen.  I couldn’t look at it.  I was angry with myself, but really, I had no control over what had happened.  I realized I had bring my focus to the bright side, if there was such a thing in this experience.

At the end of the week I opened up the hive to clean it all out, and found loads of honey!  I could definitely say my bees had been well fed, and that adding double the flowers paid off in big ways.  I harvested the honey, and the wax for the first time ever, and enjoyed every minute of it, well most of it.  The wax harvest was most challenging to me, but now I have it down, so when I have the opportunity to harvest in the future, I will be prepared.

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In the end I harvested 34, 8 oz jars of honey!  WOW!  This was from a total of 8 frames, two of which were only half filled with honey comb.  And the taste of this honey is unlike anything I’ve purchased at the store.  The depth of the flavor is incredible, and really tasted like flowers.  I think I might be a bit possessive of my honey, because of where it came from, because my husband wants to give it away to people, but I find myself snapping back, “NO!”  What have I become, a honey miser?

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I’m attached to the honey that came from my first honeybee colony, which died, and when  it died, it felt like a death in the family…okay, not quite that devastating, but pretty close.

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They were my pets.  I truly cared for them, and their presence made me happy.  Listening to them buzz around their hive; watching them bee-line in and out, was entertaining to me.  Opening the hive for inspection was exhilarating, and interacting with them was, as strange as it may seem to an outsider, spiritual.  I realized in my journey with honeybees, that they have and show emotional intelligence.  They knew me, and trusted me.  It was something special, so this honey is a special reminder of that relationship; it’s a memorial of my first journey with honeybees.  So, giving it away means something.

This was my first journey, not my last, with honeybees.  It is my hope to adopt another swarm this season, and it is my hope that we will do better the second time around.  I’ll plant even more flowers, and welcome another colony into my backyard.  I think I might bee hooked!  Help the bees that live in or near your yard by planting more pesticide free flowers this spring…it’s the simplest, most effective way to save the bees.

Thank you for joining the movement.

Jessica

 

Colorado’s New Network

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I feel a lot like this little wood boring bee.  I have been so wrapped up in my many projects, I’ve descended into a tunnel and lost touch with all of you! Where did I disappear to?

I have been rather busy lately, working on a very important local project, along with many others that seem equally important, leading me deeper into my tunnel of focus.  However, the project I’m about to write  about is all about generating more awareness on the local level in hopes of generating changes in personal habits.

It all began when I went to the Colorado Pollinator Summit in Boulder, CO, last summer.  The summit consisted of break out sessions of small groups with differing opinions on topics related to pollinators.  Soon after the summit a steering committee was formed, and the birth of a network occurred, Colorado Pollinator Network. This network consists of over 100 different organizations, businesses, scientists, and some individuals, all with a vision to make a positive impact on the health of pollinators.  The steering committee then formed 5 sub-committees, which can be seen in the attached newsletter.

I am the Co-chair of the Education and Outreach Workgroup, and my workgroup is a group of wonderfully busy bees! We are working on a huge undertaking of establishing the first annual Colorado Pollinator Month beginning this June.  This means we are working to pull all sorts of entities into the happenings of that month.  We see opportunities in libraries, book stores, summer camps, restaurants, specialty shops (chocolate, tea, coffee, soap, etc), nurseries, parks and rec, on farms, and the list goes on!

Why June? Well, June is when National Pollinator Week occurs, and many people are becoming more aware of this week, and it is a time when pollinators are very active, because many flowers are in full bloom.   This makes June a prime opportunity to educate people about the pollinators they can see flying from flower to flower.  We thought expanding around that week, and making it a month-long concerted effort across the state to raise awareness might just leave a mark in the hearts and minds of Coloradans, and all who come here to visit! Now that’s the action I love to pursue with all my energy!

So, to my loyal readers and followers, I do apologize for not being as active writing blog posts lately.  I will be better in the coming weeks, as things begin to settle into more of a routine.

HERE IS THE CPN NEWSLETTER so you can see the bigger picture of what it is all about, and maybe you’ll be inspired to do something too, whether it is in Colorado, or in your home state.

If you are in Colorado, and I do mean anywhere in Colorado, and you would like to help make Colorado Pollinator Month a success, please contact me via email at jessica@thebeeswaggle.com.  I can send you a letter of suggested ways to get involved that will fit into your everyday operations, and if you have your own ideas, please do share so we can publicize that on our upcoming website.

Additionally, I will be at the Denver Metro People and Pollinators Action Network on Monday, February 27th from 7-8:30pm to discuss Colorado Pollinator Month. HERE’S A LINK TO MORE INFO.

As always, thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!

Jessica

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!