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

Making History

IMG_3870

In 2017 I find myself busier than ever toiling away at raising awareness for pollinators, many of which are insects that people generally dismiss as nuisances. Everyday I rise with the sun and begin pondering ways to reach people regarding the importance of pollinators, and many of my days I don’t have the privilege of witnessing the fruits of this labor, but I press on nevertheless, in hopes of reaching even the smallest of numbers to promote positive change.  I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people on this journey who are also tirelessly toiling away for change.

2016 marked the beginning of my involvement with, and the establishment of the Colorado Pollinator Network, and what a wonderful journey this has been! We are looking forward to establishing the first annual Colorado Pollinator Month, which will take place in June of every year.  Our goal is to create state-wide awareness around pollinators to bring about positive change for pollinator species in our state.  My team on the Education and Outreach Workgroup has been working to invite as many entities as we can to help raise awareness during the month of June, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for my team!

I am so very lucky to be working on Colorado Pollinator Month with:

Amanda Accamando (co-chairs the Education and Outreach Workgroup with me) of Hudson Gardens, Angela Jewett of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, Rebecca Coon of CU Museum of Natural History, Jane Crayton of CSU Extension of Pueblo, Deryn Davidson of CSU Extension of Boulder, Jessica Romer of Denver Urban Gardens,  of Audubon Rockies, Greta Mae of BBBSeeds.

All the hard work we have been putting in has been supported by Public Policy and Advocacy Workgroup of the Colorado Pollinator Network.  They brought a proclamation  to make Colorado Pollinator Month official, and thus a lasting mark on our state, to Governor John Hickenlooper, and he signed it!

When my family heard this news our house erupted with celebratory cheering!  My team of awesome go-getters were overjoyed.  This is a moment I will never forget, and I will always smile when June rolls around in Colorado, because we have already begun making history for pollinators!

Now, let’s do this!  Look for #pollinateCO to see the happenings for pollinators in June, and tag some pollinator photos of your own too.

12 x18 CO Pol Month Poster

I am buzzing with excitement, and determined to keep this state beautiful.

Jessica

Colorado Pollinator Garden

2017 harvest

Fall is a time we can appreciate what pollinators have helped to bring to our tables, but also a great time to plant for pollinators, and this is the number one way to help pollinators.

IMG_7255

The plants you choose should be pesticide free, and most importantly, neonicitinoid free.  “Neonics” are systemic pesticides, and end up in all parts of the plant, including pollen and nectar.  And once you plant them in the ground, roughly 90% of those nasty pesticides end up in the surrounding environment they are planted in, including the water.  If the nursery you shop at is unfamiliar with this type of pesticide, and cannot guarantee their absence in the plants they sell, don’t buy the plants.  Additionally, if there is a label stuck in the plant that reads “pest resistant,” that is likely containing neonics, or some type of pesticide.

IMG_1406

A garden that provides food from spring to summer to fall is most helpful, which means you will need a variety of flowering plants, and this also means your yard will be a rainbow of colors for you to enjoy!

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.  Be sure to consult with your nursery about when to begin your fall planting for each type of plant, as this may vary.

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!

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

Salvia 

Lupine

Bee Balm

Blanket Flower

Penstemon

White Aster

Black-eyed Susans 

As always, I thank you for joining the movement to save our bees, and in doing so, saving all of our pollinators!

IMG_2861