Late Season Pollinators 2016

We’ve had a few cool days in Raleigh so far this fall, but it’s been quite warm overall. This means that a lot of insects have been out later than usual, in some cases quite a bit later than usual. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch at a nearby arboretum, just to get outside in a pretty place for a while, and I came across this field of cosmos:

flower-field

That photo was taken on November 10th, so I was very surprised to come across so many blooming flowers! Several other flowers were also in bloom, so there were quite a few different insect species making use of the nectar. There were, of course, many bees, including honey bees:

honey bee with cucumber beetle

There were also at least three different species of bumble bee, though I’ll admit that I am terrible at figuring out which species is which:

bumble bee

Most of the bumble bees I come across in my area are the common eastern bumble bee, and I suspect this one is as well, but I couldn’t say for sure.

On the same flowers, I came across a few butterflies. I hardly ever see cabbage whites, so I was excited to see this one:

cabbage white

I know they’re a pest species and a lot of people really dislike them. And yes, they did once eat all of the broccoli I planted in my garden. However, they’re really beautiful and they’re just doing what they do when they eat my broccoli, so I like them anyway.  :)

There were tons of these checkered skippers in the field of flowers:

checkered skipper

I don’t know why, but I rarely see these at the museum field station where I work, even though it’s just a mile or so away from the arboretum where I took these photos. There are tons of them at the arboretum though, almost every time I go! I spotted at least two other skippers the same day, but only got a photo of this one:

fiery skipper

I believe this is a fiery skipper, but I’m not 100% sure about my ID. What can I say? Butterflies are not my best group as I just took a real interest in them recently, but I’m working on getting better. Skippers are harder to ID than a lot of other groups, so they’re my weakest group and probably will remain so for a while.

You might have noticed the cucumber beetle in the photo with the honey bee. Once I saw one, I started looking for them and found dozens more, about one per 2-3 flowers:

cucumber beetle

Apparently they really like these flowers. They’re an agricultural crop pest, so it made me wonder if all the holes in the petals I was seeing were caused by the beetles. A lot of the most heavily damaged flowers had the beetles on them, but that could just be coincidence. There were a lot of beetles on a lot of flowers!

I spent a long time watching the insects in this field of flowers, but I saw several more as I walked back to my car. There were more butterflies out, including this common buckeye (one of my favorite butterflies!):

common buckeye

… and this American lady:

American lady

I didn’t manage to get a photo of the swallowtail that was flying around as it wouldn’t sit still long enough, but there was one eastern tiger swallowtail floating around the area. There were also a ton of hover flies, of multiple species. This one:

hover fly

… and this one:

hover fly

… seemed like particularly good bee mimics, about the same size and had rather similar behavioral patterns as honey bees. In fact, a pair of women came up to this planting while I was there and said, “Wow! Look at all those bees!” I, being the annoying person that I am sure I sometimes am, couldn’t let that pass, so I told them that a lot of what they thought were bees were actually flies and pointed out the differences. Not sure they really wanted the entomological lesson right then, but I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Fall has been coming on a lot more slowly in my area than normal this year, so I’ve been surprised more than once by the things that are still visible that are usually gone by now. I found a monarch caterpillar a few days ago and there are still a few milkweed plants alive! A few years ago, I remember seeing a monarch adult on November 2 and thinking it was terribly late, but this year I’m still seeing caterpillars.  Strange, and a little disturbing that it’s so warm so late, but I’m going to enjoy seeing insects out as long as they last – and welcome winter with open arms when it finally arrives.

flower in bloom

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

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Connect

“Connect” is today’s Photography 101 topic and I decided that a photo of pollinators was in order.  After all, the connection between pollinators and the plants they pollinate is incredibly important.  The mutually beneficial (usually) relationship means the bees get fed lots of sugary nectar and/or protein-rich pollen and the plants get their pollen moved about.  It’s a pretty good deal for both the pollinators and the pollen producers!

I did a program about tree phenology citizen science for a bunch of college students today and when we visited the redbud on our tree trail, everyone refused to go near it because it was absolutely covered in bees.  All I had with me was my iPhone, so that’s what I used for this photo:

Bees swarming redbud

Bees swarming redbud

The number of carpenter bees flying around this tree was astounding!  I loved it, stood under the tree for a while and let the bees swirl around me.  A rather magical experience overall!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

A New Bee House

Maybe it’s the time of year, but last week I started thinking “I need a new project.”  Not a science project – I’ve got a ton of those already.  No, this needed to be a personal project, preferably something that involved creating with my hands.  I quickly developed a pattern for a little elephant plush and made a few of them, but it wasn’t enough.  I needed something bigger, something that involved a bit more heavy construction.  It hit me when I noticed a fallen tree branch in my yard as I was cleaning up after my dogs (a great time to think by the way!): I needed a new bee house!  A fancy bee house!  It was too late for a trip to the hardware store at that point, so I drew up my plans and headed out early Saturday morning to get the supplies I needed.  I am seriously the worst woodworker on the planet, so this project could have ended in disaster, but I’m rather pleased with the results.  Thus, I’m going to share the plans with you all today!

Bee House No. 2

Materials

— Three pieces of equal sized lumber.  I bought a 2″ x 10″ x 10′ board and had the hardware store cut it into nine 11-inch long pieces (enough for three houses) plus one smaller reject piece.  (I have a good saw, but honestly I didn’t want to bother.)  The piece of wood you choose can really be anything that’s more than 6 inches deep, so go with what feels right!  My boards ended up being wider than they needed to be, so I would get something a little less wide next time, something in the 8 inch depth most likely.
— Drill
— Long drill bits in assorted sizes.  I used 1/4 inch and 21/64 inch, but anything between 1/4 and 3/8 inch or so works.  The more different sized holes you provide, the more species of bees you might attract!
— Sandpaper (and a sander if you have one, but you can just rub the wood with the sandpaper by hand if you don’t).  I used 120 grit paper, but considering it’s going to be sitting outside I didn’t bother with getting it perfectly smooth, just enough to get rid of rough edges.
— Wood stain (optional).  I like the stains that stain and seal in one.  This gives the wood a nice finish, but also protects the wood from the elements to some extent.  I went with the walnut stain.  For a more rustic look, you can leave the wood unfinished.
— Foam brush or other paint brush.
— Newspaper or masking paper
— Paper towels
— Carpenter’s glue

— Copper hanger strap (in the plumbing department)
— Ruler
— 24- 1/2 inch #8 wood screws – or more if you choose not to use the…
— Thumbtacks or upholstery tacks (optional)
— Screwdriver
— Hammer 

Instructions

Step 1.  Cut

If you don’t have them cut at the store, cut your board into three equally sized pieces.

Step 2.  Drill

 Drill the different sizes of holes in whatever pattern you find appealing along the narrowest edge of the board.  Drill as deep as you can, avoiding the edges.  If you’re a perfectionist and abysmal woodworker like me, trust me: random hole placement is the way to go.  You’re never going to get the holes lined up as nicely as you’d like without a drill press and a good workbench and it will just frustrate you if you try!

Step 3.  Sand

Sand every side of the boards, making sure the edges and the drilled holes are free of any sharp pieces that could result in splinters.  I used an orbital sander and it made quick work of this step.  Look over your boards and choose the two pieces that have the most pleasing appearance to be your top and bottom boards, then sand those especially carefully so that they’re quite smooth.

Step 4.  Stain

This step is optional, but I wanted to protect the wood and make it darker.  If using, place the boards on newspaper or masking paper, then apply the stain in a thin, even layer.  You really don’t need to stain the parts of the board that will be hidden inside the bee nest, so I only stained around all the edges and what were going to be the top and bottom edges.  Wait 5-15 minutes and then gently and evenly wipe any remaining stain from the boards.  Let them dry for at least a few hours, or even overnight.  If you want to make the nest extra weather resistant, you could seal the wood with polyurethane or some other sealant at this point, but I wanted my wood to look a little rustic and left it with just stain.

Step 5. Glue

Apply a thin layer of glue to the bottom of the top board and fix it to the middle board.  Do the same with the bottom board on the other side.  Make sure all the holes are facing the same way!  This will make the next step a lot easier.  Pile a few books on top and leave to dry overnight.  You could even stop here if you want to keep things simple.

Step 6.  Strap

I love the look of the welded metal frames of some bee houses I’ve seen around town, so I wanted to easily duplicate the sort of metal on wood look without buying welding equipment or burning my house down.  To do so, I used copper hanger strap.  Measure around the house and cut two pieces of hanger strap the measured length plus 1/2 inch.  Choose which part of the house will be the bottom.  On the chosen bottom, measure in 2 inches from one edge and place one end of the hanger strap there.  Drill a screw into the wood through the first hole to fix the hanger strap in place.  Then wrap the hanger strap around the house, always keeping it 2 inches from the edge.  Use the hammer to bend the strap around the edges tightly.  Fix the strap in place every 3 inches or so along the long edge by adding a screw.  Use one screw in each board on the narrow sides.  Repeat this step on the other side of the bee house  so that there are 2 bands of hanger strap around it.

Step 7.  Decorate

I decided to jazz up my bee house a bit more by pressing gold thumbtacks into the hanger strap at regular intervals.  Simply press them into the gaps in the hanger strap, then tap them gently with a hammer to seat them well.

Step 8.  Display

Once complete, the bee house should be placed somewhere it will get shade during the day so it won’t get too hot for the bees.  I’m going to thread some wire under the hanger strap and hang mine from the tree my other bee house is in, but you could simply set it along a fence, retaining wall, or raised garden bed too.  It could lay flat or stand vertically – your choice!

Step 9.  Enjoy!

Enjoy watching the bees build their nests in their new bee box!

I bought enough supplies for 3 bee houses and they ended up costing $12.74 a piece to build.  Not a bad deal for several years worth of bee observing happiness!  My new nest looks just how I wanted it to, was easy to build (seriously, if I can do this anyone can!), and will provide extra cavities for my yard bees to build nests in.  And, I don’t need three nests, so I’m giving two away as gifts.  What can be better than the gift of native bees?

Now I’m itching to come up with some new designs…  I’ll post them here when I do!

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Want a printable copy of this tutorial?  You can find it here!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: This is not a bee.

Seems like every non-entomologist I know in Tucson (including my husband) thinks these flies are bees and totally lose their minds when they end up indoors:

fly in house

Giant bee-mimic fly in my house! That's Copestylum isabellina, according to the fine folks at BugGuide.net

I have seen a number of otherwise calm, rational people completely panic and either a) start running around hysterically (sometimes screaming a bit) because one of these flies was “chasing them” or b) curl up into the fetal position, apparently hoping that they will spontaneously achieve telepathy and convince the fly to leave.  Attention all Tucsonans: it’s a harmless fly!  If you don’t know how to tell the difference, check out my Monday post for the things to look for to be sure.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: Insect-Themed TV Show Episodes

I am always excited when TV shows feature insects.  For some reason, I don’t much care whether they get things completely right.  Considering how much I grumble about news stories and websites getting their bug facts wrong, I feel like this should bother me more.  Of course, I also tend to watch a lot of shows that aren’t based in reality.  When people are travelling to alternate universes to battle bad guys, it’s hard to expect them to get their entomological facts straight!

Today I’m going to highlight 5 of my favorite insect-themed TV episodes that have been aired within the last few years.  Crime dramas have latched onto forensic entomology like dung beetles on cow pies, but I’m going to ignore them in favor of some of the more ridiculous insect episodes I’ve seen.  In no particular order, my 5 favorites are:

Immortality, Fringe, Season 3

I don’t know why I like Fringe as much as I do.  The plots are COMPLETELY unrealistic and the situations the characters find themselves in are sometimes laughable, but I can’t stop watching.  The show is a sort of X-Files style experience dealing with strange paranormal events that are investigated by a brilliant, but insane scientist, his estranged son, and a female FBI agent.  Immortality takes place in the alternate universe that has become a major part of the show.  You learn during the episode that an entomologist was just about to make a major health related breakthrough using “skelter beetles,” but the beetles’ sheep host went extinct before the research was completed.  The entomologist alters the beetles to accept human hosts to continue his work and murders several people with the bugs, hence the Fringe Division is after him.  The episode definitely has problems – the “beetles” are really roaches and no insect could reproduce as quickly as the beetles in the episode do – but it’s still a lot of fun!

SHow ME the Mummy, Eureka, Season 3

Eureka is a lot more “cute” than Fringe, but they’re very similar in many ways – lots of crazy, unrealistic science that just couldn’t happen.  If you aren’t familiar with it, the show features a town full of scientists who work at a military R&D lab (Global Dynamics) developing some mind-boggling (i.e., impossible) inventions and scientific techniques.  Show Me the Mummy is the show’s main insect offering.  The episode begins with the usual snotty scientist with a massive ego arguing with a similar scientist over a mummy.  Long story short, the sarcophagus is housing insects that have been in diapause (a sort of hibernation) for a couple thousand years, are reanimated, and require water to reproduce.  The scientists at Global Dynamics happen to be full of water, so the bugs kill a few people and wreak havoc on the town of Eureka.  Eventually, the town’s sheriff (of all people) suggests that they try killing them with cold.  You can guess what happens from here – or just watch it yourself.

Sight Unseen, Stargate SG-1, Season 6

Image source: http://www.dvdactive.com/news/releases/ stargate-sg1-season-8.html?action=reply

I finally got around to watching Stargate SG-1 recently and I really enjoyed it because I’m a massive geek.  In it, the four member military team SG-1 travels to other planets via a transportation device called the Stargate.  They battle aliens and whatnot and Richard Dean Anderson’s character makes a lot of jokes.  Cheesy sci-fi goodness at its best!  In Sight Unseen, the SG-1 team returns to Earth and start seeing giant bugs everywhere, bugs that phase in and out of sight.  Then people in Colorado Springs start seeing them too and they know they’ve got a problem on their hands.  You later discover that the giant bugs are in a different dimension (of course!) and that a radiation that is somehow transmitted from person to person by physical contact (yeah…) allows people to see through into the other dimension.  The bugs aren’t really there after all!  It’s a ludicrous plot, but I loved the giant bugs so this is one of my favorite episodes anyway.

All Mine, Reaper, Season 1

Ah, Reaper.  This has an even worse overall plot than the other things I’ve mentioned so far and I’m kinda embarrassed I actually watched it.  The general idea is that a young man learns that his parents sold his soul to the devil when he was a child – and the devil has come to collect!  The guy then has to track down various baddies who have escaped from Hell and send them back using various objects the devil provides for collection.  Seriously – cheesy, awful plot!  In All Mine, the plot is even worse than usual.  An escapee, this time a seductive woman, is killing people with bees.  In turns out that her entire body is made up of bees!  And then the main character and his inept friends send her back to Hell with a toaster…  Yeah.  Not a good episode, but it made me laugh anyway, so here we are.  :)

Bzzzzzzz!, Pushing Daisies, Season 2 

Pushing Daisies is one of my favorite shows of all time.  It was bizarrely humorous and quirky, so I thought it was brilliant!  The overall plot involves a guy who learned as a kid that he has a gift – he can bring dead things back to life with a touch.  However, if he leaves them alive for longer than a minute, an equivalent organism must die in its place with some disastrous consequences.  A private investigator stumbles onto his secret and they team up to solve murders by asking the murdered person who killed him/her.  The main character brings his first and only love back to life in the first episode (but he can’t ever touch her or she’ll die for good) and she joins the team too.  In Bzzzzzz!, the undead girlfriend goes undercover at the bee-based cosmetics company Betty’s Bees (think Burt’s Bees) to figure out who’s been murdering people there.  Could it be the vindictive former owner, Betty, bitter over the loss of her company in a hostile takeover?  Woolsey, the creepy new owner?  The episode is creative, well written, and stunningly gorgeous.  I can’t find it online, but if you ever have a chance to see it, it’s really great and I highly recommend it!

Any other recent bug episodes I’ve missed?  I’d love to find some other great episodes to watch, so leave suggestions in the comments!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Saguaro Bloom

One of the best parts of living in the Sonoran Desert are the cacti that the desert is known for: the saguaros.  I’ve always loved saguaros, but they are SPECTACULAR when they do this:

Saguaro flowers

Saguaro flowers - with bees!

Simply gorgeous!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: 5 Steps to a Native Bee Cavity Nest

I quite enjoyed writing the bee nest cap post last week, so I’m going to do another Friday 5 about my bees!  This week I am focusing on how the bees (Megachile sp.) are making their nests.  It involves these 5 steps:

1. Find a cavity

finding nest

Finding a nest

My bee house was designed to provide cavities to attract native cavity nesting bees and it seems to being doing its job!  At any given time in the last month, there have been bees looking for nesting sites.  They fly around in front of the bee house (like the bee in the lower center of the photo), find a cavity that looks good, and crawl inside to inspect it.  If it is acceptable, they fly off and start gathering nesting materials.  If they don’t like it, they fly around and look for a better cavity.

2.  Build and provision a cell

building a cell

An incomplete cell

After a suitable cavity is selected, the bee starts building cells in her new nest.  She flies away from the nest and returns a few minutes later with leaf bits, small rocks, and globs of resin in her mouth.  She crawls into the nest head first and starts plastering the walls with the nesting materials.  On most trips into the cavity, she carries a load of bright yellow pollen on the underside of her abdomen.  Presumably, she deposits the pollen inside the cell for the future larvae to eat because the bees nearly always come out of the nests clean.  When the cell is about 8 – 10 mm long, they move on to the next step.

3. Lay eggs

laying eggs

Bee looking out after laying eggs

After a cell is completed, the bee crawls all the way out of the nest, turns around, and backs into the nest.  She spends several minutes inside the nest laying eggs in this position.  When she’s done, she crawls to the front of the nest, pauses for a minute or so, and flies off to start gathering nesting materials for the next step.

4. Cap cell and repeat

capping a cell

Capping a cell

When the bee returns to her nest after laying eggs, she appears with more nesting materials in her mouth, but no pollen.  She then builds a cap for the cell in which she has laid her eggs using the nesting materials.  There is a similar wall between every individual cell within the nest.

The bees typically make about 8 cells in the cavities in my bee house. Once a cell is sealed, the bee starts a new cell, lays more eggs, and caps the new cell.  It’s taking my bees 2-5 days to complete all of their cells, depending on the diameter of the hole and the length of the cavity.  The bigger the diameter, the longer the bee takes to build her complete nest.

5. Cap nest

building a nest cap

Building a nest cap

When cavity is nearly full of cells and there is only about 0.5 – 1 cm of the cavity still empty, the bee starts to build her nest cap.  She carries leaf bits, rocks, and resin to the nest and starts packing the materials in front of the last cell, often leaving a space between the last cell and the nest cap.  She starts building with a mixture of what is apparently leaves and saliva, then starts adding sand, rocks, and resin closer to the end of the cavity.  Depending on the nest cap type she builds, the bee may build out beyond the cavity 3 – 5 mm, but many of them are finished flush with the edge of the nest.  Most of the bees start a new nest almost immediately after finishing one, often moving into the next closest available and suitable cavity.

I have to say that I’m rather addicted to watching my bees.  I gave myself a sunburn one day because I was out photographing the bees building their nests for so long.  Another day I stepped into one of the many ant nests in my yard because I was so absorbed by the bees (have I mentioned lately that ants and I don’t get along?)  One day it was so windy I was worried another branch like the one I used to build my bee house would break off the tree and smack me in the head.  Still, I go out every day and watch.  I’m mean really, who can resist this?:

giant resin glob

Giant resin glob!

Look how big that resin glob is compared to the bee!  Anything that puts so much work into building a nest while looking so darned cute is alright in my book.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com