Bees--and other pollinators--gravitate toward the enticing aroma of the milkweed, too.
The milkweed is widely known as the larval host plant of the monarch butterflies--and a nectar source for the adults--but they have to share.
The broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden draws everything from honey bees to leafcutter bees to carpenter bees.
It's almost like "Take a number." And it's especially noticeable during National Pollinator Week, a week set aside to celebrate the pollinators and to do what we can to protect them.
Recent visitors to the milkweed have included:
- A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a green-eyed blond
- A female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, solid black
- Honey bee, Apis mellifera
- Male leafcutter bee, Megachile sp.
And, of course, the monarchs (Danaus plexippus)!
It was a good day to be a praying mantis. It was not a good day to be a honey bee.
Just before noon today, we watched a green praying mantis lurking in the African blue basil, like a camouflaged soldier ready to ambush the enemy. His eyes remain focused on a single honey bee gathering nectar for her colony. She is moving slowly but methodically, buzzing from one blossom to another.
The predator and the prey. An epic battle. A battle that's been waging for millions of years.
The honey bee keeps nectaring. The praying mantis keeps watching. He is not admiring her nectaring skills. He is seeking a bee breakfast like the one he had yesterday.
Suddenly, with one swift leap, the praying mantis snares and traps the honey bee in his spiked forelegs. The bee struggles to escape but the mantis tightens his grip with his needlelike vise.
The bee will not be returning to her hive tonight.
Wait...what's this...a dive-bombing attack?
It is. A male leafcutter bee is dive-bombing the predator. Is he trying to protect his cousin, the honey bee, or just being territorial? At any rate, he is a double blur as he dive-bombs from above, targeting the predator and then pulling up to do it again. Five passes. Some near misses, some near body slams. Some passes are so close that their antennae touch.
The praying mantis glances at the leafcutter bee and continues eating, somewhat like the Carl Jr. commercial, "Don't bother me, I'm eating."
"I'm eating and you're next."
One left hungry. One didn't.
We watched a leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) foraging on a gold coin flower (Asteriscus maritimus 'Gold Coin') yesterday when suddenly danger lurked.
A jumping spider peered over the petals, its legs (aka "claws") extended in anticipation, the mark of a good hunter.
The jumping spider (family Salticidae), easily identified by four pairs of eyes, can jump several lengths of its body.
That's good enough to nail a leafcutter bee, but not this time.
Score: Leafcutter Bee 1, Jumping Spider, 0.
Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.), so named because they cut leaves and petals to line their nests, are smaller than the honey bees but move faster. These native bees are easily recognizable by the black-white bands on their abdomen.
Catching them in flight requires a lot of patience.
We watched one leafcutter bee dart from catmint flower to catmint flower (Nepeta). It is 2 p.m. One movement of the camera and off it goes. One step toward it and it takes flight. A shadow over it and it vanishes.
This one (below) managed to maneuver around carder bees, honey bees, carpenter bees, assorted butterflies, a curious cat determined to sample the catmint, and a persistent spider that cunningly wove its web right between two stems.
Finally, it overcame all the obstacles for its reward: a long sip of nectar.
Think bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, sunflower bees and scores of other bees.
The grand opening celebration of the garden will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, but the bees and other native pollinators are already out there.
And have been for some time.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, has been monitoring the garden for the past two years--from open field to planted garden.
He's found more than 50 different species of bees representing five families (Andrenidae, Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae and Megachilidae).
They include the striped sweat bee Halictus ligatus from the family, Halictidae; the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii from the family Apidae; the leafcutter bee, Megachile sp., from the family Megachilidae; and the sunflower bee, Svastra obliqua expurgata from the family Apidae.
How colorful they are. And how diverse.