Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
When Paul McCartney of The Beatles wrote "Let It Be," released in 1970, he wasn't writing about honey bees.
No, he was actually recounting what his mother (who died when he was 14) told him in a dream. In real life, McCartney and his fellow musicians were clashing. In the dream, his mother soothed him: "It will be all right, just let it be."
But sometimes you just can't let it be.
We recently encountered an industrious honey bee nectaring catmint (Nepeta) in our yard. A gorgeous bee. Here she is buzzing from flower to flower, sipping nectar here, sipping nectar there, and then she makes a huge mistake: she buzzes right into the web of a cunning garden spider. As she struggles to free herself, the spider begins approaching her.
We captured the spider/honey bee scenario with our digital camera--four frames in one second--and then released her.
Not going to be a wrap today.
We let her "bee."
if you're growing plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae--you know, the plants with the square stalks and opposite leaves--you may see a very tiny reddish-orange visitor.
It's so tiny that it's smaller than the leaf of a catmint (Nepeta). Its wing span is probably about 10 to 15 millimeters.
This little critter (below) is a California Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta californicalis), as identified by butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. Pyrausta is a genus of moths in the Crambidae family.
We spotted this one Saturday morning in our yard, foraging in the catmint. This is one moth you'll see during the day!
"Pyrausta californicalis is a native feeder in the mint family, which is often quite common on cultivated exotic mints, including spearmint, peppermint, etc.," Shapiro said.
In fact, Shapiro found the mint moth in his own garden in Davis for two decades "until I took the spearmint out."
And, it occurs on introduced mint in his Gates Canyon study site near Vacaville, Calif.
The wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum), so named because the females collect or "card" plant fuzz for their nests, move quickly. The males, more aggressive and very territorial, move even faster.
The wool carder bee is an Old World bee introduced into the United States (New York) in 1963. It was first discovered in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
Today we spotted one in our Vacaville yard that didn't seem to be in much of a hurry.
In fact, it sidled up to the catmint (Nepeta) and appeared to be having a conversation. No, not with an empty chair. With a mint leaf.
No, said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the instructors at the annual Bee Course at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz.; this year's course takes place Sept. 10-20.)
"This one is a boy bee," Thorp said. "Note the prominent golden fringe hairs along the side of the abdomen and the edge of the tooth-like processes at the tip of the abdomen. Also the lower part of the face (the clypeus) is mostly yellow."
So there you have it, a boy bee!
I'm still wondering why he wasn't body-slamming the honey bees and engaging in other aggressive and territorial escapades.
If you want to attract honey bees in your garden, you can't go wrong by planting catmint (genus Nepeta).
Honey bees like the mints. So do cabbage white butterflies, wool carder bees, carpenter bees and hover flies, among other insects.
Nepeta is easy to grow. It can tolerate drought, neglect and an occasional cat. The soft lavender flowers amid the gray-green foliage add a dreamy mood to the garden. Catmint is also a perfect hiding spot for spiders trying to grab dinner. Gardeners claim it's resistant to deer (that's why we have no deer!) and to rats. Don't know why rats avoid it, but it must have something to do with the cats!
A rather sluggish honey bee paused last weekend, long enough for us to capture a few images. Unlike the plant, she didn't appear to be in mint condition. She stood out, stood up, and slipped to the ground.
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.