Talented macro insect photographer Donna Sanders of Emerald, Queensland, Australia, captured this spectacular photo (below) of a female leafcutter bee carrying a leaf segment back to her nest, a cavity in a tree trunk. She posted it on the Australian Native Bee Network Facebook page, where it drew some 80 raves and 36 shares--and deservedly so.
You often see leafcutter bees in your garden, and you often see them in flight, but it's difficult to capture an image of a leafcutter bee in flight AND that's carrying a leaf segment. Her image reminds me of the 1880 painting, "Riding a Magic Carpet," by Viktor Vasnetsov.
This takes patience, persistence and skill. And it takes your breath away.
"We have lots of bee hotels around our yard," she told us. "This is just a section of a tree trunk with natural holes, probably from beetle boring."
How did she capture this image?
"I would sit there in the morning until late afternoon watching her carry pollen, then carry sections of leaf that she had cut out, back to her nest site. I did this over a couple of days sitting on my little stool, just waiting for her to fly toward the hole. It took many photos before I managed to get this shot, so when I checked it on the computer, I was so happy that I had finally captured what I have been aiming for."
Leafcutter bees, Megachile spp., so named because they cut leaves and petals to line their nests, are smaller than honey bees--and much faster. They're easily recognizable by the black-white bands on their abdomen.
Catching them in flight is a challenge.
In our own pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., we've watched these native bees maneuver around honey bees, wool carder bees, carpenter bees, butterflies and assorted spiders. It's an obstacle course, to be sure. We've watched them cut holes in leaves. Perfectly round holes.
Some Rosarians aren't fond of leafcutter bees because they cut holes in the leaves of their prize-winning roses. Our roses are a colorful part of our garden, but the pollinators take precedence!
If American poet Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) had elevated bees, especially leafcutter bees--to the status of roses ("a rose is a rose is a rose")--would she had penned: "A leafcutter bee is a leafcutter bee is a leafcutter bee?"
Or "A pollinator is a pollinator is a pollinator?"
Speaking of pollinators...
There's still time to register for the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, set Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. Topics discussed will include recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and their policy implications, according to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology co-chairs, Neal M. Williams, professor of entomology, and Elina Lastro Niño, Extension apiculturist.
Keynote speakers are Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, (the research center launched the annual pollinator conferences in 2012) and Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England.
You can learn more about the conference--and register--on the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center website.
Ah, pillow fights, popcorn, and marathon movies on TV, you ask?
No. "Boys' Night Out" is when the longhorned male bees in our pollinator garden in Vacaville engage in sleepovers on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and other blossoms.
At night, the girls sleep inside their nests, and the boys cluster on flowers.
Lately, we've been admiring a trio of boys--Melissodes (possibly M. robustior, as identified by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis)--bunking down on a Tithonia. Every day, around sunset, they head over to the same flower, arrange themselves in comfortable sleeping positions (hey, quit kicking me), and it's nighty-night! When the sun rises, they vacate the bedroom. Sometimes it's earlier than planned, no thanks to buzzing bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees foraging around them and disturbing their beauty sleep. The nerve!
Other species of male longhorned bees--including Melissodes agilis and Svastra obliqua--sleep on flowers at night as well.
"Most frequently, the boy bee overnight clusters are single-species clusters," says Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, with UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994, continues to "bee involved" in research, writings, bee identification and public outreach. He teaches annually at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
In a previous Bug Squad blog, Thorp responded to a reader's inquiry about "stings" from the clustering bees. "Boy bees cannot sting," he pointed out. "They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
"Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest," Thorp answered. "Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Said Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
Longhorned bees are among the more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California. In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent. Meanwhile, check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and the exciting research underway.
Did you feel the buzz in 2015?
The honey bees, bumble bees, sunflower bees, sweat bees...what a year it was!
It's time to walk down memory lane--or stray from the garden path--and post a few bee images from 2015.
It wasn't all flowers and sunshine. Bees took a beating--from pesticides, pests, predators, diseases, malnutrition, climate change and stress.
Often it was predator vs. prey. So we include an image of a praying mantis feasting on one of our bee-loved honey bees, and freeloader flies (family Milichiidae) dining on a spider's prey.
That's what praying mantids, spiders and freeloader flies do. They. Eat. Bees. If I were in charge of their menu planning and food preparation, however, they'd get five-star dining: stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, cotton whitefly, and the Asian longorned beetle.
Give me five! Give us all five!
Happy New Year! And may the buzz be with you.
Boys will be boys!
Especially on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). It's a favorite of Melissodes and Svastra sunflower bees.
The males get downright defensive and aggressive when it comes to protecting their turf and seeking the females of their species.
If you watch closely at a territorial action that occurs from dawn to dusk, you'll see what I call "the karate kick:" one male delivering a swift kick to another.
In the photos below, a male Svastra (the larger bee) karate-kicks a smaller male Melissodes.
It happened in a blink of an eye, a fraction of a second, the click of a shutter.