During the golden hour, right before sunset, have you ever watched a male longhorned bee roll full-barrel over a flower at Top Gun speed?
During the day, the male longhorned target assorted insects foraging on "their" patch of flowers. Their goal: to save the nectar for the females of their species, perchance to mate with them.
This bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, burst over a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, at breakneck speed. This may have been his last flight before he settled down to sleep with a cluster of other male bees.
He's promising more territorial maneuvers tomorrow...and the next day...and the next day...
Mine. My patch of flowers.
Have you ever seen the defensive antics of a female longhorned bee, sometimes called a sunflower bee, as she's trying to forage on flowers while a suitor is trying to get her attention? (To mate with her)
Such is the case in our family's pollinator garden as the activity on, around, above and below the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) becomes fast and furious.
The female Melissodes agilis kicks a leg up as if to say "Go away! I'm not interested! Quit bothering me!" but a male posse persists.
Finally, the female will buzz off for another flower (escape!) but not for long. Here they come again!
So here's this crab spider stalking a katydid nymph foraging on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
Suddenly a native bee, Melissodes agilis, lands next to the katydid and begins to sip some nectar.
Decisions, decisions! Do I want a juice katydid nymph or a tasty long-horned bee? Do I have a choice in the matter or does it matter if I have a choice?
A moment in time. Time in a moment. The bee, unaware of danger, continues to forage. Then, abruptly, the bee takes flight.
One menu choice remains.
It was a good day for the crab spider.
It was not a good day for the katydid.
This is the story of how two native bees from Vacaville, Calif., traveled 1872 miles to Oklahoma City.
But a photo I took in Vacaville of two Melissodes agilis bees zipping over a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, happened to win a top prize at the 63rd North Central Insect Photographic Salon, co-sponsored by the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) and the Photographic Society of America.
Judges scored it "Best Image by an ESA Member." All 7000 ESA members are invited to contribute, as are non-members. I wasn't planning to enter--this was my first time--but Insect Salon coordinator/ESA member Tom Myers posted a note on Facebook seeking images to be showcased at the 2023 Joint North Central and Southwestern Branch meeting in Oklahoma City. The theme: "Branch Cross-Pollination: Seeking Hybrid Vigor in Science through Communication, Collaboration, and Societal Impact."
The North Central Branch covers Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, plus parts of Canada (Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario) while the Southwestern Branch encompasses New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and all of Mexico, except Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa and Sonora.
To be accepted for display, a photo must score 85 points or more. The image of the male and female bees, which I titled "Catch Me If You Can," scored 94 points, and two other Garvey images, one of a golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria), "Checking You Out," and the other titled "I Do," of two Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), tallied 92 and 89 points, respectively. "Checking You Out" earlier won "Best Image by an ESA Member" in the 64th annual International Insect Salon competition.
The M. agilis species are fun to photograph, but set your shutter speed high. These bees are the Usain Bolts of the bee world. Catch me if you can!
I captured the image of "Catch Me If You Can" with a Nikon D500, mounted with a 200mm lens. Settings: shutter speed set at 1/8000 of second, f-stop 5, and ISO 800.
For "Checking You Out:" Nikon D500 with a 105mm lens, 1/320 of second, f-stop 9, and ISO 800.
For "I Do": Nikon D500 with a 70-180 lens (110 focal length), 1/640 of a second, f-stop at 10, and ISO of 800.
All were taken in our family's pollinator garden. (No tripod, no flash.) The added benefit of planting a pollinator garden includes capturing images of the residents and visitors.
Me? I'm just a guest in their habitat. I don't poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em. I just photograph them. When. They. Let. Me.
A female Melissodes agilis, the so-called "agile longhorned bee," is foraging on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
Longhorned? So named because they have unusually long antennae. Think of this species as the insect version of Texas longhorns!
Melissodes are ground-nesting solitary bees. While the males congregate on a flower to sleep overnight, each female is returns to her ground nest.
This female (below) rose early on July 3 to sip a little nectar while the males were fast asleep.
We find this species every year on our Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifola, in our family's Vacaville pollinator garden. It's native to North America and Central America.
They're a delight to see. The males are quite territorial as they target assorted critters on "their" flowers. As the late pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, used to say: "They're saving the flowers for the females of their species, so they can mate with them."
But if you're a "gal bee" and awaken early, you have the flowers all to yourself.
Thorp used to tell us there are some 20,000 undomesticated bee species are there in the world. Some 4000 species llve in the United States. And some 1600 species, including Melissodes agilis, live in California.
Internationally recognized for his expertise, Thorp co-authored two books in 2014: the UC California book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press).