If you've ever tried to photograph male long-horned bees, Melissodes agilis, you know how fast they can fly and how quick they can dart.
They fly even faster when they're chasing the females of their species.
It was the last day of June. I was watching the female long-horned bees foraging on the Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifola, in our garden, and the territorial males targeting all "unwelcomed" visitors (honey bees, carpenter bees, and syrphid flies) and chasing prospective mates.
The University of California-affiliated authors of the book, California Bees and Blooms: A Buide For Gardeners and Naturalists, say it well: They "fly wildly around gardens looking for mates and stop occasionally to take a sip of nectar from flowers."
Yes, they do fly wildly--and you need a fast shutter speed to photograph them.
I set the shutter-speed of my camera, a Nikon D500 with a 200mm macro lens, at 1/8000 of a second. Other settings: f-stop 5, and ISO, 800.
Here they come! There they go.
Where DID they go?
At 1/8000 of a second, you can stop the action. You can stop time. You cannot, however, stop a determined suitor from chasing a mate. They don't slow down.
One point about insect wedding photography is that you don't need an invitation to attend. You just have to keep your distance and not disturb the bridal couple. No sudden movements. No stressful impatience. And no camera flash, please.
It helps, though, if you grow the host plant so a bride and a groom will show up. In this case, we grew passionflower vine (Passiflora), the host plant of the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae).
One morning we saw a butterfly eclose from her chrysalis. Wedding Day! Within minutes, a male suitor arrived.
They became a couple.
Then unexpected guests arrived...a hungry caterpillar munching on the leaves and a second prospective suitor (PS) (rejected) and a third PS (rejected) and a fourth PS (rejected).
PS, leave them alone!
When the "ceremony" ended, the couple simply left. One sipped nectar from the nearby Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola. The other flew over the fence.
Soon we'll have more eggs, more caterpillars, more chrysalids, and more adults.
Life is like that when you're growing Passiflora and hoping for a Wedding Day.
So, here you are, a honey bee nectaring on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
All's right with the world, at least in your world. You're sipping nectar to take home to your colony and suddenly...a buzz.
A male long-horned bee, probably Melissodes agilis, is trying to dislodge you from your flower.
You hold your ground (your flower) but you let him know that his presence is unwanted. You lift a foreleg in your defense to block him.
The long-horned bee flies off, and you continue to nectar. All's right with the world. (Until your next encounter with a fast-moving, highly territorial male long-horned bee bent on dislodging you from your flower.)
The late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, used to say that these male long-horned bees target any critter residing on "their" flowers. It could be a honey bee, a bumble bee, a carpenter bee, a syrphid fly, a butterfly or a beetle. Or something else. They want to save the flowers for their own species and then mate with them, he said.
Just a day in the life of a non-native honey bee, Apis mellifera, and a native long-horned bee, Melissodes agilis.
Oh, to be a praying mantis, and hide among the flowers waiting for prey.
On a warm sunny morning in Vacaville, Calif., this female Stagmomantis limbata positioned herself in a patch of Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifola.
She lurked beneath a blossom, camouflaged with the green leaves and stems. She groomed herself. It's important to wash up before breakfast and be presentable at the breakfast table and say your prayers.
Then she spotted a honey bee.
Ms. Mantis climbed the stem and peered over the orange petals.
What happened next? Spoiler alert, no breakfast for Ms. Mantis.
Later, though, another mantis hanging out in a nearby rosebush snagged and ate a small fly and a slow milkweed bug. Satiated, she crawled beneath a leaf, perhaps to digest her breakfast and sleep. You could say she "rose" to the occasion, or you could just say she was hungry.
Are you tired of the triple-digit temperatures? Wish someone would throw a breeze your way and provide a little shade?
A honey bee foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifola) probably felt a slight breeze when a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) fluttered down and landed next to her.
This is a two-insect blossom now.
Butterfly: "Bee, what are you doing?"
Bee: "Sipping some nectar, same as you."
Butterfly: "Bee, don't get any closer."
Bee, edging closer. "But I was here first. The nectar is excellent."
Butterfly: "Go away."
Butterfly: "Then I will." The butterfly lifts off.
Bee: "Thanks for the shade. You make a good umbrella, Madam Butterfly. Come back anytime."