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.
Pity the poor honey bees.
They have to contend with pesticides, parasites, pests, diseases, malnutrition, stress and that mysterious malady called colony collapse disorder in which adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen, immature bees and food stores.
The primary pest of bees? The blood-sucking, virus-transmitting varroa mite, found in probably every hive in the country.
But there are other pests that target the honey bee as well--from praying mantids and dragonflies to birds and spiders.
It's a predator gauntlet out there to make the round trip from their hive to their foraging site and back.
We recently saw a honey bee trapped in a spider web stretched from a honeysuckle bush to a purple salvia. The bee's fatal mistake was taking a shortcut to the lavender patch.
The bee, incongruously bubble-wrapped by the spider for a future meal, twisted in the breeze.
It was not alone. A horde of freeloader flies, family Milichiidae, and probably genus Desmometopa, made sure of that.
It was a bad day for a honey bee but a good day for the spider and the flies.
Just another day for the predators and the prey. And a few square meals in the circle of life.
If your dog is well, a little chunky, you're probably accustomed to someone saying "Fido never misses a meal, does he?"
Well, those little freeloader flies never miss a meal, either.
They not only never miss a meal, but they're never late for dinner. First come, first served. Table for 12, please.
Such was the case last weekend when a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata) trapped a bee in its web, wrapped it, and was all set to eat it.
Wait! Where did all those uninvited guests come from? (Family Milichiidae, and probably genus Desmometopa,)
The spider reluctantly abandons its prey.
"All right," the spider seems say. "Have at it. I'll get another one."
The next time you see a spider eating a bee snared in its web, look closely.
The spider may not be alone. It may have a dinner companion.
A freeloader fly.
The common name, "freeloader fly," refers to the Milichiidae family. These flies are very tiny, about 1 to 3 mm in length, so you may not notice them.
We took these photos with a 105mm macro lens last Friday at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
These flies, identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, are curious little critters. Note the large heads and the red eyes ("the eyes of Milichiidae are often red, though this need not be obvious because many species of the flies are small and dusky," according to Wikipedia.)
Bees are everywhere in the garden and so are the orbweavers--on the zinnias, cosmos, roses and the Mexican sunflowers.
Predator catches prey, and here come the freeloader flies. There is such a thing as a free lunch.
Sharing a meal with a hungry spider, however, may have dire consequences for the freeloaders. They may become a side dish to the spider's main course.