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.
Images by three UC Davis-affiliated photographers will be among those displayed at the international Insect Salon photography competition at the Entomological Society of America's meeting, Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C.
The insect photographers: Alexander Nguyen, who submitted an image of a syprhid fly--a wasp mimic, Ceriana tridens, ovipositing in the fissures of a tree; Allan Jones, a photo of a female leafcutter bee, Megachile fidelis, carrying a leaf petal back to her nest; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, an image of a pollen-drenched honey bee, Apis mellifera, nectaring on mustard.
The images were among 122 accepted for the Insect Salon from a total of 333 images submitted by 84 photographers from 22 countries (a 37 percent acceptance rate).
Nguyen, who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis, is a biologist for the Solano County Department of Agriculture. He captured the image of the wasp mimic at Spanish Flat on the west bank of Lake Berryessa, Napa County. "After larvae hatch they will feed on sap from the tree," said Nguyen, who maintains a photography website at https://alexandernguyen.smugmug.com. Senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture identified the syrphid.
Jones, who holds bachelor's degrees in English and German and a master's degree in English from UC Davis, is a California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) retiree who now resides in Davis. He captured his winning image of the leafcutter bee in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It shows the bee carrying a Clarkia petal back to her nest.
Kathy Keatley Garvey
Garvey, who holds degrees in communications and journalism from Washington State University, Pullman, is a communications specialist with the Department of Entomology and Nematology. She captured her winning image of the pollen-packing honey bee in a Vacaville (Calif.) mustard patch. In her leisure time, Garvey writes a Bug Squad blog, about insects and entomologists, on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website, a blog she has written every night, Monday through Friday, for the past 10 years.
Joseph Virbickis of the Peoria (Ill.) Camera Club, coordinator of Insect Salon, announced the medal winners, which included "best of show" and "best of Entomological Society of America photographers" and "best of Peoira Camera Club photographers":
- Medal, Best of Show: Soon Seng Leong of Malaysia, for his image, "Share Together 084."
- Medal, Best of ESA Members: Thomas Myers of Lexington, Ky., for his "Saddleback Caterpillars"
- Medal, Best by Peoria Camera Club: Carl Close of Hopewell, Ill., "Hornworm Caterpillar"
- Medal, Best Storytelling: Say Boon Foo of Malyasia, for "Ant 3"
- Medal, Most Unusual, Jenni Horsnell of Australia for "Wolf Spider with Young"
The winning entries will be displayed both on the Peoria Camera Club website and on screens at the annual meeting of ESA, a global organization of some 7000 members that serves the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. This year's theme is "Sharing Insect Science Globally."
All photographers are invited to submit up to four entries in the annual Insect Salon competition, Virbickis said. This is a Photographic Society of America-sanctioned nature competition.
Bees--and other pollinators--gravitate toward the enticing aroma of the milkweed, too.
The milkweed is widely known as the larval host plant of the monarch butterflies--and a nectar source for the adults--but they have to share.
The broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden draws everything from honey bees to leafcutter bees to carpenter bees.
It's almost like "Take a number." And it's especially noticeable during National Pollinator Week, a week set aside to celebrate the pollinators and to do what we can to protect them.
Recent visitors to the milkweed have included:
- A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a green-eyed blond
- A female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, solid black
- Honey bee, Apis mellifera
- Male leafcutter bee, Megachile sp.
And, of course, the monarchs (Danaus plexippus)!
It was a good day to be a praying mantis. It was not a good day to be a honey bee.
Just before noon today, we watched a green praying mantis lurking in the African blue basil, like a camouflaged soldier ready to ambush the enemy. His eyes remain focused on a single honey bee gathering nectar for her colony. She is moving slowly but methodically, buzzing from one blossom to another.
The predator and the prey. An epic battle. A battle that's been waging for millions of years.
The honey bee keeps nectaring. The praying mantis keeps watching. He is not admiring her nectaring skills. He is seeking a bee breakfast like the one he had yesterday.
Suddenly, with one swift leap, the praying mantis snares and traps the honey bee in his spiked forelegs. The bee struggles to escape but the mantis tightens his grip with his needlelike vise.
The bee will not be returning to her hive tonight.
Wait...what's this...a dive-bombing attack?
It is. A male leafcutter bee is dive-bombing the predator. Is he trying to protect his cousin, the honey bee, or just being territorial? At any rate, he is a double blur as he dive-bombs from above, targeting the predator and then pulling up to do it again. Five passes. Some near misses, some near body slams. Some passes are so close that their antennae touch.
The praying mantis glances at the leafcutter bee and continues eating, somewhat like the Carl Jr. commercial, "Don't bother me, I'm eating."
"I'm eating and you're next."
One left hungry. One didn't.
We watched a leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) foraging on a gold coin flower (Asteriscus maritimus 'Gold Coin') yesterday when suddenly danger lurked.
A jumping spider peered over the petals, its legs (aka "claws") extended in anticipation, the mark of a good hunter.
The jumping spider (family Salticidae), easily identified by four pairs of eyes, can jump several lengths of its body.
That's good enough to nail a leafcutter bee, but not this time.
Score: Leafcutter Bee 1, Jumping Spider, 0.