So here's this Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, nectaring on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
It's National Pollinator Week. All's right with the world. The butterfly had visited a passionflower vine, Passiflora, its host plant.
Now for a little fuel. The nectar is enticing. The Gulf Frit flutters from flower to flower.
And then...it's targeted.
Get off my flower, that's mine! A very territorial male long-horned bee, Melissodes agilis, buzzes past, trying to dislodge the butterfly. Then another male appears. And another.
What's going on? Like frenzied kamikaze pilots, the males patrol the flowers, dive-bombing and dislodging any temporary tenants, in hopes of saving the nectar for the females of their species. And to mate with them.
After four attacks, the Gulf Frit decides the nectar is not worth it.
Hey, the sun's up! It's time to rise and shine! Maybe I'll shine before I rise...or maybe I'll...
Anyway, I just woke up, and I'm starting to stir. I'm ready to conquer the day. I shall
- Sip nectar
- Seek girlfriend
- Guard the flower patch by dive-bombing and chasing off all critters.
The scenario: a male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, has just spent the night sleeping--and quite cozily at that--on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
He is Boy Bee With the Green Mesmerizing Eyes.
Boy Bee With the Green Mesmerizing Eyes does not know--nor would he care if he could--that today is the beginning of National Pollinator Week, an international annual event celebrating pollinator health.
According to the Pollinator Partnership, "pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems." It's crucial to our ecosystem.
As the Pollinator Partnership says on its website:
- "About 75 percent of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization."
- "About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals."
- "Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees."
But back to Boy Bee With the Mesmerizing Green Eyes.
Noted bee expert, the late Robbin Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday), used to talk about these little guys bullying all the floral tenants--from honey bees to syrphid flies to butterflies to lady beetles--and more.
Boy, do they move fast. A good time to photograph them is when they're sleeping or just waking up. Otherwise, try to capture images of them at a shutter speed of about 1/5000 of a second.
Happy Beginning of National Pollinator Week!
It was not a good way to welcome an admiral.
The Red Admiral butterfly, that is.
The Vanessa atalanta fluttered into our pollinator garden on Sunday, July 16 in Vacaville, Calif., and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
The warmth of the sun, the rich nectar, a soft breeze, and all was well.
For a little while.
Several territorial male long-horned bees spied the stranger and pulled out the welcome mat. In a frenzy, they began dive-bombing the colorful black and red butterfly, trying to chase it away. "Those flowers are for our girls!" they seemed to say. "Leave! Now!"
Everywhere the butterfly went, a squadron of bombers followed. The sailboat-like wings proved a clear target.
One bullet-of-a-bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, slammed into the butterfly's wings, and that was enough.
"This pollinator garden's not big enough for both of us!"
Last summer we spent many hours capturing images of male long-horned bees, Melissodes aegils, sleeping in clusters on the stems of our guara at night and early morning. (Sometimes they slept inches away from a praying mantis.) Then during the day the boys chased the girls, all the while protecting their turf from prospective suitors and pollinators.
We captured our last seasonal image of a long-horned bee on Sept. 28. It was a Melissodes, all right, but it was Melissodes robustior, a male, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and one of the authors of California Bees and Blooms.
The book, the work of Gordon Frankie, Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter, all affiliated with UC Berkeley (Thorp received his doctorate there), is a wealth of information about not only bees, but the flowers they visit. (See the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Want to know about Melissodes? There are 130 species of Melissodes in the New World, and about 100 of them live in North America. Of that number, 50 species live in California. Who knew? And only three Melissodes species are widespread and common in California, including our robust buddy, Melissodes robustior.
Last summer we watched at least two species of Melissodes attempt to claim all the guara, catmint, oregano, rosemary, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), Cosmos, and African blue basil, much to the "bee-wilderment" of honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and other pollinators.
The long-horned bees are all gone now, but next year a whole new generation will take their place.