It's Earth Day, an event we celebrate every April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protections on our troubled planet. This year's theme: "Restore Our Earth."
Sadly, however, most college campuses are temporarily or partially closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the face-to-face "teach-ins" are primarily Zoom sessions. Who would have thought? Who could have known?
What to do on Earth Day? Watching bees forage in a pollinator garden seems appropriate to recapture some of Earth Day's magic. Honey bees, responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat, continue to gather pollen, nectar, water and propolis every day (weather permitting), not just Earth Day.
Today's favorite fauna and flora: honey bees, Apis mellifera, foraging on rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora and packing red pollen back to their colonies. Just call them "temporary occupants" on Planet Earth. But always call them "special."
Read NASA's Nine Reasons We're Grateful to Live on Earth, posted April 21, 2020 for a better grasp of what we have and what we could lose. "The promise of a better life in the mysterious beyond can be seductive. But the fact is the more we learn about out there the more we realize how special it is here. The first astronauts to look from space back at Earth, a 'pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known,' as scientist Carl Sagan once wrote, saw a beautiful, delicate world that is perfectly suited to the bounty of life it supports."
Happy Earth Day!
When a house is a home...
Take the case of a syrphid fly, aka hover fly or flower fly. It's a cold and windy day, and it's tucked in the folds of a rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora, in Vacaville, Calif.
It's sipping nectar, and rotating its colorful little body to gather more nectar and glean more sun.
The syrphid fly is often mistaken for a honey bee. Both are pollinators.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
Last year Joanna Klein posted an interactive feature in the New York Times, wondering how we can save the bees if we don't recognize them. She asked "Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?" and posted an image of bees and wanna-be bees.
Find the flies.
And then access a PDF on flower flies on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website to learn more about them. Authored by lead author/entomologist Robert Bugg, it's titled "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops."/span>
Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as "red pollen."
Like people, pollen comes in many colors and all are beautiful. All.
The floral source determines the color of the pollen. Just as nectar is a carbohydrate source, pollen is a protein source. Honey bees need both to rear the brood.
One of my favorite bee images is a photo I took in my backyard of a honey bee sipping nectar from lavender. "What's that red stuff on her?" non-bee folks ask.
Pollen. Red pollen.
Bee folks question its origin. It's from the nearby rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). This honey bee, after gathering protein from the rock purslane, buzzed over to the lavender for some carbo loading. A little fuel for her flight back to the hive.
Bees gather red pollen from many floral sources, including not only rock purslane--a succulent--but horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), pear (Pyrus communis), and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).
When I see red pollen, I think of the beauty of a delicate flower transferred over to a hard-working bee. I don't think of the color's negative connotations: red tape, red-eye flight, red herring, and caught red-handed.
"Red pollen" is "Christmas red" or "holiday red."
Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! And the best of the new year!
In the blink of an eye, they visit the rockpurslane (Calandrinia grandiflora).
Now you see them, now you don't.
They're a sweat bee, a little larger than most sweat bees, but a little smaller than a honey bee.
Halictus farinosus (family Halictidae) are often see pollinating blueberry fields, foraging among California golden poppies, and visiting members of the sunflower family, to name a few.
They're commonly called "sweat bees" because they're attracted to perspiration.
This one below is a female, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Note the apical whitish abdominal bands that distinguish this genus from the related genus Lasioglossum (its bands are located basally, not apically).
Halictus has been around for millions of years, paleontologists tell us. In fact, known fossil records date back to the Eocene epoch, which took place 58 to 34 million years ago.
They definitely have persevered.
"Where do bees get red pollen?" we were asked. "We've seen bees packing blood-red pollen at the entrance to a hive."
Well, one flower that yields red pollen is rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). It's a drought-tolerant perennial, a succulent.
Interestingly enough, the blossom itself is neon pink or magenta, the kind that cyclists wear to be seen.
Rock purslane attracts its share of honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees. Other pollinators, including flies, land on it, too. It's a good plant to brighten your garden and to observe the wide variety of floral visitors.
Other flowers that yield red pollen include henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and horse chestnut (Aesulus hippocastanum).
Bees collect pollen as a protein source to rear their brood.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist, The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirement, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen."
"Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae," Gary points out. "During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers an consumes about 77 pounds of pollen."
And some of it is red!