Posts Tagged 'bees'

For the Pollinators

I recently attended a pollinator working group meeting here in Brooklyn sponsored by the City Parks Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation.* I’d like to share some of the things I came away with.

Honeybees are ever in the news, but there are over two hundred other species of bees found in New York City. There are many more species found across North America. And these are just the bees. Butterflies and moths, as well as some wasps, ants, flies, and beetles also do the work of pollination. As do birds and bats. In general, though, most people would probably point to bees, and maybe butterflies, as the preeminent pollinators around here.

And all insect populations are falling. So what can we do? Education, education, education, for one. But also work towards making more habitat for plants and the animals that pollinate them.

Rather like us, these animals need food, water, and shelter. More flowering trees and plants, please. Even some wasps, who feed other insects to their young, eat nectar themselves. And make these plants regionally-native species, since that’s what these animals have spent millions of years evolving alongside with. (Some non-native species provide plenty of nectar, but this is less rich in lipids than that of native species, so it tastes great, but is less filling.)

Shelter. Have you heard about “bee condos”? Here are plans for a simple one. Here are some even better looking ones.

Excellent! But guess what? Most local bees (indeed, most of the world’s bees) are ground-nesters. So let’s not forget about them. Patches of different kinds of soils, free of mulch, with minimal plant cover, are a good place to start. Ah, but yellow jacket wasps also live underground, meaning it’s a good idea to be able to make a distinction between bees and wasps; the quickest is that bees are hairy and wasps are not. And once you know that, be cool: let the wasps live. You leave them alone, they leave you alone. Frankly, as hard as it is for some people to imagine, insects don’t seem to care much about us at all.

Aesthetics: the average garden is orderly, pretty, and rather sterile from the perspective of planet Earth. Indeed, “garden” has long been the antithesis of “nature.” This aesthetic/philosophical perspective is not an easy one to transform. Yet the planet is in crisis, largely of our doing, so habitat really needs to come before our egocentric concerns about pretty flowers and charming borders.

For instance, we need more disorder, more mess, more clutter. Did you know that some bees nest inside stems? Lawn and clean-edge lovers, like the Parks Department and your average gardener, don’t like “dead” stems. But you should, and you should evangelize your love for habitat wherever you can.

Three more strategies:

1. Avoid pesticides.
2. Don’t use pesticides.
3. Stop using pesticides.

Some resources:

Greenbelt Native Planet Center.
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
More on how to attract native bee species.

*I have done some elementary and middle school outdoor/indoor presentations for a NWF project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. An enjoyable time was had by all, and nobody got stung. The fact that (some) bees (rarely) sting is the one thing just about everybody knows about bees. So that’s where I usually start when I talk about bees.

Megachile on Asclepias

Bombus Away

After a lingering slog of humidity, things have gotten cooler and drier here in the Borough of Kings. Today’s high is forecast to be 69, not the most optimal for insects. Their season is passing. I saw this bumblebee yesterday working a chicory, of the few flowering plants in Sunset Park now. The bumble was a bit sluggish. This large grub — 1.5″ long; I took it for a caterpillar at distance — was upside down but nonetheless moving with rhythmic pulsations. I gently rolled it over, thinking it would prefer to use its minor appendages, but it was having none of that and returned to this position. Then we both moved on to our destinies, whatever those might be. Yet I, for one, feel fairly sure that I will awaken tomorrow as a giant beetle…

Sweet Bees

Sweat bees in the family Halictidae are attracted to the salt in sweat. This little one would not be put off from my arm. Blown and shook off, it returned several times. I have no problem offering up extruded salts, but I was slathered in sunscreen, and that can’t be good for anything, even when it claims otherwise.This one was most intrigued by my camera strap. Also wouldn’t leave. What was it finding here?

*
Here’s quite a bit about the rising threat of flooding to NYC from global warming, which you have to multiple manyfold considering all the cities on the ocean in this world.

Apropos to nothing of the above, and yet to all of it, too, here’s some detail of Thoreau’s brief time on Nantucket, where, some years later, I graduated from high school. (This project’s geographical approach to the wheres in HDT’s life, at least in Massachusetts, is most illuminating.)

The highest point on Nantucket is 111 feet, at Sanaky Head… which has been eroding since I was an elver.

The first of three Radio Open Source programs with Chris Lydon for the Thoreau bicentennial is rousing.

There’s a lot out there right now on HDT, like this piece from across the pond,  but you’ve got the weekend.

And at the Morgan Library & Museum, an exhibit I’ve not yet seen but can tell will be exciting: This Ever New Self: Thoreau and his Journal.

The Buzz

For a number of plants, including such delicious Solanaceae (nightshades) as tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, and peppers, the frequency of a bumblebee’s buzzing is what releases pollen. The bumble grabs ahold of the anthers and vibrates the pollen loose. Honeybees, who get more credit they they deserve, don’t do this; they pick up exposed pollen, but they can’t unlock the anthers of plants that require the buzz. Here’s a short video on buzz pollination.A closer look at the flower of what I think is Horse-nettle (Solanum carolinense), a delightfully weedy nightshade, shows the horn-like anthers that the native bees’ buzz  shakes open.

As you can see from the linked video, a tuning fork can also do it. The internet — oh, you crazy internet! —  says that a vibrator and an electric toothbrush will also do the trick, I mean, if you wanted to do it personally….

After Barely A Summer Dies the Bee

SolidagoThis goldenrod was chock-a-stem with bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honeybees, moving slowly if at all on a cool day. You could pet them if you liked. XylocopaThis is the last hurrah for the bumbles and carpenter bees, except for already mated queens, who will soon find a place tucked away in leaf litter for the winter. Female honeybees will overwinter in the hive, keeping their queen warm. It’s curtains for all the males.xylocopaI’ve never noticed the white face mark of the male Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica).img_0410The great circle of life in action: a mantis munches away at a still-flailing bumblebee.

Aster Apotheosis

Symphyotrichum This is the time to see these Symphyotrichum asters. Above is a low-growing, smaller flowered version called “October Sky.”SymphyotrichumHere’s one of the bigger ones, both taller and larger-flowered. And there are still pollinators — bumblebees, honeybees, and some flies — working them over for the last of the nectar and pollen. The bumblebees are slow and groggy.

These were in the Native Flora Garden, but if you look you can see them all over.

Beewings

bee1One the Megachile leaf-cutter bees. bee2A nice look at the bee’s fore and hind wings. Hymenoptera, the “membrane-winged” insects (bees, wasps, and ants) and have four wings.

Dragonflies and butterflies would surely agree with the Hymenoptera that four wings are the best, but flies probably wouldn’t. Flies (and mosquitoes) are in the order Diptera (“two-winged”): they have vestigial wing-stubs called halteres which seem to act as stabilizers in flight. Beetles, whose forewings have turned into elytra, or wing-coverings, might disagree too…but then, they’re not known as great fliers, so maybe they wouldn’t.


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