Posts Tagged 'bees'

Flower Fiends

Bumble/Tiger Swallowtail.A true bug, meaning an insect that sucks its food, and an unknown bee.
Another bee I can’t identify.Don’t forget the butterflies, fools for flowers, too. One of the sulphurs, I’ve never been able to distinguish them.Whoa, Nelly! Look at the patterning on this Oblique Streaktail (Allograpta obliqua)! Going to work on getting a better picture of one of these.Another flower fly, which reminds me that there’s a new field guide to flower flies of the NE.The invasive Sculptured Resin Bee, trouble for carpenter bees, whose nest sites they grab. Also a pollinator for kudzu.An unknown bee, or is it a wasp? Speaking of wasps, I’ll have more this week…

The Bee’s Tongue

Never mind the knees, how about those tongues? Check out the tongue between the down-turned antennae. (Those antennae, by the way, are hugely important sensory organs: they can touch, taste, and smell.) There are short-tongued and long-tongued bee species.This leaf-cutter bee seems to be tasting this stem.This one explored numerous leaf edges. The tip of her tongue looks very rough… it’s hairy. I guess she’s looking for the right leaf to cut? She uses these pieces of leaf to line her nest. This Univ. of Florida site gives good information on leaf-cutters, but then says “Leafcutting bees can be considered a pest because of leaf cutting on ornamental plants.” No, no, no! Isn’t this infuriating? It’s nineteenth century gardening nonsense in the 21st century. Human aesthetics, another thing killing the planet. Wear those circular cuts in plants as badges of pride!This poor Bombus didn’t make it. She died with tongue out (unless it’s a male?). With some magnification, the tip of the tongue is seen in all its roughness. The flanking parts are mouth bits, maxilla perhaps, or palpi?

By the way, the wings are hairy too. Sparse, short black hairs.

The Membrane-Winged

An Eastern Carpenter Bee working the milkweed.This is one of our biggest bees, so note the tiny little critter to its right in both pictures above. Didn’t see this one while photographing. Not sure if its a bee or wasp.
One of the leaf-cutter bees stuck to a Drosera filiformis, thread-leaved sundew. This carnivorous plant is tiny and usually snags much smaller insects with its gooey droplets. The bee is visible mired in the filament-like mucus of the plant, but she struggled free. This particular drama was found amid cranberries in a saucer of boggy delights during the Flatbush Gardener’s urban safari. Most of the critters pictured here today were found there.Humped Beewolf, a wasp that preys on bees.Blue Mud-dauber Wasp working on her nest. She captures spiders to entomb as food for her young.Texas Leaf-cutter Bee, as IDed by iNaturalist, which records them in Texas, Louisana, NY and PA. Good rule of thumb is that bees are vegetarians and wasps carnivores (at some stage in their their life: some adult wasps will sup nectar).Look at these saddlebags of pollen on this Bombus bruiser’s legs! Bumblebees really shake down flowers for pollen — in fact, they and some other types of bees forcible release pollen by buzz pollination — the frequency of their buzzing wings. This pollen, by the way, is food for her and her babies. She’ll make a wax chamber for each egg, sealing it with a ball of pollen. Nectar will go in wax pots for herself and future daughters.
The word Hymenoptera, the order that includes wasps, bees, ants, and sawflies, means membrane-wing. They have four such wings (in the caste system of ants, it’s the reproductives who are winged). Flies, in the order Diptera, have two. I’m putting this Common Eastern Physocephala fly in here because it looks superficially like a wasp. BUT: note the little white tag that seems to be coming from the abdomen in the above picture. I’ve darkened this image to make it stand out a bit more. (Clicking on it will make it fill your window.) There’s one on each side of the back end of the thorax. These are halteres, essentially modified hindwings, which help balance these fliers. This fly, by the way, parasitizes bumblebees.

Pollinator Week: The Wrong Bee

For National Pollinator Week, let’s talk about the wrong bee, the Honeybee, Apis mellifera.

This one is entangled with milkweed pollinia. A pollinium is a mass or packet of pollen; in this case, there’s one on each end of these wing-like U-shapes. Orchids and milkweeds flowers are where you’ll find these curious pollen-delivery systems. Unlike the loose pollen grains found in other flowers, these aren’t so edible. Pollinia are supposed to break off when bees visit other flowers, but this one was having trouble taking off with the things stuck to her feet. (A hedge-trimmer was approaching so I got out of the way. When I returned the bee was no longer there.)

In this study in a large urban park in Toronto, almost all (>99%) “of diurnal pollination of the field milkweed, A. syriaca was carried out by the nonindigenous Western Honey bee, Apis mellifera. Our findings suggest that A. syriaca is pollinated predominantly by honeybees in human‐impacted region, unlike in similar studies carried out in natural areas decades earlier in which bumblebees were the dominant visitor…”

We have turned Honeybees into domesticated animals. They’re “managed bees” now, no longer wild. They’re farm workers — even migrant farm workers, seeing how some are shipped from Maine to Florida and back again for the blueberry to citrus industries circuit. It is too much to call them industrial workers, proletarianized?

Q. But aren’t honeybees good for the environment?
A. No
.

Q. Are they bad for wild bees?
A. Yes.

Q. How bad?
A. This bad.

Q. How bad was that again?
A. This bad, especially in regards to pathogens.

Q. Wow! Anything else?
A. Yup.

From that last citation, a paper published in Nature in March: “Our results show that beekeeping reduces the diversity of wild pollinators and interaction links in the pollination networks. It disrupts their hierarchical structural organization causing the loss of interactions by generalist species, and also impairs pollination services by wild pollinators through reducing the reproductive success of those plant species highly visited by honeybees. High-density beekeeping in natural areas appears to have lasting, more serious negative impacts on biodiversity than was previously assumed.”The concern for honeybees has sparked a wave of do-somethingism, but I fear this wave will drown out the hundreds of other bee species, even when they are given nominal attention. The science is fast out-pacing human desires and institution-building (and profit-motive). These wild bee species are mostly solitary or, as in the case of bumblebees, in small colonies. Most are ground-nesters, so they aren’t even getting the attention of “bee hotels.” Many are far more efficient as pollinators than honeybees; some are quite specialized and do the pollination honeybees can’t do at all.

An organization called the Honeybee Conservancy, for instance, claims to dedicate 50% of its pollinator garden on Governor’s Island to managed bees and 50% to wild bees. There can be as many as 60,000 bees in a single hive… so I don’t think their math is particularly good.

The effort to get more honeybees in urban areas, an effort of good faith, is bad news.

More:
Conserving Bees Does Not Help Wildlife (Science)

Diversity of bee species are vital for the blueberry industry. (NC State Extension)

This one is really bad: managed honeybees are infecting Bombus (bumblebees) species with RNA viruses. “Our results corroborate the hypothesis that viruses are spilling over from managed honeybees to wild bumblebees and that flowers may be an important route for transmission.”

Bombus griseocollis

One of the few flying insects seen at Morris Arboretum recently. The Brown-belted Bumble Bee. Probably a female, who has overwintered and is getting ready to start a new colony.The second most common Bombus species in the mid-Atlantic but scarcer further north. Note that the animal is using two of its legs to scrape across her thorax. This is a a good way to comb pollen out.ID on this beastie comes from a bee maven on iNaturalist. Note that citizen science data has gone into this new study of the sharp decline of another Bombus species in Canada.
***

Both of my parents were children of the Great Depression. My mother was a refugee from Oklahoma. My father only went to college because of the GI Bill, some recompense for serving years in the Pacific during WWII. The New Deal was far from perfect, but it was a bold, multi-fronted attack on economic and environmental disaster. Its history tells us that a Green New Deal is nothing to be afraid of. Keven Baker’s essay in Harper‘s will make you wonder what all the fuss is about: “we have been here before.” Not that he doesn’t recognize the powers arrayed against us: the intensity of the attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by both Republican and Democratic wings of the capitalist party are for all to see.

“In a country this wealthy, and with so much of its wealth being blatantly misappropriated or stolen, how we will pay for making our fellow citizens healthier, smarter, and richer is simply not a serious question.”

“[…] the simple underlying brilliance of the GND: the acknowledgement that we cannot go on as we have, not only in degrading the earth but also in degrading each other, through the existing economic system we have allowed to overrun us.”

To Bee Or Not To Bee

When Europeans brought their domesticated honeybees to the New World, they joined the 4000 other species of bees all ready here. That’s a lot of different kinds of bees, but the invasive honeybees, the cattle of insects, the serfs of industry, get virtually all the attention. This is a shame. Honeybees are problematic, to say the least. (I was once a big advocate, but I’ve revised my thinking, not that I don’t think they’re fascinating.)

“The honeybees from a single domestic hive consume pollen and nectar that might otherwise provision 100,000 nest cells for diggers, masons, leaf cutters, and other native bees,” writes Thor Hanson in Buzz. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, the link above goes to the article he cites on this. The most significant effects of industrial honeybee colonies are in wild areas, not agricultural ones. It certainly makes you think about the explosion of bee-keeping, as here in New York City.

Green-Wood Cemetery, for instance, has hives in the Dell Water, which they want to revert to a more nature-friendly section. They have another batch of hives near the pollinator dream-world of their new native plant hillside. Are they undermining their own best efforts?

Hanson’s concise but comprehensive new book raises such questions. It should broaden everybody’s bee horizons. Like other insects, bees are disappearing in our lifetime. (Because, it might be argued, of our lifetimes). As noted here and many other places, this disappearance is two-fold: species are winking out, and the numbers within surviving species are shrinking. The causes are all anthropogenic and interconnected: toxins, imported pathogens, habitat destruction, climate change, industrial monocropping to feed the locust-expansion of human beings. One study found residue from 118 different pesticides in hives from around the country; these included poisons long since banned, like DDT, which persist in the environment. The synergistic interactions of all these chemical weapons are a whole other front in the war against life.
***

The author suggests you read the end notes. Duh! Here you’ll find much else that just couldn’t fit into the narrative. (Boy, do I know that feeling!) Like, for instance, the number of specimens Darwin sent home (8,000) and the number Wallace, who earned his living doing this, did (125,000; 83,200 of which were beetles).

These Eyes

From a distance, I thought this was a wasp. Look at that patterning!But then, those eyes…This is a wasp-mimicking fly of the Spilomyia genus, perhaps S. longicornis.Now here’s a bee, one of the Agapostemon sweat bees. Note how the eyes are on the side of the animal. Flies have front-facing eyes that often meet near the middle. In this image you can also see the two pairs of wings that bees and the other Hymenoptera (wasps, reproductive ants) have. Flies, Diptera, have only two wings.


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