If the weather forecast proves to be accurate, we are in for a stretch of the coldest weather we have experienced so far this winter. We are being warned that low temperature readings might reach the low 20s and below. During this abnormally cold weather, we are all going to spend a lot of time indoors in our warm homes. Our backyard neighbors are not going to be so lucky. Each of them has its own ways of survive the cold. Let’s look at the amazing manner in which honeybees survive frigid temperatures.
Before winter sets in, the males (drones) are forced out of the hive. Consequently, all that remain are females (workers) and a queen. The queen spends the winter near the center of the hive where it is the warmest. Remarkably, the temperature in this area ranges anywhere from 80-90ºF or more.
During the winter, honeybees form a large cluster. This cluster has two parts. The workers located at the outer portion of the cluster are packed closely together and constantly vibrate their wings. Here the temperate is often in the 40s. The workers’ wing vibrations help create heat. Conversely, the workers in the inner core and loosely packed. This allows them and the queen to move about and eat nectar. From time to time, the bees living in the outer layer change places with those confined to the inner portion of the cluster. This allows those on the outside of the cluster to eat too.
This behavior has served the honeybee well for untold years. However, in spite of this, an average of 38.3 percent of the managed honeybee hives in Georgia do not make it through the winter.
Recently I received a post from one of our fellow bloggers that lives in the Athens area voicing concern that spiders might pose a threat to hummingbirds. In response to her communication, I have tried to uncover any reports of hummingbirds being caught in the large, sticky webs constructed by Joro spiders.
For those of you that that are not familiar with the Joro spider, this large spider is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. It first appeared in the United States in Hoschton, Georgia in 2013.
This long-legged foreign invader has spread rapidly and is now weaving their large, sticky webs in at last 25 counties in North Georgia. The spider has also been found in nearby South Carolina.
Experts tell us that Joro spiders do not eat birds. However, it is well known that hummingbirds are caught in the webs fashioned by a variety of native spiders. In such cases, unless an unfortunate hummingbird can break free or rescued, it dies of either from starvation or dehydration.
To date, I have not found any documentation of a hummingbird being caught in a Joro spider web. However, that does not necessarily mean that this does not occur. If you have seen and perhaps photographed such an event, please let me know.
Since the joro spider has not been in the country very long, experts are unable to determine the impact, if any; this spider is going to have on native animals. In the meantime, Richard Hoebeke, an entomologist and curation with the Georgia Museum of Natural History, offers this advice, “Spiders are beneficial, they are feeding on insects that a log of people consider pests, yellow jackets, stink bugs, mosquitoes, other insects that people don’t want to see around the house, they would be happy to have them in their webs. And a lot of them do end up in their webs. So, I consider them beneficial, I would just simply leave them alone. Don’t get in their way. Don’t aggregate them. Just let them be.”
For more information on the Joro spider, go to Search on the right side of this Blog and type in either Joro spider or Spider alert.
If you want to engage in an activity designed to help conserve our valuable pollinators, take part in The Great Georgia Pollinator census. This year the census takes place August 19-20, 2022.
The University of Georgia, Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and a number of other conservation groups sponsor the count.
You do not have to be an expert in the identification of the state’s pollinators to take part. The reason for this is UGA provides participants with a color tally sheet. The pollinators are divided into eight broad categories ranging from honeybees and butterflies to flies and spiders. All you have to match the insects you spot with photos on sheet.
Simply select an area you want to census. Then count all of the pollinators you see in just 15 minutes. Once the survey is complete, upload your data and your duties as a citizen scientist are completed.
Today when I walked on to my deck for the first time,
I flushed a dragonfly that had perched atop a pole supporting one of the plants growing in a container. The distinctive color pattern on its wings and body color told me it was a widow skimmer (Lebellula luctuosa).
The male widow skimmer (called a king) is one of our most recognizable dragonflies. It is a medium-sized (1.2 – 2 inches long; with a 1-1.5-inch wingspan) dragonfly with wings marked with black and white blotches. The black blotches extend outwards from its body toward the tips of its wings. Much narrower white markings are located just beyond the black blotches. The insect’s body is powder blue.
In contrast, the wings of the female (called a queen) are marked with a single dark blotch on each wing.
While this dragonfly is most common along the borders of lakes, and swamps, it also ventures into our backyard. The widow skimmer is most common in the summer but can also be spotted in the spring and autumn.
This distinctive dragonfly lives as an adult for just a few weeks. During this time males establish a territory up to 250 square acres which it vigorously defends again the intrusions of others.
The widow skimmer habitually uses perches. The black skimmer I spotted today flew off and returned to the same perch several times in a few minutes.
If are you interested in photographing a widow skimmer, all you have to do is to stand motionless a short distance away from a favorite perch and wait for it to return. This saves you having to scamper about the yard trying to snap a picture.
The widow skimmer feeds a wide variety of small soft-bodied invertebrates such as spiders, flying ants, hover flies, and even mosquitoes. Prey is snatched from the air with its legs.
If you spot a widow skimmer in your yard, don’t be afraid of it. Widow skimmers do not attack or bite humans. Just enjoy its beauty and mastery of the air as it patrols the air space above your lawn and gardens.
Since fire ants were accidentally introduced into the United States during the twentieth century, they have plagued both humans and native wildlife. However, findings of research conducted by biologists at Pennsylvania State University suggest that fence lizards that eat fire ants increase their immunity to the fire ant venom.
The researchers found that blood tests of the fence lizards that consumed dead fire ants three times a week developed three different types of increased immunity against the fire ant venom.
It is interesting to note that being stung by the fire ants did increase the lizards’ immunity against future stings.
If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.
This will mark the third year the census has been conducted. Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey. Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.
The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part. There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time. Most counts are held in yards. However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds.
The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (email@example.com).
The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.
For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org). When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.
The juniper hairstreak is one of our more elusive butterflies; in spite of the fact, it ranges across most of the state except in portions of Southwest Georgia. This is unfortunate because this small (wingspan roughly one-inch), butterfly possesses unique beauty. When you see a juniper hairstreak, the thing that jumps out at you is the jewel-like olive green color that covers most of its wings.
Juniper hairstreaks are often difficult to find anywhere, let alone in backyards. However, last summer I saw more juniper hairstreaks in my yard than I had seen in my entire life. My good fortune is appears linked to my transplanting mountain mint plants in four locations in my backyard. During much of August 2020, I could consistently find juniper hairstreaks nectaring at the mountain mint’s tiny blooms.
Prior to last summer, I would only occasionally find juniper hairstreaks nectaring on the blossoms of white clover in my backyard. However, I would often go a year or more without seeing one.
JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK ON MOUNTAIN MINT
I did not understand why this is the case since several large red cedars grow in my large backyard. Red cedar is the juniper hairstreak’s host plant. It seems juniper hairstreaks do not venture far from the trees, preferring instead to spend the majority of its time in the trees aromatic foliage.
In fact, I have often read that the best way to see a juniper hairstreak is to flush one by shaking a limb or tossing a dead branch in the into the canopy of a red cedar. Although I have tried this trick many times, it only worked once.
The juniper hairstreak nectars on a variety of flowering plants, although for some reason, I have never seen a juniper hairstreak feed on any of the large array of nectar-bearing flowers in my yard. That is until I planted mountain mint.
If you long to see a juniper hairstreak and red cedars grow nearby, you might want to plant mountain mint in your yard. The native is hardy an easy to grow. If you do add this plant to your yard, set it out in a place where it will not compete with other nectar plants, as it will spread.
Once you spot the first juniper hairstreak in your yard, you will wish you had made its acquaintance a long time ago.
As odd as it may sound, many of our native bees are at least three times more efficient pollinators as the introduced honeybee.
Take for example the bumblebee: many of us grow blueberries in our yards. Many pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees visit the blueberry plant’s creamy white flowers. Studies have demonstrated that a honeybee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a bumblebee can in only one visit.
In addition, native bees are more common than honeybees in many of our yards. Unfortunately, few honey bees visit the flowers in my yard. Luckily, tiny solitary, bumble, and carpenter bees are routinely seen visiting a wide range of flowers found there.
This summer, as you walk around your flower and vegetable gardens take note of the bees you find pollinating your flowers. If you do, don’t be surprised if you see very few honeybees and an abundance of native bees hard at work pollinating the plants that provide you with food and a cascade of beautiful flowers.
I am convinced that we are guilty of underestimating the value of the 532 species of native bees that can be found flying throughout Georgia.
My wife and I enjoy gardening for hummingbirds. In an effort to provide them with a source of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible, we provide them a multitude of plants. The list of nectar plants includes such hummingbird favorites as zinnia, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, lantana, coral honeysuckle, scarlet sage, lyre leaf sage, red buckeye, hollyhock, columbine and many more. These plants provide us with an ever-changing mosaic composed of different colors. Often when I gaze at this gorgeous setting, I cannot help but wonder what these plants look like through the eyes of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit these flowers countless times.
Research conducted by researchers representing the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard, University of Maryland, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and the University of British Columbia has revealed our ability to see colors pales in comparison with that of hummingbirds. Princeton University Assistant Professor Mary Caswell put it this way, “Humans are color blind compared to birds and many other animals.”
The research discovered hummingbirds appear to be able to detect pure ultra-violet from a combination of colors such as ultra-violet plus red and red as well as ultra-violet plus green from pure green. Ultra-violet plus red and ultra-violet plus green were undetectable to the researchers.
Many scientists believe the reason why hummingbirds are able to see far more colors than us is linked to the fact that a hummingbird’s eye contains four different types of cones whereas humans have but three. The fourth type of cones detect near ultra-violet light (UV). Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye.
The ability to detect near UV light is beneficial to hummingbirds because many nectar plants display colors in the near UV light range. Consequently, such plants stand out more to hummingbirds than they do to humans.
I am certain that this research represents another step toward our greater understanding of the hummingbird’s ability to see colors. Wouldn’t it great to catch a glimpse at the colors of the natural world through the eyes of a hummingbird?
I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration. If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds. While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.
As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds. These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas. Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations. Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.
The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet. However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights. By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects. However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).
Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves. Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.
When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal. The worst trees are introduced ornamentals. Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies. Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.
Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies. The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses. This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy.
In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees. Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).
Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list. The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.
If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants. How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find. If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day. Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.
If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage. While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.