Researchers have learned that bumblebees have an amazing ability to detect odors. For example, bumblebees can detect the odor left behind by the tiny feet of an insect that previously visited a flower foraging for pollen and/or nectar.
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.
Now that is what I call simple.
If you would like more information concerning all aspects of the count, visit the count’s official website The Great Georgia Pollinator Count – Citizen Science at Work (ggapc.org)
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.