Some of our most fascinating and important backyard wildlife neighbors are pollinating insects. Unfortunately, populations of many of these critters are declining. In an effort of assess the number of these pollinators across the state, the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension is conducting the first Georgia statewide pollinator census. The count will be held August 23 and 24, 2019.
Becky Griffin, UGA Extension school garden and pollinator census coordinator is inviting private citizens, families, clubs, school classes and other groups to cooperate.
The count is fashioned after the highly successful Great Backyard Bird Count. Consequently, whereas you do not have to be an expert in bird identification take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, you don’t have to be able to identify the insect pollinators that visit your garden. Participants are simply asked to separate pollinators into eight groups (carpenter bees, bumble bees, honey bees, small bees, wasps, flies, butterflies/moths, and other insects. An easy to understand online guide to these insects can be downloaded from the Great Georgia Pollinator Census website (GGaPC.org).
Here is what you need to do to participate:
- Visit the Great Georgia Pollinator Census website and download the GGPC Observation Sheet. The sheet can be used to record your sightings.
- Select a single plant growing in your yard that you know attracts pollinators.
- Count the pollinators landing on the plant during a 15-minute period.
- Visit the website once more and upload the results of your count.
I sincerely hope that you become citizen scientist and participate in the state’s first-of-its-kind pollinator count. If you do, you will be helping conserve these valuable insects.
If you have any questions regarding the census, contact mailto:Becky Griffin at email@example.com.
The next time you spot what appears to be a bumblebee perched on a plant in your garden, take a close look at the insect, as it just may be accomplish insect predator known as the southern bee killer (Mallophora orcina).
The southern bee killer is one of the approximately 1,000 species of robber flies that inhabit North America. All of these amazing flies eat all sorts of insects; however, the southern bee killer prefers to eat paper wasps, carpenter bees, honeybees, and bumblebees.
The southern bee killer is commonly inhabits backyards throughout the entire state. In spite of this, unless you actually spot this predatory insect flying about with its prey, chances are you mistook it for a bumblebee. Bumblebees do not fly about clutching other insects. That is understandable as it is fuzzy like a bumblebee, and its body is marked with the yellow and black pattern we associate with bumblebees. In addition, if its legs seem to be exceptionally long and its eyes extremely large, you are probably looking at a bee killer.
The southern bee killer is a true mimic. It definitely looks like a bumblebee. Biologists are not certain how the bee killer’s similarity to a bumblebee benefits the insect. Some suggest it causes predators that do not like to be stung by bumblebees to shy away. Who knows?
At any rate, the southern bee killer is an ambush predator. It spends its day perched on a blade of grass, flower, twig, or other object and waits from a bee to fly by. Once it spots a potential prey, it immediately chases it down. If successful, it grabs the hapless bee in midair and impales it with its powerful, sharp mouthparts. It then immediately injects its prey with a combination of enzymes and nerve poisons. This deadly concoction disables the insect and dissolves its body tissues. The bee killer then drinks its liquefied meal.
Since bee killers routinely return to the same perch, if you happen to locate a perch, check out this location from time to time, you can watch the bee killer hunt time after time.
Although the southern bee killer is a deadly predator, I have never heard of an instance where one attacked a human. That being said, if for some reason you happen to touch one, it can inflict a painful bite.
The question mark is one of the most uniquely shaped butterflies you are likely to see in your backyard.
The wingspan of this butterfly ranges from 2 3/8-2 5/8 inches wide. Each of the butterfly’s fore and hind wings displays a deep downward pointing hook. The ragged outer margins of the wings dip inward toward the body. The dorsal surface of the wings is rusty orange and marked with black markings. Meanwhile, the ventral surfaces of the wings are light gray to tan. In summer, the outer edges of the wings are shaded with violet hues. The butterfly is named for the distinctive silvery question mark found on the ventral surface of the hind wing.
Do not waste your time looking for this butterfly visiting your flowers. Although question marks will occasionally nectar at flowers, they much prefer to dine on an odd variety of items including sap, animal dung and rotting fruit. Interestingly, question marks sometimes become intoxicated on the alcohol produces by decaying fruit. When they are in this condition they move above erratically and will even let you touch them.
The best way to attract this butterfly to your yard is to leave rotting fruit beneath your fruit trees and to provide them with caterpillar host plants. Two of their favorite hosts are elm and hackberry.
Early morning, before it gets really hot is an excellent time to go looking for question marks. At that time of the day, question marks can often be located basking in the morning sunshine.
In the afternoon, males spend much of their time displaying for females. When they are engaged in these displays, they will sometimes closely approach anyone walking near them.
The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized. It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.
Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers. However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance. It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments. For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.
While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife. This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard. In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes. In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard. Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.
A little more than a week ago while I was admiring the showy pink blossoms blanketing the large George Tabor azalea bushes encircling a chestnut tree in my yard, I noticed scores of large carpenter bees visiting flower after flower. When I moved closer to floral show I realized that after the carpenter bees landed on the blooms, they immediately made the way down the outside of the blossoms to the junction of the petals and green sepals. As it turned out, the hefty bees were robbing nectar from the large trumpet-shaped flowers.
It seems carpenter bees are too large to fit through the throats of the bright pink blooms to reach the nectar located at the base of the blossoms. Faced with this problem, most other nectar feeders would abandon their quest for the nectar.
Such is not the case with these carpenter bees. These bees have the uncanny ability to obtain the nectar from the outside of a blossom. What I was observing was the bees chewing longitudinal holes at the base of each bloom and then dipping their tongues into the flowers’ sugary nectar.
Since I first noticed what was taking place I have closely examined a number of azalea blossoms and found any number of feeding portals created by the carpenter bees. In addition, my wife saw a wasp using a feeding hole after the carpenter bee that created it left.
Insects such as the carpenter bee are called nectar robbers simply because they feed on nectar without pollinating the flowers.
If you would like to witness this odd behavior, on a warm, sunny day, look for carpenter bees flying about your azaleas. When you spot them, watch where they go. After they leave, look for the feeding holes created by the bees.
I think you will agree you do not have to leave the confines of your yard to witness fascinating animal behavior.
The adult male can easily be identified as it has a primrose blue abdomen, dark shoulders, and a black band at the base of each wing. The outer edge of the black band is bordered in white.
Females and immature male widow skimmers look very much alike. Their wings have dark brown stripes and their abdomens sport a dark dorsal stripe bordered on each side with yellow. In addition, the tips of the females’ wings are tipped in black.
These flying predators capture airborne prey with their feet.
Widow skimmers do not continuously fly through the day. Instead, they prefer to perch atop weeds and other plants. From these vantage points, they frequently take wing and patrol their territory in search of food; this behavior is repeated throughout the day.
Widow skippers typically fly from May through early November.
This large dragonfly is very common above the Fall Line, uncommon in the Coastal Plain and mostly absent in the southeast corner of the state.
Along about this time of year, when I walk out into my backyard and a gentle zephyr is blowing in from the east, I can often catch the lemony scent of a winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima).
Although this shrub is only about eight feet wide and seven feet tall, it is very special to my wife and me. We moved this shrub from my wife’s Alabama home well more than three decades ago. My wife fondly remembers a winter honeysuckle that grew just outside her bedroom window. When should would open her window on warm winter days, the scent produced by the plant’s small, white flowers would fill her room with their fresh, lemony fragrance. Like her mother, we bring winter honeysuckle branches adorned with flowers into our house simply to enjoy to pleasant aroma that given off by the small, showy blossoms.
There was a time when plants like winter honeysuckle and abelia were commonly found in yards throughout the South. Today, in spite of the fact that both are attractive and used by wildlife, more often than not, they are missing from home landscapes.
We are fond of our winter honeysuckle for a number of reasons. First, it has sentimental value. In addition, a provides a touch of floral beauty at a time of year when few plants are blooming. That would be enough to earn a spot our my yard; however, it is also a source of nectar and pollen for wild pollinators during a time when they find food extremely scarce.
Winter honeysuckle was introduced into the United States from China during the middle of the 19th century. Those that brought the plant here touted its merits as an ornamental and hedge plant. It proved to be so popular that it first showed up in plant catalogs in 1860.
It is a deciduous shrub that grows to a height of around ten feet. The leaves are oval in shape. This woody shrub blooms from late winter to early spring in most parts of the state. Its half-inch, creamy white flowers are arranged in pairs. They are followed by a crop of small, red berries that are frequently eaten by birds.
Although the plant grows best in rich soil types, it will also grow in dry sites. While it does best in full sunshine, it will grow in partial shade too.
If you want to add winter beauty to your backyard, as well as provide a food source for wild pollinators, you my might want to consider adding this shrub to your home landscape.
The downward spiral of many of our native bee populations is something that we should all be concerned about. The plight of these insects was recently highlighted by a study conducted by researchers with the University of Vermont’s Grand Institute of Ecological Economics. Their findings suggest that between 2008 and 2013 native bee populations declined 23 percent across the United States.
If you would like to learn more about native bees and what you can do in your backyard to promote native bee populations, I strongly urge you to read the April-May issue of the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine National Wildlife. This special issue is titled Garden For Wildlife – NURTURING NATIVE BEES.
Wild pollinators, such as honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and other pollinating animals, are responsible for pollinating 75 percent of the world’s plants. In fact, roughly one-third of all the food we eat comes from plants pollinated by animals.
Here in Georgia, in late winter and early spring, it is difficult for honeybees and many of our native pollinators to find enough pollen and nectar to meet their needs. In many locales, the redbud is one of the only plants where these animals can find an abundant source of pollen and nectar. This is because this small native tree blooms long before many other plants have sprouted leaves or flowers.
Earlier this month when the redbud in my yard was in full bloom, it literally hummed with activities. The trees pink, bean-like blossoms were swarmed by countless bees. Although I didn’t see any butterflies visit the tree this year, in past years, they have joined the feeding frenzy.
If you would like do something to benefit the pollinating insects in your neighborhood, plant a redbud tree. In addition, it will provide you with beautiful blossoms in the spring, shade in summer and pleasing fall color provided by purple seed pods and greenish yellow heart-shaped leaves.
It is amazing how much this small native tree has to offer.