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BACKYARD SECRET: WORKER HONEYBEES CHANGE JOBS

            Since the only honeybees most of us see are those that visit flowers foraging for pollen and nectar, it is natural to assume that this is the only task these tireless workers perform during their lives.

       The truth of the matter is female workers begin their lives taking care of the tiny larvae in the hive.  Then, when they reach the ripe old age of two to three weeks, they suddenly become for foragers and leave the confines of the hive to collect to food.  Once they make this career change, they will perform this job throughout the rest of their lives.

WHERE ARE ALL OF THE BUMBLEBEES?

        Have you ever wondered why you don’t see many bumblebees in early spring?  In fact, in my case, when I spot my first large bee of the year, I automatically call it a bumblebee.   However, more often than not, the bee turns out to be a carpenter bee.  Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees have shiny, hairless abdomens and frequently hover.

       The truth of the matter is very few bumblebees are flying about in early spring. It seems the only bumblebees we see at this time of the year are queens (fertilized females).  All of the other members of their colony died when the flowers disappeared the previous year.

       Queens are able to survive frigid temperatures is because a chemical called glycol flows through their bodies.  This substance prevents the bumblebees’ blood from freezing.

       Once spring arrives and temperatures rise, even a few degrees above freezing, the queens emerge.  When you do see them they are either trying of find flowers where they can consume much-needed food, or looking for burrows where they can lay their eggs and begin a new colony.  At times, they will even nest in above ground cavities such as bird nesting boxes.

 

 

MONARCH VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades.  During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.

I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.

Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.

As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders.  I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit.  However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.

After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon.  One visit lasted over fifteen minutes.  During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.

Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time.  However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder. 

I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.

Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between.  With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.

A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder.  I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.

In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.

 

 

WELCOME THE POTTER WASP TO YOUR YARD

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.
POTTER WASP NESTS

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

THE LOCUST BORER IS A STRIKING BACKYARD RESIDENT

Chances are you have never seen this insect.  This strikingly black and yellow-marked insect is known as the locust borer (Megacylene robiniae).        

       It is interesting to note that entomologists believe the insect’s bold yellow and black pattern deters wasps from preying this boldly marked beetle.

       The only known host of this insect is the black locust tree. Consequently, if you spot on your property, chances are a black locust is growing nearby.

       The emergence of the adult locust borer coincides with the blooming of goldenrod.  It seems that the locust borer is far more often seen dining goldenrod pollen than anywhere else. With that in mind, if you would like to see one of these insects, now is the time to take a close look at the golden, plume-like blossoms of this beautiful fall flower.  Don’t delay, once the goldenrod blooms fade, along with their passing your chances of seeing this insect also disappears until next year.

WIDOW SKIMMERS MAY BE PATROLLING YOUR BACKYARD

The widow skimmer is one of the most striking dragonflies you are likely to see patrolling your backyard.  This is especially true if you live near water.

       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.

 

 

BUMBLEBEES ARE HARD AT WORK IN YOUR BACKYARD

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

    This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur. 

        My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur.  My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

      If you have never taken the time to watch bumblebees, I urge you to do so.  The more you learn about them, the more you will be convinced that they are important backyard wildlife neighbors.