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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.

THE SWEET SCENT OF LEMON IS IN THE WINTER AIR

honeybee-feeding-winter__-honeysuckle

honeybee feeding at winter honeysuckle

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.

 

 

WIDOW SKIMMERS MAY BE PATROLLING YOUR YARD

WIDOW SKIMMER (Female)

WIDOW SKIMMER (Female)

It is truly amazing how much natural beauty can be found in our yards. We see it in butterflies, moths, flowers are far too many other plants and animals to mention here.  Why, it can even be seen in dragonflies.  Yes, I said dragonflies. If you never thought of dragonflies being attractive, it is to take a closer look at them.

Dragonflies come in a rainbow of colors and sizes. In addition, the intricate designs formed by the veins on their wings are as stunning as the finest lace.

One of the most striking dragonflies that can be seen in backyards throughout the entire state, with the exception of Southeast Georgia, is the widow skimmer.

This dragonfly is about an inch and a half to two inches long.

It’s distinctive wing pattern (see accompanying photo) makes it easy to identify. The body of the adult male is blue. In comparison, females and young males display pale stripes running down their bodies. Also, the tips of the wings on females are usually black.

Males will often perch on the ends of twigs and other objects and then slowly patrol your yard.

This dragonfly flies from May to early November.

WIDOW SKIMMER (Male)

WIDOW SKIMMER (Male)

MAGAZINE PROMOTES NATIVE BEE CONSERVATION

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.

NATIVE BEE