Monday, July 29, 2013

The early bee gets the nectar

Though the European wool carder bees were visiting leaves, most of the bees in the garden were focused on flowers.  On sunny (and very hot) afternoons, the garden was full of bumble bees, honey bees, and a variety of smaller, solitary bees.  However, not all flowers -- even on the same plant -- were equally attractive to these bees.

Sedum flowers in full bloom.
Some, particularly the smaller bees, would pass over wide open flowers, electing to squeeze their way into those flowers that were just beginning to open.

A small bee visiting an opening sedum flower.
The bee emerging from the sedum flower.
Although more difficult to access, these flowers were more likely to have a fresh supply of nectar and pollen available to the bees.  Certainly, the two bees pictured here had been quite successful in collecting pollen -- just see the yellow legs of the bee above and the orange underside of the bee below.

A leafcutter or mason bee (Megachilidae) visiting a lupine flower.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wool gathering

In mid July, the flowers in my garden were buzzing with bees -- and so were some of the leaves.  Leaf cutter bees were busy collecting nesting materials from the leaves of lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina).  However, instead of removing segments of the leaves, they were shearing the hairs off the leaves.  In the picture below, several sheared patches can be seen on the lamb's ear leaves, along with a ball of the hairs.

A ball of fuzz on a lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) leaf.
This ball had been abandoned by a bee when I came close to investigate.  Once I kept still, I did not have to wait long for one of the leaf cutters -- specifically, a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) -- to land and continue harvesting the hairs.

A female European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) gathering the fuzz from a lamb's ear leaf.
As you may have guessed, the European wool carder bees get their name from this behavior.  To see one of the bees "carding", watch the video below.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen
After the bees fly off with their lamb's ear hair balls, they return to their nests, which are made of the leaves they cut, and install the hairs as a lining.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Brown and blue, part two

During my flower-filled and mosquito-ridden walk in Poland, I saw a number of "blue" butterflies that were in fact mostly brown.  I found these butterflies congregating around several species of plants (mostly legumes) that appeared to be the hosts for the butterflies' larvae.

A female blue butterfly (either Plebejus argus or P. idas) sitting on a potential host plant.
However, the brown "blues" were not the only butterflies attracted to these plants.  There were also many butterflies with a similar size and wing pattern -- but notably bluer wings.

The male blue is similar to the female on the underside of the wings.
When the wings are closed (as above), the difference is relatively minor; yet, when the wings are open, there is a striking difference between the brown (see here) and the blue types.

Unlike the females, the males have very blue tops to their wings.
What is the relationship between the brown and blue butterflies?  Despite their distinct colorations, the butterflies belong to the same species, either Plebejus argus or P. idas.  These species, and several other related species, are sexually dimorphic -- meaning that the females and males differ in their appearances.  In this case, the females are brown and the males are blue.  A possible explanation for this pattern is that the females are under pressure to be inconspicuous to avoid the notice of predators, whereas the males are under pressure to be showy to attract the interest of potential mates.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Brown and blue, part one

In between leaving Germany and returning to Washington, I spent several days traveling around Poland.  On one of those days, I went on a walk with my mother through her childhood "backyard".

A field of grasses and wildflowers in southern Poland.
Although it was necessary to race along in order to keep ahead of the onslaught of mosquitoes, I couldn't resist stopping frequently to photograph the impressive diversity of insects (click here for the photo album) and wildflowers.  Consequently, I ended up with both many photographs and many mosquito bites. 

Some of the wildflowers we saw in the fields.
Almost as numerous as the mosquitoes, and considerably more attractive, were the blues:

A female blue (Polyommatinae) butterfly, either the silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) or the Idas blue (Plebejus idas).
From the name, one might expect that the wings of these butterflies would be blue...

A female blue with her wings spread open, showing the brown tops.
... yet they were distinctly brown, not blue at all.  To be continued...

Monday, July 8, 2013

A warm welcome

Last week, I returned to Washington after four months of travels.  Of all the many things there were to do after getting home, one task near the top of my list was to search the garden for crab spiders.  Before leaving Washington in March, I had found just one crab spider in the yard.  How many were there now?  It took just a couple of minutes for me to locate the first crab spider, and then in quick succession I found several more, including this one: 

A juvenile crab spider on a daisy.
After bringing the tally up to six crab spiders, it was time for me to retreat out of the ~95°F heat and to turn to more mundane tasks.  However, the next morning, I took advantage of my jetlag and was out in the garden very early, while it was still cool.  During this second and more thorough search, I found ten more crab spiders.

A female Misumena vatia crab spider ready for some prey.
A couple of these I found not on flowers, but on foliage.  These spiders were either in transit between flowers or had opted for less conventional hunting sites.

A juvenile crab spider sitting at the tip of a rose stem.