Lift Off!

Today I realized that it has been quite some time since I last posted: more than a year and a half! Unfortunately I don’t have the amount of time I wish I had to dedicate to this blog, but I thought I’d post a photo I took earlier this week at Lafayette Reservoir. I took it on my smartphone, and I startled the bee in the process. Due to the rolling shutter, you can see the path of the bee’s wings during lift off:

Lift Off

Like most insects, bees fly by moving their wings in a figure-eight pattern. They have a total of four wings (two forewings and two hindwings), but during flight each fore- and hindwing hook together to form one large wing each.

Happy Spring!

Pollinate Your Plate Part 3: A Colorful Dinner

Pollinator Plate 3 Colorful Dinner

“Colorful Dinner” was part of a series of posters I made demonstrating what meals might look like with and without foods that benefit from animal pollination. Here are two of the bees that helped make that vibrant salad:

Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)
Bombus unk
Large, fuzzy bumblebees are used to pollinate tomatoes and peppers in greenhouses. Tomato and pepper flowers have special anthers (the male part of the flower) from which pollen can only be released by vibrating the flower. As an analogy, think of shaking salt out of a shaker. Bumblebees excel at creating vibrations to release this pollen in a way honey bees cannot. They unhook their flight muscles from their attachments and vibrate them when visiting tomato flowers. This type of pollination is known as buzz pollination.
Peponapis pruinosa front
Squash Bees (Peponapis pruinosa)
Squash bees are native to the Americas, and specialize on cucurbit pollen (winter and summer squash, and zucchini). Females build nests underground, usually beneath squash vines. Males patrol squash flowers looking for females in the morning, and rest in closed up squash flowers for the rest of the day.

Happy Dining!

Masked Bees in the Parsley

After two good years of harvest, my parsley plants have finally started producing sprays of tiny white flowers (fly for scale):


In addition to attracting flies, the tiny flowers have been teeming with tiny bees as well, Hylaeus, the masked or yellow-faced bees.


Can you guess where the name comes from?

A female masked bee, with two vertical yellow stripes on her face.

A female masked bee, with two vertical yellow stripes on her face.

Masked bees are often mistaken for flies, because of their small size, or wasps, because of their shape and color. But these diminutive bees add up to 700 species worldwide, 14 of which can be found in North America.


Like other bees, masked bees carry pollen and nectar from flowers to their nests, where they feed their young. Unlike other bees, which collect pollen on the outside of their bodies, masked bees carry pollen by eating it and storing it in their digestive tract. I found it entertaining to watch females try to stuff as much pollen in their mouths as possible before flying away.




As unprofessional as it sounds, I must admit that I’ve always found masked bees very endearing. Thank you for letting me share a bit about them with you!


Pollinator Syndromes Part II: The Birds and the Bees

After writing a post on pollinator syndromes , I decided a fun weekend project would be to photograph some flowers in my neighborhood that were good examples of what attracts certain types of pollinators.

I started with the following plant, which I thought would be a great example of something that would attract a hummingbird:

hummingbird plant flower

Birds are attracted to the color red, and the long tubular flowers are the perfect shape for long, thin hummingbird tongues. Sure enough, within 30 seconds a hummingbird arrived at the scene.

hummingbird plant bird

hummingbird plant bird 2

Here are some of the other flowers I photographed on my walk around the block:

Brassica far

Brassica close

The color and shape of the wild radish (Raphanus) flower looks like it would be attractive to bees, flies, and possibly butterflies.

Jupiter's Beard (Cetranthus ruber)

Jupiter’s Beard (Cetranthus ruber)

The purple color is attractive to butterflies, and the tubular shape of these flowers make them ideal for butterfly probosces. The position of the anther (the structure that holds the pollen) and the stigma (receptive part of the female structure) above the flower means it will come into contact with butterflies visiting to drink nectar. Because they are in clusters, they have enough surface area for the butterflies to land when they drink.

Sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus

Sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

M aurantiacus nectar guides

The patterns this flower are likely “nectar guides,” or patterns that guide insect visitors to the nectar reward at the base of the flower. Nectar guides are often found on bee pollinated flowers.

Bumblebee Facts

I haven’t had time lately to put together an in-depth post, but I thought I’d share this poster I made to accompany a live bumblebee observation colony. Happy weekend!

bumblebee facts

Raising Swallowtails: From Egg to Butterfly

I had so much fun raising Monarch butterflies for an outreach event a couple months ago, I decided to repeat the process with another type of butterfly- the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon). Since the last of my butterflies emerged today, I thought I’d take another brief break from bees to show some photos I took while raising my butterflies.

Four Anise Swallowtail caterpillars at different stages of development. Believe it or not, these are all the same species!

Four Anise Swallowtail caterpillars at different stages of development. Believe it or not, these are all the same species!

adult top

Like the Monarch butterfly, Anise Swallowtail caterpillars specialize on a particular group of plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae). The adult butterfly is the only life stage that can fly and move quickly. Adult females lay eggs on the appropriate host plant, in this case, fennel or parsley, because the young caterpillars won’t be able to leave and search for new plants on their own.

I found a couple of young caterpillars on a wild fennel plant growing in my neighborhood, and another two eggs that happened to be laid on my parsley plant:

eggs new

Young eggs are small and yellow, and turn brownish as they mature.

eggs new use this

After a few days, the eggshells turned clear and the caterpillars were about to hatch. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but the eggs were a very pretty opalescent color, like tiny black pearls:

eggs late

The tiny newly-emerged caterpillars ate the eggshells as their first meal then began to munch on the parsley. The hole to the right of the caterpillar is where the egg used to be.

brand new larva

Because the caterpillars are not necessarily as toxic as the Monarch caterpillars, they have other defenses. The younger stages (instars) disguise themselves by looking a little like bird droppings.

larva 3

middle instar larva

late instar larva

As the caterpillars get older, they start to develop a different coloration pattern (caterpillars grow by shedding their skin, so they are able to change how they look when they molt).

late instar larva 2

late instar side

The older caterpillars look almost nothing like the younger ones, but they still have a special defense from predators. When disturbed, they rear their heads and exude yellow horn-like protrusions called “osmeteria:”


This is called a “startle defense.” It “frightens” potential predators into looking for another meal.

At this stage, the caterpillars are absolutely voracious. I had to get new fennel almost every day.

After a couple of weeks, the caterpillars search for a place to pupate. When they find a place, they attach themselves by a silk strand and prepare to pupate.

getting ready to pupate
They can travel some distance to find an appropriate spot- I even found one in my bag across the room!
caterpillar getting ready to pupate in bag

Fresh pupae can still startle predators by jerking around in their pupal case if disturbed:

The chrysalises can be a variety of colors from green to brown. I don’t know what causes the different colors, but I imagine that they are these colors in order to blend in with their surroundings so as not to be visible to predators.

green chrysalis

green chrysalis

brown chrysalis

brown chrysalis

The chrysalises were not at all smooth and jewel-like as the Monarch chrysalises were. Instead they had some very interesting textural patterns on the surface:

green pupa texture

green pupa close string

After a couple of weeks, the adult butterflies emerged from the chrysalises. I wasn’t lucky enough to catch the eclosion process, but here are some photos I took of the brand new butterflies:

Freshly eclosed adults take time to develop wings and fly away.

Freshly eclosed adults take time to develop wings and fly away.

face portrait

head top


wing closeup yellow

wing red

Gardening and Landscaping Practices for Nesting Native Bees

Dr. James Cane of the USDA ARS recently published a handy pamphlet on practices that are beneficial for nesting bees in your garden or yard. Click on the image below to download the four page pamphlet, which also includes some wonderful photos of native bees building nests:

bee nest x section

Save the Pollinators

What can you do at home to help support healthy pollinator populations? Here are a few basic suggestions for creating pollinator-friendly gardens:

Provide food

Provide homes

Provide shelter

Bringing Bee Diversity to your Coffee Table

This has truly been an exciting month for those of us who love bees of all kinds. The Obama tweet about the White House plan to promote pollinator health, the release of a U.K. native bee documentary, and of course, let’s not forget that next week is National Pollinator Week!

And the cherry on top (did you know that many types of cherries require pollination to produce fruit?): you can now pre-order a hardcover book featuring the lovely photographs of Sam Droege for your own coffee table (coffee, of course, being another crop that benefits from bee pollination).

Cover of Bees: An Up-Close Look of Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer

Cover of Bees: An Up-Close Look of Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer

It’s an easy, cheap, and colorful way to bring bees into your home. You can pre-order yours today on Amazon for only $17, and they are estimated to ship out July 1st.

New Documentary: The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

Team Candiru has just released a new documentary online, a poetic and beautifully shot masterpiece about The Solitary Bees. It’s a short movie, only around 17 minutes, free to view online, and well worth the time.

It features bees found in the United Kingdom, but at least one of them (Anthidium manicatum, the woolcarder bee) has made its way here to the States as well. In addition to capturing amazing footage of solitary bees, it also includes a lot of great information.