Monthly Archives: May 2015

Meet the Pollinators: Pollinator Syndromes

One thing I love about walking around a garden is guessing what kind of animal each type of plant relies on for pollination. This is because plants that rely on certain types of animal pollinators are often adapted to be particularly attractive to that type of animal, a phenomenon known as “pollinator syndromes.” The following slides are from a poster I made showcasing pollinator syndromes. Once you read these, you can be an expert, too!

Beetles

Flies

Butterflies

Birds

Bats

Wasps

Bees

Meet the Pollinators

Pollinate Your Plate Part 2: A Filling Lunch

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

What do cheese, butter, milk, and ice cream all have in common?

If you answered that they all require bee pollination for mass production, you are correct!

Although it may not be intuitive, the dairy industry relies on the production of alfalfa to feed dairy cows. This alfalfa is grown from seed, which can only be produced via bee pollination of alfalfa flowers:

alfalfa production

Due to alfalfa’s unique pollination mechanism, honey bees are not the best pollinators of alfalfa. For this reason, several other species of bees are managed commercially for alfalfa pollination, such as the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) and the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi). These bees are particularly dear to me since I study alfalfa pollination, so I am sure I will be writing more about them in the future.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

Putting Peppers and Tomatoes on your Pizza: The Humble Bumblebee

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

As I mentioned in a previous post, tomatoes and peppers also have unique requirements for pollination. When grown outside, the wind can naturally shake loose some pollen from the tomato or pepper flower, but in the greenhouse where there is no wind, domesticated bumble bee colonies are used to pollinate these crops.

An Osmia a day keeps the doctor away:
applesWhen we talked about breakfast, I mentioned that a solitary bee called the Blue Orchard Bee can help pollinate almonds. Orchard bees, as their name suggests, also visit a variety of fruit trees, such as apples. Even though we don’t grow apple trees from seed, in order for apple fruits to develop the flower must be cross pollinated with another apple or crabapple variety. In the Eastern U.S., some researchers are experiencing with using orchard bees to commercially pollinate apples.

Thanks for reading this week’s post! Please come back next week to learn more about how pollinators bring color to our plates.

Bring Back the Native Pollinators! We Need them More than Ever

It’s interesting to see how back the concern for native pollinators goes.

Polinizador's Blog

A long-horned bee on sunflower © Beatriz Moisset A long-horned bee on sunflower
© Beatriz Moisset

Excerpt from the USDA document prepared by the Division of Bee Culture in 1942: “The Dependence of Agriculture on the Beekeeping Industry—a Review.”

Wherever a proper balance exists between plants and pollinating insects, both flourish. Agricultural development, however, has seriously interfered with this balance. It has demanded the growing of certain plants in enormous acreages and has unwittingly destroyed native pollinating insects as well as their nesting places. As a result the burden of pollination has been increased to such an extent that wild bees are no longer adequate or dependable. . . In many places the depletion of wild pollinators is so acute that honeybees have to be brought in especially for pollination, and so in practically all agricultural areas honeybees are now the most numerous of the flower-visiting insects.

Read the full article in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens 2014

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Bees and Barack Obama

droege bee

The bee research world has been all abuzz about a new plan released by the Obama Administration called the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. We are all still in the process of reviewing and dissecting the implications of said plan, but I was elated to see that earlier today, the President of the United States of America tweeted a photo of a solitary, ground-nesting bee!

Described in the Washington Post article as a “Hairy-footed flower bee,” (Anthophora plumipes) it was photographed in the Maryland home of the USGS’s Sam Droege.

If you have the time, read the full Washington Post article, complete with several quotes from the famous bee biologist.

How the White House plans to help the humble bee maintain its buzz

Intimate Portraits of Bees by Sam Droege

Female striped sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, dusted in pollen. Photo by Sam Droege of the USGS, click to visit full article

Female striped sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, dusted in pollen. Photo by Sam Droege of the USGS, click to visit full article

Anyone who studies native bees in North America knows about Sam Droege, in no small part due to his stunning closeup photographs of bees.

Learn more about Sam Droege, his work with bees, and the beauty of bee diversity in a recent feature article by National Geographic

The Milkweed Community

Polinizador's Blog

Monarch butterfly on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset Monarch butterfly on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

The monarch season is coming, and many gardeners throughout the country are getting ready to welcome the arriving butterflies with milkweeds lovingly cultivated in their gardens. They also brace themselves to battle whatever ills may affect the caterpillars. Milkweed bugs and milkweed beetles are seen with hostility. The “dreaded” tachinid flies, and “hated” stink bugs infuriate gardeners even more. Aphids are not welcome. Lady beetles and lacewings generate mixed feelings because they feed on aphids but they are not loath to snack on some monarch eggs or small caterpillars.

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata) © Beatriz Moisset Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata)
© Beatriz Moisset

It is important to take a look at entire ecosystems, not just single species as Carole says in “Saving the Monarch Butterfly” (http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/saving-the-monarch-butterfly/).

“The Monarch Butterfly is in deep trouble, and many passionate organizations have been created to save…

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The Amazing Monarch Butterfly

I’d like to take a little detour from talking about bees for a moment to celebrate the occasion of my pet Monarch butterflies eclosing (emerging as adults) today.

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

Brand new butterfly.

Part of the exhibit I created had a section dedicated to the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus. In addition to the following poster, we also had several live Monarch caterpillars, chryalises, and butterflies on display.

monarch poster

After the exhibit concluded, I still had a few live caterpillars and couldn’t find any milkweed plants to put them on outside. So I took them home and held onto them in a terrarium until they pupated.

Here are some photos I took chronicling their development, from caterpillar to butterfly

One of the adults on display. Still looking pretty good after a full day of serving as an education tool.

One of the adults on display. Still looking pretty good after a full day of serving as an education tool.

A late instar larva munching on milkweed.

A late instar larva munching on milkweed.

Between every molt and before pupation, the caterpillars would hang inert for hours at a time.

Between every molt and before pupation, the caterpillars would hang inert for hours at a time.

A caterpillar preparing to molt. I missed the pupation event a few times because the larvae hang like this for hours, but the pupation itself (when the chrysalis is formed) only took a few minutes.

A caterpillar preparing to molt. I missed the pupation event a few times because the larvae hang like this for hours, but the pupation itself (when the chrysalis is formed) only took a few minutes.

Beginning of pupation

Beginning of pupation

Almost there...

Almost there…

Fresh pupa

Fresh pupa

A few minutes later

A few minutes later

Wings begin to form

Wings begin to form

A day or so before the adult butterfly emerges (eclosion), the chrysalis begins to become transparent (the water beads are because it was recommended I spritz the pupae with water a couple times a day to keep them from drying out)

A day or so before the adult butterfly emerges (eclosion), the chrysalis begins to become transparent (the water beads are because it was recommended I spritz the pupae with water a couple times a day to keep them from drying out)

pupa 2

pupa 3

pupa 4

Once the chrysalis becomes completely clear, eclosion will occur very soon.

Once the chrysalis becomes completely clear, eclosion will occur very soon.

pupa 6

The freshly emerged adult is very delicate. It hands upside down pumping hemolymph (bug blood) through the wings as they straighten and harden.

The freshly emerged adult is very delicate. It hands upside down pumping hemolymph (bug blood) through the wings as they straighten and harden.

empty chrysalis

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

monarch face top

thoracic closeup

wing 1

Butterfly wings derive their color from many small scales.

Butterfly wings derive their color from many small scales.

Bye, bye, butterfly!

Bye, bye, butterfly!

If you’d like to support Monarch butterflies by planting milkweed plants, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has some good resources at their Project Milkweed website, such as a