Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is It Finally Over?

The storm last night that brought early snow and gusty gale-force winds might have put the final period on the last sentence in the last paragraph written about the gardening/gathering bee season. For several weeks now, things have been slowing down, but the weather continued very pleasant for gardeners and bees alike.  Yesterday before the wind picked up, my husband and I dug the dahlias and hustled them into the garage along with other late season groundskeeping tasks.  In the midst, he noticed a honeybee that had landed on one of the hives packing bright orange pollen in her pollen baskets.  Yesterday, it was still not over, at least not for non-native honeybees.  Today, except for them, it might be.

On Thursday, I  scrounged a few cuttings of a bright burgundy coleus from a neighbor's yard, with permission.  The next plant over, a helenium with mottled orange, gold and red blossoms, hosted a small bee.  Since I had my little "happy snap" camera in the car, I quickly ran to get it and was able to make at least a 'record' of the little bee who was slowly navigating around the pollen patch.  On a nearby yellow Dahlia, a bumblebee was tucked in.

On Friday, a walk to a nearby outdoor chapel led to a conversation with the gardener who was in the process of cutting things down.  A group of Montauk daisies in the late stages of bloom had a group of pollinators actively flying around  - bees, she said.  I love showing people the difference between flies, which they were, and bees because they are usually so amazed that an insect could look so much like a bee but is really a fly!  But, there was one solitary bumblebee amidst all the drone flies, clinging to one of the mostly-spent daisies.  I think they finally run out of gas and spend their last hours resting on the petals of a flower.  Could this bee have been the last native bee I see until next spring?

Here are the latest yet of fall native bee sightings:
Native bee on Helenium

Bumblebee curled up on Dahlia

Monday, October 24, 2011

No Holds Barred

Flowery landscape of October 23 - with butterfly.... and bees

On Sunday, the early morning sun was warm, and the temperature and windless condition made it seem more like early September than late October.  We released two of our captive-raised Monarchs into the landscape of yet-blooming flowers that were attracting bees at a great rate.  In fact, some of the plants I had never seen with pollinators on them until now!  Most of them, including dahlias, nearly at peak - AT PEAK! - have never been very popular with the bee set.  But today they were, along with mixed-breed nicotianas, purple ageratums, pinwheel striped marigolds, white cosmos, the ever-attractive Verbena B.(bonariensis), red and gold Gaillardias, corn marigolds, various colors of zinnias, and 'Prairie Sun' rudbeckias. Also blooming but without visitors during my observation were Mexican sunflower, the monarch plant - Asclepias curassavica, Salvia uliginosa, several David Austin roses, 'Tangerine Gem' marigolds and... and...I can't remember any more.  The garden, needless to say, was spectacular for the dates, and a-buzz with bees and more butterflies than I ever saw at the same time during the summer!  If music had been playing, it would have been full and sonorous with a memorable melody.  How could I not relate it to our release of the butterflies and that all nature concurred that it was a happy event?

Here are some photos of pollinators on the blooms of the day, including one of, well, you'll see!

Unknown tiny native bee on corn marigold

Bumblebee on Gaillardia

Honey bee on ageratum

Bumblebee aiming for Nicotiana mutabilis  hybrid

Queen bumblebee on Nicotiana

Bumblebee on dahlia

Here is a bee look-alike, a flower or hover fly, feeding on a corn marigold:

Feeding fly

But if there were stars of the day, it had to have been the released Monarchs, one of which started feeding immediately upon release.  

Monarch female on Verbena bonariensis

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meddling with Monarchs

On October 6, just prior to a predicted frost, I found three large monarch larvae feeding on an annual milkweed plant in my garden.  I had planted Asclepias curassavica, known by various common names such as silkweed or blood flower and for its reputation as a good provider of pollen and nectar, to attract bees.  Of course!  But could this be an unintended consequence?  I brought the caterpillars inside on some sprigs of the plant.  On October 7, the day of a predicted freeze, I found three more and brought them inside also.  They made a lovely living centerpiece on my dining room table, and I made a few photos.....ok. More than a few.  Here are two.....

Two monarch larvae grazing on flowers of Asclepias curassavica.
Monarch larva eating seed capsule of milkweed plant.

On October 8, my husband and I left for a long weekend.  Just before we left, I found one of the larvae floating in the water that was sustaining the milkweed fronds.  Luckily, the unfortunate tumble hadn't happened too long before I found the critter because after a bit of a paper toweling off, complete with a few body pumpings a la CPR,  the caterpillar started moving.  Back to the flowers it went.  Coming home on Monday, October 10, we found some surprises, as our dog/house sitter wrote in a note.  Five of the caterpillars, including the one that had been swimming,  had formed chrysalises, but two of them had wandered off their floral arrangements to dangle off the edge of the table.  Here they are:                                                                                             
Two chrysalises hanging from the table edge.  Notice the fine web that attaches the pupa to the table. 

The sixth caterpillar was in chrysalis on Tuesday morning.  Chrysalises are beautiful, jade green and jewel-like with delicate golden details.  Every morning I checked on them.  It didn't take long to start to see some wing elements such as veins through the skin of the pupa.  This morning, October 20, two of the chrysalises had lost their green coloration and the distinctive orange and black markings of the butterflies were visible through the now- transparent casing.  It looked like this:

Chrysalis skin has become transparent.  You can still see the gold necklace on the left.

Throughout the morning, I  monitored the pupa.  My camera was set up and ready and I made photos with and without flash.   In the early afternoon, even while someone was visiting me here, I interrupted our conversation repeatedly  to check on the progress and suddenly noticed that the back of the chrysalis had split!  And as we watched, the butterfly began to emerge, or, in proper entomology speech, eclose.  Not to keep you in suspense, here is the sequence of photos I was able to get of the emerging: 

This happened in just about the amount of time it takes to look at the photos!  Then the unfolding of the wings took much longer, with the butterfly twisting and swinging on the empty shell of its chrysalis.  In the above photos, note its proboscis all awhirl, and its very bulbous abdomen.  In a while, it jettisoned quite a bit of liquid, the waste product of its miraculous metamorphosis, now on the floor.  

Here are two more photos of wing-drying:  

And one more photograph before I put the butterfly in a temporary enclosure with his newly emerged sibling.  There seems to be a spot on the hind wing just visible in this photograph that is the telltale mark of a male.  Also visible is the yet-remaining chrysalis on the table edge.

If there is more, the butterflies alone will know.  But there is a prequel.  I made the following photograph on September 19.  The adult Monarch is on the same group of flowers where I found the larvae a little more than two weeks later.  Could they be her offspring?  And if so, was there something about this yet-blooming, non-native milkweed that inspired the butterfly to breed at the late date?  Did she then migrate?  Otherwise, why did she lay the eggs instead of migrating?  I will try to find out whether this plant selected for bees somehow meddled with the Monarchs, well, like I did too.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bee B and B

At the edge of light tonight I was preparing an area to plant a new shrub and wandered by chance by a sunflower.  I peeked into its slightly downturned head to find a surprise - four bumblebees that seeming to be resting. I ran for my camera and flash, thinking to myself that this truly was a bee bed and breakfast, offering a safe overnight haven plus the ready availability of a morning repast.  When I got everything set up and focused on the few square inches that comprised the scene, however, I could see that the bees were not "asleep" at all but rather roaming slowly around the middle of the flower.  So rather than a bed and breakfast,  it was a more like a late snack and lounge, a hostlery with kitchen privileges.     I hope I remember to go out later with a flash light to see if they are still grazing.  

So, this is what bees do if they don't have a hive to huddle in overnight....I am wondering if they are all male bees....In the close-up you can see how they are dusted with the pollen grains....

Bumblebees grazing in center of sunflower

Dusted with pollen