Bug Mysteries

The BugLady takes lots of pictures as she moseys around—flowers, landscapes, a surprising number of people, and, of course, all manner of bugs. Bug pictures may stall in the BugLady’s X–Files, awaiting identification—some for a long time. Here is a selection from the X–Files. In some cases the BugLady knows part of the story; in others, even less.

Pussy Willow Pollinators

People get excited when pussy willows whisper the spring. The BugLady thinks it’s more fun to skulk among the pussy willows when they are actually blooming (the gray, fuzzy “bud” is the future female catkin), ogling the diversity of insects that come to visit. Willows are dioecious (separate house), bearing their male and female flowers on different plants

Mullein Watching

The BugLady has always enjoyed mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus). Oh, she knows that they’re sun-slurping aliens whose mission is to blanket the earth at the expense of native vegetation, but they produce cheery yellow flowers, and they stick out of grassy fields like skinny saguaro cacti.

Bees

“True” Bees have, somewhere on their body (particularly on the thorax), hairs that are branched or feathery, not simple, and the top of the first segment of their thorax looks kind of like a collar. Bees are pollen-eaters, so most species also have some mechanism for collecting it. Honey bees and bumble bees are easily recognized, but distinguishing between the different tribes and families of bees can be sticky.

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Family Apidae)

Eastern Carpenter Bees are the most common carpenter bee species this side of the Mississippi, where they’re found in forests, grasslands, parks and gardens. There they fed on pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flatish flowers and as a result are considered valuable native pollinators in a world where pollinator populations are shrinking. When disturbed fly up and hover in the air, bobbing back and forth, staring at the intruder.

Goldenrod Watch

The BugLady’s advice for the day is: Find yourselves a big clump of goldenrod and start looking. Bring your camera. Bring a lawn chair. What will you see?

Mining Bee (Family Andrenidae)

Mining Bees are medium-sized bees, many of which may be seen early in the year, when there is still snow around the edges. Mining bees are important pollinators. The adults eat nectar (many are picky consumers of just a few plants) and they provide both nectar and pollen for their larvae.

Sweat Bee (Family Halictidae)

Sweat Bees are found on flowers, feeding on nectar throughout the growing season. Sometimes they camp out near aphid colonies and feed on the honeydew that is an aphid by-product. Like bumblebees, they can collect pollen using a process called “buzz pollination” (sonication). Depending on their species, sweat bees are labeled solitary to semi-social; the offspring of some kinds of sweat bees stay with their mother, helping care for the nest and young.

Bumblebee on Gentian

The BugLady was taking a walk Saturday and was dismayed to find closed/bottled gentian in bloom—it means that fall is upon us, and where did summer go? If one picture is worth 1,000 words, this is a long BOTW bonus indeed.

Bumble Bee (Family Apidae)

Not all bees are social—in fact, most are not. Bumblebees is our only native social bee (like most of our ancestors, honeybees came over on the boat). Their bodies are plump and their wings are small for their bulk, and so they are clumsy fliers. They have a fuzzy thorax and a hairy abdomen, and a yellow and black color scheme. Their antennae are short, and their mouths are shaped for biting as well as sucking.