The Good Pollinators: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2016

I suppose there aren’t many bad pollinators, but I’ve certainly relished the good work of pollinators in my garden this autumn and, in fact, for the whole of this past growing season.  Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate those who require and benefit from our efforts as gardeners.

Gardeners garden.  It’s what we do.  Neophyte gardeners are first attracted to the multitudes of choices with blooms-n-foliage, as well as the endless arrangements therein as we delve into the joys of augmenting personal outdoor space.  But sooner or later, we notice those who “visit” our gardens:  pollinators, birds, mammals, reptiles. With greater observation and understanding, the notion of garden beauty morphs into more than an emphasis on the human-focused composition of plants to a recognition of the purpose of those plants, as well as the gardener’s role in promoting a healthy, diverse environment. For many gardeners, the drive to attract wildlife to our particular slice of the Earth spurs deeper learning about plants and the processes of wildlife gardening.

When I was traveling in October, a neighbor sent me a Facebook message with a photo attached, wondering what “this” butterfly was.  I didn’t have time during my travels to research, but did take a look at on-line butterfly sources once I returned home.   In my own garden, I observed this Tailed OrangePyrisitia proterpia, working blooms one afternoon.

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I sent my Tailed Orange link to the neighbor and she delightedly affirmed that “my” Tailed Orange was “her” butterfly, too.  Score!  While probably not the same individual butterfly, clearly this was a species hanging around the neighborhood.

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Tailed Orange butterflies are fast flyers, the adults nectaring on many flowers as they move rapidly from one to another. Tailed Orange butterflies prefer plants in the pea (Fabaceae) family as their hosts.

Another cheery autumn yellow butterfly common in Texas  most years is the Cloudless SulphurPhoebis sennae. 

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Also utilizing host plants in the Fabaceae family, this butterfly graces my garden annually from the end of summer, well into early winter.  I grow the native Lindheimer’s senna, Senna lindheimeriana,

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which is a likely plant (check out the species name of the insect!)  in which these butterflies lay their eggs.  In the future, I’ll need to keep a keener eye out for the larvae on the leaves and snatch a photo of the juveniles of this insect.

QueensDanaus gilippus, which are year-round residents here,

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The two black dots on the hind wings indicate that this butterfly is a male.

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…and a few straggler migrating MonarchsDanaus plexippus,

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The lack of black dots on the hind wings indicates that this Monarch is a female.

continued their regular visits, though I haven’t seen a Monarch since mid-November.

This little cutey, a Spotted Beet Webworm Moth, Hymenia perspectalis, rested on a Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,

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while this Clouded SkipperLerema accius, contemplated a shuttered Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala bloom.

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Another skipper, a Tropical Checkered SkipperPyrgus oileus, was loathed to pose for a photograph in the bright Texas sun, but eventually, relented.

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It enjoyed the bounty of a Rock rose flower, which is a member of the family (Malvaceae) that this butterfly requires as its host.    The checkerboard pattern on the upper wings,

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…and its “hairy” body were the keys for identifying this butterfly.

I often see Grey Hairstreaks in the garden but this past month I enjoyed a Mallow Scrub HairstreakStrymon istapa, as it visited several flowers in the aster or Asteraceae family.

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Hairstreaks are such pretty butterflies, with subtle coloring and unique markings.

 

Variegated FritillaryEuptoieta claudia,

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…a Gulf Fritillary,  Agraulis vanillae,

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…an American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…and a Southern DogfaceZerene cesonia, 

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…all are typical butterflies which contributed to the mass of butterfly/moth activity gracing my November garden.

It wasn’t just about butterflies and moths this month, though. There were beetles–lots of beetles–in the garden this past month.

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They employ some sipping of the nectar, but also cause a little damage leaves and petals during their feedings.  Does that make them bad pollinators?  Nah, I never met a pollinator that I didn’t love. Or, at least tolerate.

Additionally, native bees were out in force in the last weeks of full-bloom garden action.   Throughout summer, I’d catch a glimpse of a stunning metallic green bee, but I was never fast or organized enough to document its activity–until this month!

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Bee and beetle, working side-by-side.

I’m fairly sure that this gorgeous bee is a Green metallic bee, Agapostemon texanus.

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Though rare, this species of wild bee are seen in this part of Texas.  I was pleased to watch her work the flowers of a Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

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Also enjoying fall-blooming Goldeneye, were two kinds of Sweat bees:

Lasioglossum spp.

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This sweat bee shares flower space with the Mallow Shrub Hairstreak.

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…and Halictus tripartitus.

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A Small carpenter bee, Ceratina sp., nectared and gathered pollen from a Rock rose.

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Identifying native bees is tricky because there’s just not that much research on these important pollinators.  To help me figure out what I’m seeing in my garden, I use a site hosted by an entomologist at The University of Texas, Professor Shalene Jha, who studies Texas native bees.  The site focuses on native ecosystems and native bee sightings in wildlife preserves. The information on the native bees is local and relevant to Texas, the photos of these bees, remarkable.

Not a pollinator, but a regular contributor to Wildlife Wednesdays, this juvenile Anole lizard is most likely making his/her last appearance for a while.

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I might spot one from time-to-time over the course of the next few months, but they’ll be nicely tucked in for our (usually) mild winter.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for December Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

 

Wood-n-Things

Holes.

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Hole originally drilled in limestone to hold a shelf on an outside wall of my home, but taken over by a native bee and packed with soil and pollen.

Holes are a good thing.

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Holes drilled by a native bee in a log and also in the wood frame on my back patio.

Holes in wood and masonry and bare ground and leaves suggest that pollinators are at work and planning for the next generation.

Continuing  the celebration of National Pollinator Week, let’s talk  about those critters making the round holes: let’s talk native, or wild bees.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey on native bees, there are roughly 20,000 native bee species in the world, about 4,000 of which are endemic to  the U.S.  Native bees are found on every continent (except Antarctica) and are some of the most important, if unnoticed and unappreciated, of the hard-working pollinators.

Many native bees are so tiny that you wouldn’t see them unless you’re really looking.

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Tiny miner bee on a Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis).

Other native bees, like this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis, are larger.

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Horsefly-like carpenter bee on a Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia). Additionally, check out the holes on the petals–probably made by a leafcutter bee.

Native bees are remarkably beautiful.

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Colorful metallic sweat bee on a Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).

Regardless of size or looks, native bees are the bomb when it comes to pollinating abilities. They are some of the best and most efficient pollinators you’ll ever want to invite into your garden.

Not all native bees make holes in wood or leaves and petals for their nests, but they all need certain environmental qualities to live and thrive.  We know that native bees are declining and some of the common reasons are as follows:  reduction of habitat, pesticide use, lack of pollinator plants.

How can you be a part of the solution to slow the native bee decline? Make your garden welcoming to these important creatures. Many native bees (like bumblebees) nest in the ground. You can allow a portion–it doesn’t have to be a large area–of your property to host some bare soil: no mulch, no cement, no hardscaping, no garden or turf of any sort.  I keep a fenced-off work and storage area where my compost bin is located.  It’s not mulched, though I’ve allowed some native plants to seed out. (I just can’t help myself.)  To some eyes, it’s “messy,” but to native bees’ eyes, it’s a welcoming neighborhood with good homes for their babies. And we all want good homes for our babies, right?   A sterile, uber-clean look is not something that native bees like.  While I haven’t spent much time searching the area for bees’ nests, I have noticed that my gardens host more native bees since I allowed this area some wildness.

Many home gardeners are building native bee/insect hotels and that’s a fun way to help native bees find protected homes for their offspring.

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This leafcutter bee flew in and out of the hole over the course of several days.

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When she was done, she’d packed the hole holding her eggs with pollen, leaves and who knows what else. Her babies are safe and sound.

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Here’s the same bee type nectaring away on a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

I wrote about my insect hotels here, but there’s plenty of information available on the Internet or through garden resources about building insect hotels or houses. These are simple and fun projects to do with kids.

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One of the easiest things that will allow native bees to settle in to your garden is to leave firewood (that you won’t use) or downed tree limbs on your property.

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Certain species drill into wood and lay their eggs, so it’s a effortless way to ensure that they have a safe home for their bee babies.

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Horsefly-like carpenter bee working in her nest in a wood log.

I’ve laid logs of wood in various spots around my garden; bees have no trouble finding the wood and getting to work making nice homes for their families.  If you cut down a tree, keep some of the wood and maybe even the stump.  You can drill holes to give your native bees a head start, or leave them to it.  Either way, it’s a win and native bees and your garden will be healthier for it .

Another way to help slow the decline of native bees in your area is to refrain from pesticide use.  There are myriad reasons why home gardeners shouldn’t rely on pesticides, but allowing native bees to nectar and collect pollen, and to create those cool holes in leaves for their nests, are but a couple.  Remember that pesticides kill–that’s their job.  For example, if you’re spraying for adult mosquitoes,  the pesticide will kill bees, butterflies, moths, and all other insects that the chemical comes in contact with.  Pesticides don’t discriminate–they kill all “pests”, aka, insects.

Plant for pollinators!!  That’s the fun part.  It’s best to use native bloomers if you can get them.

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Horsefly-like carpenter bee working a Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus).

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Leafcutter bee on a Purple coneflower.

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Mason bee (Osmia) (?) on Golden groundsel (Packera obovata).

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Horsefly-like carpenter bee on Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’).

If native plants are not readily available, choose well-adapted, non-native perennials and annuals and have fun planting!

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Metallic sweat bee on passalong daylily.

Don’t forget that flowers bloom in seasons other than spring–plant for year-round flowering (even in winter if you live in a mild climate) so that pollinators are kept busy and happy.  You’ll enjoy the beauty of the blossoms and the insects that visit and you’ll help repair the world in your own back yard. And front yard too!

When my children were little, we enjoyed observing the the visits of giant, gentle bumblebees–you know the type, the huge black, yellow and fuzzy bees.  The bees were especially fond of a large salvia shrub with blue blooms and at times, there were 20 or 30 of these bees working the blooms all at the same time.  They were fascinating to watch–so focused and single-minded as they gathered nectar and pollen and so gentle, that I could pet them. (I didn’t do that in front of my little ones. No sense in encouraging that!)

There was a field not far from our street, full of native wildflowers and grasses.  Of course, it was going to be developed at some point and in fact, two new neighborhood streets with tidy little single family homes were built over the field.  From a neighborhood perspective, it was the best possible outcome; certainly better than a hotel or yet another shopping center.  But after the construction began, we never saw the bumbles again.

Not one.

Not ever.

I recently saw a giant black and yellow and fuzzy bumblebee in my back garden.  I only saw her twice, didn’t get a good photo of her, but she was there, early two mornings, working the flowers.  I have no idea where her home is.  I can only hope there are more like her and that they have a safe ground home somewhere and plenty to survive on.

Pollinators are life–they pollinate the food we eat, products we use, and they make the world a lovelier and more interesting place in which to live.  Pollinators deserve our attention and respect; they deserve to live.  If you don’t have a pollinator garden, well, why not give it a whirl?  It’s not hard to plant for pollinators–you’ll be amazed by their beauty and impressed with their work ethic.

Happy National Pollinator Week!

National Pollinator Week

June 20-26 is the week set aside this year to celebrate pollinators and the important work they do.

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Syrphid or Flower fly nectaring at a Zexmenia (Wedelia hispida)

EVERY week should be a week to celebrate pollinators and the important work they do.

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Miner bee (Perdita ignota)(?)  visiting a Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

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Texas Crescent (Anthanassa texana) considering a trip to the Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Pollinators constitute the thread that holds together the world’s food web and native plants production.  Upwards to 90% of native plants are pollinated by insects, birds, and bats; 1 out of every 3 bites of food humans partake of is pollinated by (primarily) bees–honeybees, and wild, or native bees.  According to Pollinator Partnership, 1,000 different plants that humans use in a variety of ways are pollinated by pollinating animals,

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American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) at a Purple coneflower bloom

…and in the U.S. alone, pollinators produce products worth $40 billion annually.

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Two-spotted Long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) at a Purple coneflower

The bottom line is that pollination and pollinators are principal players in the good health of all eco-systems.

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Sweat bee (Augochloropsis metallica)(?) and an Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia)

What is pollination?  It’s the process whereby pollen is moved, usually either by pollinating animals or the wind, to other plants thus assuring reproduction of the plants with development of seeds and fruit–and the next generation of viable plants.

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Fly and Fall aster

Pollination produces new plant life.

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Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) resting on a Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea)

What are pollinating animals?  Pollinators include, but are not limited to: birds, bats, moths and butterflies, flies, mosquitoes (Boo!), native/wild bees, and honeybees.  There are many, many other insects that pollinate.  Additionally, in parts of China where overuse of chemicals has killed all natural pollinators, people must hand pollinate some agricultural fields.

That frightening fact should scare all of us into taking care of the Earth’s pollinators.

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Honeybee (Apis mellifera) nectaring at a Blue passion-flower (Passiflora caerulea)

We know that pollinators are declining throughout the world because of habitat destruction, over and mis-use of chemicals, certain big agriculture practices, the unfettered spread of invasive plant species and the decline of native-to-region plant species, as well as other reasons, like pollinator diseases.

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Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca) working at a Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

The outlook for the health of pollinators and therefore, the rest of us, is tricky at best.

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Sweat bee (Lasioglossum) (?) collecting pollen from a Clasping coneflower

 

So, what can we do?  The easiest thing is to plant for pollinators in our own home gardens, or neighborhood school gardens, or local parks–or all three, plus anywhere else you can think of.

It’s so simple!

Get rid of some (or all!) of the water-wasting turf so common in home and commercial landscapes.  Mono-culture turf feeds nothing, except for problematic insects, and requires more irrigation, more chemicals, and more effort than planting native or well-adapted flowering perennials and annuals.

Once your garden bed is prepared and planted, sit back and watch the show.  If you plant it, they will come.

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Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) working a Purple coneflower

Your garden doesn’t have to be huge, but do plant a variety of blooming plants for the whole of your growing season–the more, the merrier!

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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) visiting a Purple coneflower

It’s always best to use native plants if you have access to a local seed source or a nursery that promotes native plants.  But non-native, well-adapted blooming annuals and perennials will also do the pollinator trick.  Ask the nursery or plant provider if any pesticides were used when growing the plants you want to buy.  If so, don’t buy them and TELL the nursery why.  Pesticides and insects are not a good combination–EVER.

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Minor bee (?) nectaring at a Zexmenia flower

Contact your County Extension Agent’s office for a list of good pollinator plants for your area.  As well, locally owned nurseries are usually great sources of information on pollinator plants.  The Pollinator Partnership, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, and National Wildlife Federation are all excellent on-line sources for learning about pollinators and how you can be a part of the solution to their problems.

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Three honeybee amigos hanging out with three Purple coneflowers .

 

Pollinators are beautiful.

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Gulf fritillary visiting Clasping coneflowers

 

Pollinators are vital links in the fitness of the Earth’s eco-systems.

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Gray hairstreak resting on the foliage of Rock rose

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Minor bee (?) heading for the nectar and pollen of a Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata)

 

Pollinators deserve to live and thrive.

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Soldier beetle  (Cantharidae family) sipping nectar from a Purple coneflower

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Plant for pollinators in your garden.  Encourage neighbors and community organizations to do the same.  Lobby your local, state, and national representatives to set aside land so that these essential creatures can continue their work and contributions to the well-being of our world.

Happy National Pollinator Week!

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Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) resting on Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) foliage