Return of the Blues: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2019

Ah, the winter blues.  More accurately, the late winter blues.  Blue Orchard Mason bees, Osmia lignaria, are exiting their year-long incubation chambers and buzzing my garden.

The goal for their short lives is to mate, rummage around flowers and foliage for nesting material, lay eggs, and pack the eggs safely to ensure the next generation of bees who will appear, on cue, next February.

The blue bee bonanza is an annual event in my garden.  These beautiful insects–an eye-popping, rich, iridescent blue–zoom from the native bee houses where they grow up, to the garden and beyond, and then back again, as they mate and then gather pollen and other material for the next generation’s nesting chambers.

These bees are important for commercial orchards, but thrive in welcoming home gardens, too.  In our garden, we’ve placed several boxes with drilled wood and lengths of cut bamboo.  These bee houses are utilized by a variety of native bees throughout the year.  Because the Blue Orchard bee adults emerge in February, they’re the first native bees to pack away their babies in the bee houses.

Packed nursery holes, as well as some where a bee (or bees) have exited, and a new adult.

After mating,

…the females begin their egg-laying process in a hole in wood or masonry which is of a size and length that the adult female finds appealing.  The first eggs laid–those at the back-end of the cylinder–are female, and the eggs at the front–potentially the most exposed–are male. Between each egg laid, mom bee builds a wall of mud and pollen so that each is snuggled into its own room.  The entire nursery, all chambers therein, is then sealed firmly until the next year.

Do the girls get pink rooms and the boys, blue?  Nah, the rooms are gender-neutral, as far as color choice goes.  However, gender differentiation is present: the female eggs-larvae-adults are at the furthest end of the nursery cylinder so that those most responsible for successful procreation are best protected, or so suggest the entomologists who study these bees.  The male eggs-larvae-adults are situated at the front of the nursery cylinders, emerging as adults first, so that they’re ready, eager, and awaiting their potential mates.

The two bees in this photo are males; one is fully emerged, the other peeking out, ready to take on his corner of the world.

Males have a white patch on their faces which is a mustache-like clump of white hairs.

Hairy dudes.

This fella rested on an upturned plastic bin under one of the bee houses.  He posed handsomely for me.  Or was he challenging me to a duel?  Or perhaps wondering what I am?  Who knows what a bee thinks?

The females (with the males, of course) mate, then begin preparations for laying eggs and provisioning for their offspring.  This female wriggled and writhed around the pollen-laden center of a Desert mallow bloom. 

Unlike honeybees, who carry their pollen packs on their legs in what are formally known as coribulae or pollen baskets; I call them pollen pantaloons, but that’s just me. Blue Orchard bees,  members of the Mason bee family, carry gathered pollen on their tummies.  This is the best shot I  managed of a female heading into a nesting chamber with pollen.  These gals are fast fliers!  I’ve observed creamy white pollen-coated tummies, as well as cheery yellow and orange, color depending upon what bloom, or blooms, the female worked.

The females fly into the holes head-first, making their way to the back of the cylinder, then working their way forward–one egg and egg prep–at a time.  Mom bee rolls the pollen into balls, adding nectar and microorganisms, to make pollen bread. Each egg is laid on its own ball of pollen bread, which will be the food source for the larvae.  A mud wall is built, sealing in the egg and its food source.  Then mama works on the the next egg and chamber, so it goes until she reaches the front of the hole, which she seals thickly with mud and pollen.

The female has chosen this bamboo cylinder for her nursery. To the left, see the two cylinders with holes; adult bees, plopped in last year, have exited their nursery chambers.

I don’t grow any fruit trees, though I have some early spring blooming trees in my garden  There are flowering fruit trees in my neighborhood–peach, apple, and pear–and I expect that the blue bees nesting my garden visit those flowers.

Building native bee houses, or hotels, is easy.  Using untreated wood and providing a variety of different sized holes for different sized bees, you’ll attract a wide array of native bees to your garden.  You can even leave cut logs from downed, or pruned, trees in your garden, and with some aging of that wood, the native (carpenter) bees will find them.  Check out these links for instructions and ideas about attracting these fascinating and beautiful pollinators to your garden.

https://www.nwf.org/en/Garden-for-Wildlife/Young/Build-a-Bee-House

http://www.foxleas.com/make-a-bee-hotel.asp

As much as the appearance of new buds on trees or the thickening of bloom stalks on spring perennials, the arrival of the adult Blue Orchard bees heralds the onset of Spring in my garden.  New life emerging and continuation of the alliances between flowering plants and their pollinators confirms a time-honored environmental zeitgeist of the natural world.

What indicates spring–or autumn–for your garden?  Please share your wildlife garden observations and insights, then leave a link to your post when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening for March!

Winged, and Other Things: Wildlife Wednesday, September 2018

Just a quick howdy do!  for September’s Wildlife Wednesday, recapping a few flitting winged things from this past month.  August is typically hot and quiet, but the garden and its inhabitants remain full of energy and life, even when the gardener drags.

For this whole growing season, I haven’t snagged one good photo of my favorite native bee, the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa  tabaniformis.

Bee butt-view on a Turk’s cap bloom.

There are many of these busily buzzing, nectar-stealing carpenter bees in my garden, but this is the best shot I’ve managed this year.  I’m either too slow with the click, or choose a ridiculously windy day to shoot, or am distracted and lose sight of my subject.  The bees keep their cool though, working the garden, laying eggs for the next generation, and taunting the gardener with their charm. There’s still plenty of time to work on attaining some decent photos before the days are significantly shortened and these bees bed down for winter.  Stay tuned!

I’m continuing to enjoy the Turk’s cap visits of several Southern Carpenter beesXylocopa micans.

Like the Horsefly-like carpenter bees, the Southern Carpenter bees nectar-steal and favor Turk’s caps blooms, though I have also seen them at the brilliantly blue, Majestic sage blooms.

These bees are so large, they are easy to spot in the garden, even from a distance.

 

The big butterflies are now more common, as is typical for the late summer.  This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, nectared at the dramatic flowers on one of my Mexican Orchid trees, which is a favorite of a variety of bees and butterflies.

 

It took me some time perusing Austin area iNaturalist photos to identify this emerging moth as a Virginia creeper SphinxDarapsa myron.

Top-view,

…and the underside.

I love his/her little face and tiny chocolate-drop eyes.  Some bird-delivered Virginia creeper (the host plant for this moth), growing in my back garden, was probably the food source for the moth in larval stage.  This adult emerged in late afternoon from a chrysalis situated on a branch of a Drummond’s ruellia.

 

The dragons and damsels zoom throughout my garden, but perch near the pond.  I think this is a female Dusky DancerArgia translata.  

The damsel was in nearly constant motion and I took the photo at a distance, so for identification purposes, the photo is not as clear as I’d like.   The Dusky Dancer is a common predator and widespread in Texas.  The purple eyes are a marked feature for this particular species, so I’m reasonably confident I got this right.

 

This Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, has certainly seen better days.

I’m now growing pipevine plant and am enjoying more of these beauties as they float through the garden.

 

Early one morning I caught this fella nectaring on the salmon blooms of one of my Red Yucca plants.

This Leptoglossus phyllopus is one of the many leaf-footed bugs common in this region and they do fly.

 

No wings here, but the look on Mr. Green Anole suggests he’s weary of summer and ready for autumn.  Or, maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing.

Yeah, that’s it.

I love these little guys and gals and they’ll be around until our chill arrives, which is months away.

What’s in your garden as we wrap up summer?  Please share your critter happenings and don’t forget to leave a link to your post.  Happy wildlife gardening!

The Purpling

Days are noticeably shorter now in late August.  Darkness greets my morning alarm and birds are quiet until well after I’m up and about.  Nightfall appears earlier, much more than a mere few weeks ago.  Autumn is palpable, though certainly not with cooler temperatures, at least not here in Central Texas.  Our daily (today marked number 43) century-plus numbers are still in play, but seasonal change is afoot.

This cluster of beauty berries showcases the transformation from green to purple.  The bird poop on the leaves is extra decoration.

In the last couple of weeks, the American beautyberryCallicarpa americana, has slipped out of its summer wardrobe and donned its hooray for autumn swag.  Eye-candy for the gardener and nutritious fruits for birds, the green, clustered drupes, grown since June from the remains of dainty pink blooms, have morphed to brilliant, metallic purple berries.

Green fruits,

…to purple.

This particular shrub in my back garden is about 3 years old and finally exhibiting its graceful arching form.

Berries are cream-to-green, but purple-up over 7-10 days .  Triggered by the maturity of the drupe (and maybe light?), it’s a seasonal change I look forward to each hot August.

It gives me hope for the autumn to come.

Berries gather like bunches of party balloons along the branches of the shrub, the purple overwhelming the green, ready to pop in some lucky bird’s beak.

 

This beautyberry will grow larger, eventually filling the area of this small garden.

 

This beautyberry is the same age as the one above, but I transplanted it to a different spot in my front garden exactly one year ago.

Beautyberry is a good shade plant, though this one receives more sun than the back garden beautyberry. I’ve noticed that it’s grown more quickly, but has also required more water.  In fact, the slight droop of the leaves in this photo indicates a thirsty plant.  Since June, I’ve watered this shrub once per week, significantly more than the back garden beautyberry, which grows in shade.

In my garden, Blue Jays and Mockingbirds are the main consumers of these berries.  Some years, the beautyberry greedy birds descend and devour the berries just as they turn color; other years, the berries remain on the shrub well into winter, the birds obviously getting sustenance somewhere else.

And that’s fine with me.

I prefer those years when the birds let me enjoy the beauty of the berries, at least for a time.