Sunday, February 24, 2019

HumBug: Spring Wildflowers and the Bees that Love Them

Posted By on Sun, Feb 24, 2019 at 3:19 PM

Cold bumblebee — maybe Sitka Bumblebee (Bombus sitkensis) — on my lucky horseshoe. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cold bumblebee — maybe Sitka Bumblebee (Bombus sitkensis) — on my lucky horseshoe.

To be honest opportunities for a bug photographer have been rather slim lately with all the rain and cold weather.

The other night, coming home late I found a nearly comatose bumblebee on my lucky horse shoe. Of all the members of the order Hymenoptera (which translates to, “membrane wing”) which includes ants, bees, wasps, sawflies and horntails, they are the most adapted to being active in cool weather. They are mostly black, which allows them to absorb more heat from sunlight. Their bodies are largely covered with hair, which holds warm air close to their body. They can regulate the blood flow from the thorax where the big wing muscles are, allowing them to warm up by flexing to keep the heat thus produced where it is most useful. This allows them to outcompete other species during the cool weather of early spring. It is not unusual to find one slowed below their "chill coma temperature" (as low as 45 degrees) and either totally immobile or slowed to the point of being unable to fly.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

HumBug: Bugs from Long Ago and Last Night

Posted By on Sun, Feb 17, 2019 at 11:14 AM

Memorial portrait of Matilda, collected in the 1980s. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Memorial portrait of Matilda, collected in the 1980s.

About 30 years ago, I was riding my mountain bike in the desert north of Reno when I saw a large, shiny insect climbing up one of the sage bushes. I stopped, emptied the little container I kept full of bike tools into my pockets and collected it. By that time I'd almost given up collecting, but this was a remarkable specimen. Its large back legs indicated it was a member of the order orthoptera, which contains grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and their kin. The large saber-shaped ovipositor (egg laying structure) indicated it was a female.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

HumBug: Darkling Beetles and Mosquitoes

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung  on your face there, buddy. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung on your face there, buddy.

The sound of the rain had stopped and I was all ready to go out and capture a photo of the spider that eluded me the night before. I got all loaded up with cameras and gear, dressed for the cold, went to the back door, turned on the light and there was a world of white. Even the dogs didn't want to go out. So, rather than freeze looking for a critter who was probably hiding from the cold under the shingles of my pump house, I decided to stay in and work on one of those challenging focus stacked images.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

HumBug: Bees and May-bees on the Willow

Posted By on Sun, Feb 3, 2019 at 1:05 PM

Bumblebee on willow catkin. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bumblebee on willow catkin.

The pussy willows are just starting to bloom along the river and, being pretty much the only game in town, they're attracting the early birds of the insect world.
Bumblebees, adapted to cool weather, were out and defending their territory by circling around me at a dizzying pace. These are the next generation of queens that will soon establish new colonies, usually in holes in the ground like abandoned gopher burrows. Unlike honey bees, the colony does not overwinter. Only fertilized females live through the cold season, re-establishing their entire society anew each year. They were interesting to watch methodically working from the bottom of each catkin to the top getting all the nectar from each of the tiny flowers of which they are composed.

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