Sunday, March 19, 2017

HumBug: In the Key of Bee

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge A honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a blossom. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a blossom.

We've finally had three days of warmish weather and the garden is abuzz with the sounds of busy bees. If you listen carefully, you can hear each species with its own pitch and rhythm. There is, of course, the familiar drone of the honeybee and the heavy bass of the yellow faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). This is the biggest bee I've seen in my yard and the one with the lowest pitch. This species is actually reared commercially to pollinate certain crops which do best with something called “buzz pollination.” Tomatoes, for example, do not release their pollen unless the blossoms are vibrated at a certain frequency. Honeybees just can't do it as well as these guys.
click to enlarge Yellow faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenski), the largest bee in my yard, and fairly common. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Yellow faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenski), the largest bee in my yard, and fairly common.
A counterpoint to the above fairly relaxed themes are the large carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa). As big or nearly as big as bumblebees, these are glossy black and much more and active, quickly zipping from one blossom to another even feeding while on the wing. The ones in my yard are not so big as the biggest bumblebees I've seen, but significantly larger than honeybees.
click to enlarge A giant carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa). Although common, this is the first time I've noted them in my yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A giant carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa). Although common, this is the first time I've noted them in my yard.
Even more allegro are the mining bees, (Anthrophora pacifica). The same size as those carpenters, these hirsute ladies and gents take the cake for quickness, making getting a good shot all the more difficult.
click to enlarge A male mining bee (Anthrophora pacifica). - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A male mining bee (Anthrophora pacifica).
I'm working on identifying numerous smaller, quieter bees that lend their distinctive higher pitched voices to the choir. Although I'm learning to tell them apart I don't know of any references which use sound to identify them.
click to enlarge Osmia or mason bees, another species which is native but also raised commercially to pollinate crops. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Osmia or mason bees, another species which is native but also raised commercially to pollinate crops.

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