Archive for the 'Bees' Category

Signs of Autumn

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Gentians are one of the signs of the coming autumn. When we visited Becky’s Fen, a private preserve, last week, our favorite gentian species (Fringed Gentian) were mostly setting seeds but the Bottle Gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) were fresh and lovely. Though not as extravagantly fringed at the Fringed Gentian, the Bottle Gentian has tiny fringes at the end of corolla that hold the blossom together. Bumblebees have to work to get in to pollinate the blossoms.

There are over 400 species of gentian worldwide. They live in all sorts of habitats. Many are found in alpine regions. The species here in the Upper Midwest often like wet prairies and woodlands, fens. floodplains and marshes. Bottle Gentians have no scent while many other species do.

One species that likes rich prairie soil is the Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba). We have some in our yard. This lovely example was entangled by a slender vine. When Linda was trying to remove the vine, the stem snapped off. It became a tabletop subject and then the bouquet on the dining table where it still is slowly drying in its original size and shape. The leaves are now a darker green and the blossoms a soft tan – still lovely.

Bumble Bee Tongue

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

There is a bumble bee whose common name is the Confusing Bumble Bee (Bombus plexipus). Sometimes, even when using  a graphic guide to Bombus species, they are often confusing. That is what we found while trying to determine the bumble bee above. We think it is either an American Bumble Bee (B. pensylvanicus) or a Yellow-banded Bumble Bee (B. terricola). Or one of the species similar to these two.

Both of these important pollinators are thought to becoming much less common in recent years. Pesticides and habitat loss are probable reasons for their decline. In fact the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee is under consideration for protection.

We were photographing large bumble bees foraging on Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Though there were many Bee Balm plants at two locations, there were very few insects collecting nectar and pollen on a sunny day.

The bumble bees we saw  were moving very fast around the flower clusters and between stems that we thought that nectar was in short supply. While reviewing images this morning we saw that that this bee had its long tongue sheath in one of the individual flowers in a cluster.

Here is a crop to see the tongue and its sheath in the corolla of a single blossom on a Bee Balm cluster. This long corolla suggests that it is a long-tongued bumble bee, probably the American Bumble Bee.

Even at 1/1250 second shutter speed, the wings are blurred. The rest of the bee is in sharp focus with individual hairs discernible. To stop the motion of its wings, Bob would have needed to use flash even at this high shutter speed.

Shooting Stars

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

We were not able to visit our favorite site for Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) at their peak bloom this year. When we did visit we found some still fresh and lovely. Most of the ones at this location are pale lavender though some are more lavender or pink and a few are white. The plants are taller than the bright magenta ones (Dodecatheon pulchellum) we have seen in the Rocky Mountains. The western and northern species are more brightly colored than the ones we typically see in the Midwest and further east.

Some of the plants still had buds and showers of shooting stars plus a few blossoms already gone to seed. Even the seed heads retained their starburst shapes as seen in the top two pods.

There were several big burly Bumble Bee queens and other smaller bees among the flowers. Bumble Bees are one of the major pollinators of Shooting Stars. We saw several follow zigzag paths and then go into holes. They may have been taking pollen into nest holes or just have been exploring to pick a nest hole.

Because the plants grow close together with other spring flowers, it was necessary to use a very shallow depth of field (DOF) to isolate the blooms. Sometimes this meant a petal or blossom was not as sharp as it would have been with a deeper DOF. Just another compromise decision when photographing.