Ready or not...

Here they come!

Mason bees (Osmia nigrifrons) are emerging from hibernation.

Pictured atop their nest conglomeration, made of mud.

Male bees usually come out first. (This is a male).

Female bees come out a little later, because they are bigger and take longer to develop. This way, males are ready to mate with females immediately when they emerge. Females then waste no time getting down to nest building and laying eggs.

This mud nest chunk is a piece of a larger conglomeration I sampled from Red Butte Garden. The larger conglomeration is situated inside a bird box, where it has been for several years, co-existing with screech owls

Most Osmia species we see in Salt Lake are metallic all over, either dark blue/black or brighter shades of blue or green. These Osmia are a little different.  Looking forward to seeing a female emerge - I don't remember what they look like!

Welcome to 2016

Thanks to everyone for visiting the Wild Bee Project.

It's been 2016 for a while now, but the bees are just starting.... I am excited for this new season and the new discoveries it will bring!

The Wild Bee Project is evolving into a new area this year: education. Our surveys of wild bees in Salt Lake City will continue. But I am looking forward to talking with more people in our community and developing better tools for teaching people of all ages about wild bees.

Keep coming back to learn more about our educational events, activities, and as always.. ever more about the wild bees of Salt Lake City!

Laura

The very small

Many wild bees are easily overlooked. They are very small, very fast, or both.

Here are some close-ups of bees that fly below most people's radar.

(Bee IDs have been edited....)

All bees pictured below are in the genus Lasioglossum, the tiny "sweat bees." Some are only a few millimeters long!

(For scale, above: the white flowers are apache plume; the yellow is curlycup gumweed.)

BONUS... Lasioglossum nest site photos!

The nest entrances (perfectly round circles) are tiny. About the size of a bee's head.

These tiny bees are common in urban areas, just rarely noticed.


Late bloomers

The most important way to "save the bees" is to plant lots of flowers in your garden.

By lots of flowers, I mean many kinds of flowers, that together, bloom ALL season long. The hardest part is having flowers that bloom into late summer (i.e., now). Most flowering plants by this time are drying up. 

So what is blooming RIGHT NOW?

Awesome late bloomers in Utah include sunflowers, coneflowers, asters, mallows, clover, hyssop, bee balm, goldenrod, lavender, cleome, blanket flower, black-eyed susan, and herbs like sage, thyme, mint, and fennel.

And how about this? Artichoke!

So pretty. And bees love it.

 

"Meat bees" vs bees

FYI, "meat bees" are actually wasps.  Yellow jacket wasps.

Bees are vegetarian, and are not aggressive.

Late in the summer we see lots of wasps. When other food sources (nectar and insects) for wasps dry up and decline, wasps come more aggressively to our picnics and BBQs. We generally hate them at these times.

No one likes the meat bees. However, as annoying as they are, wasps are beneficial insects. They eat many garden pests, keeping populations in check, and they pollinate flowers, just like bees.

Here's how to tell them apart.

Image by Alex Surcica

Remember: Bees are hairy. Wasps are not.

Wasps also have a skinny "waist" that separates their body sections.  And most of all, they are quite aggressive. If you have a wasp nest, tolerate it if you can and stay away.

More on bee and wasp nests here.

 

Sunflowers

One of the most iconic flowers out there.. sunflowers are SUMMER. Sturdy, tall, open, and beautiful. They catch your eye from a distance, then close up, they are gorgeously intricate.

Sunflowers are GREAT for wild bees!! More than 200 species of native bees visit sunflowers.

Sunflowers are part of one of the biggest and most successful "citizen science" projects in the USA: the Great Sunflower Project. For this project, citizens across the country plant lemon queen sunflowers then watch them for just a few minutes each day, week, or whenever they can... these citizen "scientists" then submit their observations (how many flower visitors they observed) to the Project database online. Its super easy and a great way to help scientists track bees and other pollinators!

Check out a blooming sunflower and you are likely to see at least a few Melissodes bees. Melissodes males have super long antennae and patrol sunflowers for mates. Check them out in the evening sleeping on flower heads!

Attracting bumblebees

"Beneficial insects" are familiar to organic gardeners. Although "beneficial" typically means pest control, it also includes pollinators.

But which vegetables really NEED pollinators?

Squashes, for one. And squash bees do the job... Even in small backyard patches! 

What about tomatoes and peppers? Some would argue the wind is sufficient (to agitate the flowers).  Actually, tomatoes and peppers are much better when animal-pollinated, and specifically "buzzed" by a competent bee. Bumblebees are perfect for this job!

   Image copyright 2009, David L. Green

Image copyright 2009, David L. Green

The problem is, bumblebees won't "find" your tomatoes and peppers the same way squash bees find your squash. So how to we attract them?

The best way is to have the right perennial flowers, close to the garden. Plant mints, clover, Salvia, Monarda, or plants in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family! Check out Appendix B of Conserving Bumble Bees by the Xerces Society for a solid list.

If you want to go further, provide nesting habitat for bumblebees. According to Xerces Society, un-mown native bunch grasses, brush piles, and dead trees are best. Basically any place a mouse might find appealing would be attractive to bumblebees, too.

Most experts don't recommend putting out nest boxes for bumble bees in backyards (they rarely work), but I think this bird box idea has promise. I write more about bumble bees here.

For more info and links, check out this great article at Mother Nature Network from last summer. 

Squash bees nesting

These are the only photos I have of squash bees nesting.  From 1971!

I haven't found any myself, yet.

Squash bees (genus Peponapis) nest in the ground. They are "gregarious," meaning that although they are solitary bees, that build their nests near each other.

According to bee research pioneers who took these photos, squash bees prefer LAWNS for their nesting sites. Weird! Nest holes are usually concentrated in a few areas of a lawn. Frequently in barer patches. But also in 'protected' places like under shrubs, next to a tight clump of grasses, along sidewalks, even under wood planking (see Figure 2). Apparently squash bees don't mind a lot of moisture (from irrigation), either.

I won't rest until I find a nest site in Salt Lake City. Squash bees are everywhere right now... and they are taunting me!

Reference:

Hurd, PD, EG Linsley, and AE Michelbacher. 1974. Ecology of the squash and gourd bee, Peponapis pruinosa, on cultivated cucurbits in California (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, Number 168. Smithsonian Institution Press.

Squash/gourd bees

Squash bees are a good thing to have.

If you are lucky enough to have them in your garden, you can bet dollars to doughnuts they will pollinate each and every one of your squash flowers.

AT SUNRISE.

They are VERY early risers. Seriously.

Plus they are photogenic. What a backdrop!

Photos taken at Bell Organic Farm, Draper, UT

If you like to collect squash flowers...be prepared for the challenge of 'evicting' sleeping male bees who occupy them (drowsily) all day...

An exception

Here's something we can all hate on.

NOXIOUS WEEDS.

VILE.

An easy target.. perhaps. 

But in the western US, noxious weeds in our rangelands and native habitats are a scourge upon the earth. Truly.

Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), for example. Bees love thistles and most native thistles are lovely and should be tolerated wherever possible... 

BUT. Scotch thistle should die a fiery death. Here's the difference:

LEFT: Scotch thistle (invasive/noxious)  | RIGHT: Cirsium undulatum (native)

Photo taken at Red Butte Garden Natural Area (Salt Lake City).

Thanks Neal!

Love for weeds

What is a weed?

Something we hate.

Wouldn't a weed-free world be great? AAAAHHH.............. no more weeds.

Too bad about the bees, though.

The "weed" label is subjective. And with regard to bees, downright awkward.

Not only is "weed" subjective from one person to the next, one place to another, but many plants solidly in the "weed" camp provide reliable food for bees. And have done so for millions of years.  Awkward.

Weeds are important to bees, let's face it.  They are successful, abundant species in many areas where there might not be anything else to eat at times. At the very least, weeds with abundant pollen and nectar should be tolerated in our backyards wherever we can stand them. 

I know, it's not easy sometimes.

Do you tolerate clover or dandelion in your lawn...?  Baby steps.

Do it for the bees!

Two books I've picked up since I started paying attention to 'weeds'..... One is the choice of professionals, the other of my late grandmother.

'Wildflowers and Weeds' is particularly good if you live in the upper Midwest or Ontario. But I also find it useful in the west. Gotta include Granny's dedication..

App review

Wild Bee Gardens $2.99

Version 1.3.0 - requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

A handy reference tool with the most common wild bees and 'bee-attractive' plants found in North America with stunning photographs of each. Great for matching garden plants with specific bee visitors and vice versa.

It is very hard to criticize this app.

And believe me, I want to write an objective review.

The only drawback is that it's not free. But you can't get something this awesome for free.

Wild Bee Gardens is the only app that gives you information on bee-plants AND the bees themselves. Pollinator Partnership has an app that is similar, but inferior on the details, no photos of pollinators, and just not that fun to use. A cheesy app that feels flat, although to be fair, it is free.

Basically, spending $2.99 on Wild Bee Gardens is one of the easiest, most practical, and enjoyable ways to help bees. You will be several steps closer to planting the right flowers and learning to recognize your bee visitors, with the help of this handy, curated encyclopedia.

My favorite part about this app is that it is inspiring. And that is what it's all about.

Below I detail my favorite things, in case you need more convincing....

  1. A well-curated 'bee-attractive' plant list with just the right amount of information
  2. Photographic guide to common wild bees that is just plain awesome
  3. Well-designed interface for matching bees with specific plants - a totally unique feature
  4. Practical, thorough primers on creating a bee garden, how to recognize native bees that you see most often, and the fascinating habits of solitary bees!

1. thoughtfully selected "bee-plants"

There is no shortage of 'bee-attractive' plant lists out there. BUT. It's a LOT of information, and quite tedious to do the research from scratch.

Designing and planning a garden should be fun. Especially a bee garden.

Wild Bee Gardens gives you a 'curated' list of the 50 BEST plants for bees in North America with stunning photographs, and the essential information on native regions, bloom time, flower color, and planting requirements. These are the best of the best. The author has practical experience building bee gardens herself, which helps.

Personally, I like how both natives AND the cultivated/ornamental varieties of natives are included in the list. Most people want a combination of beautiful colors and shapes as well as plentiful pollen and nectar for the bees. Included are popular and beautiful garden plants that are loved by bees, all native to North America. Regional information is included if you want to choose those endemic to your particular part of the country.

2. best photographic guide to common wild bees

Identifying bees is not easy. While databases like Discover Life and Bug Guide are wonderful, they are tedious to use and only have images of pinned specimens.  It's a lot of work and inefficient to ID bees this way, especially if you just got a glimpse! As gardeners and bee-watchers, we want to be outside, and don't really need all the gory details on each species.  

Wild Bee Gardens is great because it contains excellent, professional photographs of the most common 25 genera of wild bees in North America. You can figure out: Is it a mason bee (Osmia), carder bee (Anthidium), bumble bee (Bombus), carpenter bee (Xylocopa, Ceratina), or something else? Doing it this way is fun and engaging. You CAN learn to recognize the basic types of native bees from pictures.

3. you can match bees with plants (and vice versa)

This is what Wild Bee Gardens is all about.

If you have a favorite plant, or a favorite bee, you can incorporate these preferences into your planning. Totally fun. AND you can learn what flower preferences wild bees have.  This app is very well-researched.

The Ipad interface (left photo) is where Wild Bee Gardens really shines in this department, although both iPad and iPhone have the same capability. On the iPad you get plant description, photo gallery, AND bee visitors (with thumbnails) on the same screen! On the iPhone it takes an extra click to see each of these categories (right photo). Not a huge difference, but it makes the iPad version especially fun to use.

4. Practical primers - all you need to know!

Wild Bee Gardens is not just pretty pictures. You are also paying for a well-organized and well-researched eBook about wild bees. Everything you need to know about the habits of bees, their emergence times and preferences, why we should care about them, HOW to recognize them if you want to really get into it, and all the essential details about providing everything they need in your backyard.  You can find this information elsewhere, but not in one place. Bees are complex, beautiful little creatures, and reading the "guides" on Wild Bee Gardens is a very efficient and fun way to learn about them.

I am still learning.

What else can I say?

Download Wild Bee Gardens!

 

Mason bee complex

Most mason bees in the genus Osmia make nests using mud.

However, few do it quite like this - total free form!

This is a nest conglomeration of Osmia nigrifrons, that took up residence in an owl box at Red Butte Garden. They like a protected place to build their complexes.

Here's what the box looks like from the outside, and below that, its former inhabitants.

Out in the cold

Male bees basically have nowhere to go at night. Sometimes they sleep in/on flowers and sometimes squat elsewhere..

This carpenter bee slept all night with just his head in a condo hole.

Once morning came, he flow off (with a nudge) and there was another bee inside!

#1 way to help bees

Avoid neonicotinoid pesticides in your garden.

Neonicotinoids or "neonics" are the most widely-used garden pesticides.

The Center for Food Safety published a list of common products that contain these chemicals. AVOID THEM if you want to help bees and other pollinators.

By the way...... Do you know who manufactures most of these products? 

BAYER.  The company spending millions of dollars to convince you they care about bees

 

 

 

 

Gregarious nesting

Will you be at Red Butte Garden this weekend?

If so, don't miss the long-horned bees (genus Melissodes), nesting in the ground!

A "gregarious" nest aggregation is forming near the base of the Sidewinder trail that leads to the Natural Area (right near the bench). New nest holes (i.e., more bees) are appearing every day!

Long-horned bees are solitary--each hole contains one female making her solitary nest--but they nest near each other:

The nest holes are PERFECTLY ROUND. Most have a little lip around the edge. The last photo is a female Melissodes pushing the soil out with her abdomen, before going back down to dig some more.

By the way, watching bees do this is why many people think bees are "cute." They really are.

Here is what these Melissodes look like. (I put this female on ice for a minute to take photos):

This aggregation will only last a few weeks. Don't miss this bee-watching!

Condo dwellers

The main reason to have a bee condo is to see cool stuff.

Don't condos provide a "home" for bees and other pollinators? Yes...technically. We can also "survey" for pollinators using the condos.

But let's face it. Bee condos are for humans. To see cool stuff.

The typical condo "dwellers" are solitary bees and wasps. You can watch them provisioning nests in the condo, as they fly away and return with food.

One of the most common condo dwellers is Osmia (mason bees):

Also leafcutter bees:

Sometimes you get "SQUATTERS" in the condo. These are insects living in the condo, but not really in the way it was intended (by us humans). Spiders, for instance.

This "squatter" was making a nest on the back wall of a condo where the reeds had fallen out:

photo 4.JPG

And finally.. there are condo "LURKERS." These are parasites that lay in wait for bees or other condo dwellers to leave on a foraging trip, then sneak inside to lay their own eggs.  Pretty smart!

A classic "lurker":

Chrysidid wasp.

All photos taken at Red Butte Garden.

Thanks Red Butte Garden for hosting bee condos in the Natural Area this year!

Wool carder bees

I have a new favorite bee...

Anthidium.

AKA, "wool carder bees":

Wool carder bees are about the size of a honeybee, but have wasp-like yellow and black markings. The difference: BEES are stout and round-shaped, whereas wasps have a skinny "waist" and look like cold-blooded killers.

Adorable Anthidium bees scrape the wooly plant fibers off leaves, called "carding." Females use the soft fibers to provision a wooly nest.

And the males?  Too fast to photograph! 

Go see them!!

WHAT? Male Anthidium on patrol.  A must see.

WHERE? A sizeable patch (>1m square) of lamb's ear (aka rose campion) in FULL SUN

WHEN?  NOW!

All photos are Anthidium females.  Pollen grains are visible, carried on the underside of the abdomen. 

Do you think she's waving at me? I like to think so.

 

Bee condos

My bee condos look like this:

They are from Mason Bees LLC. They char the reeds with a blow torch, which mason bees in Utah seem to like.

There are 20 of my bee condos in Salt Lake City. Most are in public spaces.

The point? To survey for stick-nesting bees. Bee condos are also very useful for "bee watching" if you put one in your yard.

Bee Watching looks like this:

 Kathlyn Collins,  Gardening Coach , laid back.

Kathlyn Collins, Gardening Coach, laid back.

Most of my condos are hanging in trees....

Clockwise from top left: Bobsled bike trail, City Creek, Jordan River, and another in City Creek.

And 16 more.... map here.