Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Apiaries 2

Wyethia angustifolia with the mason bee Hoplitis (Megachilidae)
We are in the midst of nuc season, one of the busiest times of the year for honeybee breeders equating to 12+ hour days and few days off, if any. Yet amidst the perceived chaos it is worth taking the time to appreciate the beauty surrounding us. Honeybees, native bees, and other pollinators are critical components to the web of life, inhabiting the near-base of the food web and providing invaluable services to the life around them. Pollinating insects, besides providing the important and apparent role of pollination, facilitate the growth of food for us and other wildlife (including livestock), occasionally provide pest control services (particularly wasps, flies, and beetles), and are food sources themselves to other creatures like other insects, spiders, and birds. Pollinators (the epithet does not do them justice) are the keys to the success of life, and are the seed from which beauty and wonder can flourish. So as nice as it is to stop and smell the flowers, I extend that further to say stop and watch the pollinators.

Central Point, OR
Revisiting one of our smaller apiaries on a family farm and pear orchard in Central Point, I am struck by the beauty of the landscape, and I feel fortunate to have found my way into such a profession. To recap, I was recently employed by a local (and I mean local, mere minutes from my house) commercial beekeeping operation that specializes in breeding (see Old Sol Apiaries).  We have apiaries across Jackson and Josephine counties in a variety of landscapes. I have taken a particular interest in sharing these highly photographic apiaries and some of the local flora, a handful of which are native and a handful of which are of interest to honeybees, or other pollinators.

A native ground nesting bee (tribe Halictini) in Eschscholzia californica
California's state flower is frequently encountered here in Southwestern Oregon. When blooming en masse they can attract a range of bees and occasionally flies. Honeybees have been working them this year, at least in my garden. They can be a bit weedy and will easily get out of hand in a small garden, and are best seeded into a field or wherever they are allowed to drift. They are useful plants, however, due to their tolerance of heat and drought, and should be planted wherever pollinator forage is deficient such as where grass competition is high.

Lasioglossum on Hypochaeris radicata
Catsear, or sometimes known as false dandelion, is a noxious weed from Europe. It is a perennial which grows from a thick taproot that, if broken, forms new crowns and thus is very hard to eradicate. The seeds are distributed in a similar fashion as with true dandelion (Taraxacum) which is by wind, and also likely by bird as I have observed birds eating the seeds. Fallowed fields on the farm in Central Point support a multitude of the plants which although worrisome for the large mass of seed which is inevitably going to be produced is a boon for pollinators. The flowers bloom from late spring to early autumn. Flowers open in the morning and close if it gets too hot, a mechanism that extends the life of the flower and prevents nectar from evaporating. Myriad bees and other pollinators visit the flowers, including honeybees.

Rosa rubiginosa
The particular apiary in Central Point specializes in pears, so they have a massive, yet brief, bloom earlier in the year. Of secondary or tertiary importance, I speculate, is that of the roses. The proprietor has a sizable rose garden, though most are probably of marginal honeybee-interest at best due to the highly doubled flowers that can occasionally prohibit bees from entering the flowers at all, and the scarcity of stamens since most if not all of them have been replaced by petals. Some wild and or feral roses inhabit the farm, including the nonnative Rosa rubiginosa (syn. Rosa eglanteria). This is a European native, distinguished from our native roses by the curved rather than straight thorns, and the extrafloral glands which emit a sweet scent when brushed. Rose pollen is highly valued by bees of all types, and of high importance for brood-rearing for honeybees.

Rosa rubiginosa
Large stands of these introduced roses inhabit much of the land throughout the region, including this very large stand in Ashland. I can only imagine the thousands of bees (probably a very small guess compared to the actual number) working this field in peak bloom. Roses in general give no nectar, or at least no source anywhere can confirm the presence of nectaries on roses. My own examination of dissected rose flowers has yielded no nectaries. The fragrance is from an oil found in the petals (and other parts occasionally) which contains a number of constituents, one of which is geraniol, an alcohol also found in Pelargonium and some species of Narcissus.

Ashland, OR. Snow capped Mt. Ashland can be seen to the far right.
One of my favorite apiaries to work, this Ashland apiary is in a prime location for forage as evident by the honey bound nucs which have required constant attention by removing fattened and heavy deep honey frames in exchange for drawn comb for the queens to lay in. Our ideal five frame nuc is composed of two or three frames of brood, one of food (pollen, nectar, and capped honey) and a mostly empty frame of drawn comb which gives them room to grow before they are sold to the customer who will transfer them to a proper hive. If they run out of space they will swarm, but we also aim to sell nucs backed with bees. It's a balancing act! 

Achyrachaena mollis seed head
A few weeks ago, in the first installment of this new series of posts (see Apiaries), I showed the opened flower of Achyrachaena mollis, known by the strange common name "blow wives" whose proper identification had initially eluded me. Since I have returned, the characteristic seed heads confirm the ID. This wildflower is known better by what is shown in this image rather than the flower itself, and it is likely assumed that the pappus attached to the seeds (the white part) are the actual flowers. The seeds, visible here, are black and the pappus are structures that help the seeds blow away from the parent plant, similar to Taraxacum (dandelion) and Hypochaeris (catsear), two common and familiar weeds.

Achyrachaena mollis and Vicia villosa cover the hillside above and around this Ashland apiary
Clearly, the seeds of Achyrachaena offer nothing to honeybees, yet the hairy vetch that shares this bank is of high importance to honeybees. In this case it seems a nonnative is living in harmony with the natives without too much displacement, though perhaps i am speaking too soon and it has already displaced something or will in the future. With two nonnatives, Vicia villosa and Apis mellifera, supporting each other I often quietly question the long term implications of our collective decisions, however well intentioned.

Lupinus microcarpus var. microcarpus
Chick lupine or Lupinus microcarpus is an annual lupine that is much more common in California than in Oregon. There are three recognized varieties, the one shown being the type while the other two are endemic to California. Bees, particularly bumblebees and large solitary bees are the primary pollinators of such flower forms, mostly because the smaller bees aren't usually strong enough to pry the flowers open to access the rewards. Honeybees occasionally visit lupines, but if there is other, easier accessed, resources available they'll probably forgo the difficult flowers for the easier ones.

Clarkia gracilis
A few of the slender clarkias inhabit this Ashland hillside, either preexisting or planted by birds. Honeybees may have an interest in this species, but the relative scarcity of it on this hillside suggests it is more likely visited by native solitary bees.

Rogue River, OR
One of the larger apiaries I have been to, this one sits in a grassy field surrounded by mixed coniferous woodland. Typically conifer forests offer less diversity of flowering plants, particularly deficient in flowers of interest to honeybees. This region seems to offer a lot of pollinator forage early in the year with an increasing dearth as the year progresses. Most of the native pollinator diversity is at its peak in spring and the first half of summer, so the dearth isn't surprising. The current nectar flow we are coming into is due to the blackberry, Rubus armeniacum, colloquially known as the Himalayan giant blackberry (a misleading name since it's from the Southern Caucasus of Asia and Europe). Blackberry bloom is brief but intense, sometimes being compressed into a two week period of ideal conditions similar to that of many of the fruit trees in the same family (Rosaceae).

Triteleia crocea with Lasioglossum sp., a native solitary bee.
This area, close to my house, is home to an exceptional assortment of geophytes. Triteleia, Dichelostemma, and Brodiaea, all of the same family and in a nearly constant of taxonomic confusion, light up the landscape in occasionally small isolated patches as the year progresses. They are usually of high value to native bees and butterflies, occasionally honeybees if growing in the proper density. Triteleia crocea is often found in shady forest edges and clearings, rarely in full sun. The pollination ecology of the genus as a whole is not fully understood except for a few species, though bees are suspected as the primary pollinators. I was fortunate to capture a small native mining bee, Lasioglossum sp., collecting pollen. I have also seen small dipterans on the flowers, though their effectiveness as pollinators of this plant is a mystery.

Triteleia hendersonii
My favorite species, the somewhat uncommon Triteleia hendersonii, is blooming in grassy yet sunny forest clearings. Last year during severe drought, some of these reached nearly 20" in height. This year, perhaps in response to competition from neighboring plants in result of the high volume of rain we've had this year, T. hendersonii are much shorter and more difficult to spot. I have not seen any pollinators on this species, and no published data is available on their pollination ecology, though their morphology suggests bee pollination. Time, and luck, will eventually (hopefully) allow me to discover the pollinators of this species.

Triteleia hyacinthina with Trichodes ornatus, the ornate checkered beetle.
I recently found a sizable patch of Triteleia hyacinthina in my neighborhood growing in a small sunny meadow at the side of the road. Due to my intense work schedule I have been unable to sit and observe (or sit at all, for that matter) yet I had a few minutes of free time in the afternoon to take this picture. Unlike the other two species I've encountered here, this species is the most prolific and seemingly the most likely species to attract honeybees in the area. I chanced upon this specimen with a hidden ornate checkered beetle taking shelter in one of the closing flowers for the evening. Trichodes ornatus are typical visitors to many flowers for food and shelter as adults, and kleptoparasites of ground nesting bees as larvae.

Toxicoscordion micranthum (syn. Zigadenus micranthus) with Trichodes ornatus
A genus that has fascinated me for years, all parts of Toxicoscordion are toxic to animals, including bees. Nectar and pollen of this genus is harmful to bees, except perhaps those who specialize on Toxicoscordion if there are any (I suspect there are). However, for the past three or four years that I have observed this species I have never seen any bees on the flowers, but I have reliably seen a variety of beetles on them suggesting they may be of importance to the plants.

Apiary at a state park
Our state park apiary does quite well, despite the lack of bee forage directly observable by me. State parks seem to be managed primarily for human (recreational) use rather than for wildlife, and this one is quite short on visible flowers. However, it is located near the Rogue River which is home to a vast array of flowering trees and shrubs, as well as miles and miles of blackberry that has undoubtedly and completely taken over a theoretically depressing amount of native riparian natives. Honeybees do great here, however, and during my recent visit to this yard I observed a number of native Andrena (ground nesting solitary bees) on or around the honeybee hives suggesting there is enough forage to support a variety of pollinators.

Rogue River, OR
This is a choice location just outside of Rogue River, right next to the Rogue River itself. Besides the usual resource rich riparian forage (Salix and Alnus, for example), a number of natives grace this location that may be of interest to honeybees including Amsinckia menziesii and Holodiscus discolor. The sandy riverbank is also a prime location for bees to gather water.

Eriogonum compositum
One native that is usually found growing in dry, sunny, rocky banks above the local rivers and streams is Eriogonum compositum. This is a large plant, with a three foot spread and height, with creamy eight inch umbels held above the greenish-white basal foliage.

Eriogonum compositum with dermestid beetles
Upon encountering this species in a similar environment last year, I observed the ornate checkered beetle, Trichodes ornatus, on an umbel. This year I observed at least three types of beetles including tiny dermastid beetles (aka carpet beetles) and a lone honeybee visiting the flowers. I would expect a large stand of this species to be of importance to honeybees.

Rogue River, OR
A secluded yet scenic apiary sits at the edges of a local farm. Various wildflowers have since bloomed and faded here, including the small annual Lupinus bicolor and bulbous Camassia, the latter of which was growing in a shady ditch though was nonetheless visited by honeybees. This is one of the most wildflower rich apiaries I have seen, hosting many treasures including the rare rose relative Horkelia daucifolia.

Wyethia angustifolia with the mason bee Hoplitis (Megachilidae)
On the gravel road leading to this apiary are a number of patches of Wyethia angustifolia, a sunflower relative with large basal leaves which give them the common name mules ears. In years past I have observed solitary sweat bees (Agapostemon sp.) which are metallic green with a striped abdomen, and this year I have seen bumblebees and other native bees visit the flowers. Hoplitis is solitary bee which uses various materials and nesting sites, both above and below ground, and builds walls between each brood cell. Unlike honeybees, most solitary bees don't excrete wax but use specific materials around them to build their nests and brood cells, most of which are linear with a row of cells. They are called solitary bees because each female creates and provisions her own nest.

Lotus pinnatus with Bombus (a bumblebee worker)
 A pea relative which prefers boggy conditions which exist adjacent to the apiary. The floral tubes are probably a bit too long for honeybees to reach, but are perfectly adapted for bumblebee pollination. The lower white petals (aka the wings) are the landing pads for the bumbles as seen in the photo.

Lotus pinnatus
The plants stand up to 18" tall and are topped with these pinwheel inflorescences.

Silene hookeri
One charming native dots shady roadsides and otherwise coniferous forest edges, yet is likely of little consequence if any to bees of any kind. Silene hookeri is a diminutive yet coveted member of the genus, particularly adored by rock gardeners and Oregon native plant enthusiasts alike. Many silenes are considered to be moth pollinated, though the only insects I've ever witnessed on these flowers were flies.

Silene hookeri
This is quite a variable species, individuals ranging in color and flower shape. Most are what people would call "pink" though some verge on white. In California there is a variety with extremely deeply divided flowers that are nearly white.

Silene hookeri
The flowers open before the stamens emerge, though I do not know the significance of this.

Sidalcea glaucescens
A hollyhock relative that is occasionally visited by bees is the checker mallow. I have not seen honeybees visit these flowers, though I have seen a variety of native bees in them. I have seen the males of some unidentified species sleep in the flowers as they close at night, offering a refuge.

At the base of Lower Table Rock
As opposed to the magnificent diversity that inhabit the Table Rocks, the surrounding landscape is very much engulfed in agricultural weeds like Dipsacus fullonum and Vicia villosa, the latter of which blooming now and an excellent source of food for the honeybees. The landscape as a whole is breathtakingly beautiful, but being acquainted with what is native and what is introduced has tainted my ability to appreciate the pieces, therefore when enjoying the beauty I try not to look down.

A honeybee in bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
Field bindweed, an incredibly successful weed from Eurasia which has managed to annoy both farmers and homeowners alike. The plants simultaneously exhibit a vining and sprawling habit, and when conditions are prime it can form large masses which intertwine and topple surrounding plants, even choking them out in some instances. Attempting to pull them by hand or with machinery is futile as they are weak and snap easily, swiftly regenerating.

Convolvulus arvensis in the apiary
Alas, the flowers can be quite attractive and are of interest to many pollinators, including honeybees right in the apiary.

Tragopogon dubius
Yellow salsify is another European introduction that has been incredibly successful at spreading across the United States. This seems surprising to me since I have yet to see it growing en masse, rather a flower here, a flower there. It seems that it displaces few natives due to this. Pollinators, particularly some solitary bees, visit the flowers yet I have yet to observe a honeybee on it despite its presence on a variety of our apiaries.

Sunset at Table Rock

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Apiaries 1

Rogue River (Wimer), OR
[Also see: Apiaries Pt. 2] I have recently been employed by a local commercial beekeeping operation in Southern Oregon. Old Sol Bees has been breeding and selling pest and pathogen resistant queens and nucs (short for nucleus, or starter colonies), as well as providing pollination services for nearly twenty years in the outskirts of Rogue River, OR. I've learned more about beekeeping in the last two weeks than the three years I've had my own hive. It's funny, since I can talk all day about the life cycles, habitats, and forage preferences of various native solitary bee groups. Basically, I got a beehive years ago with merely a few beekeeping books under my sleeve and nobody to show me the ins-and-outs. It is truly a deed best learned through hands on experience and guidance from people who know what they're talking about. Books only went so far.

So being the camera junkie I am, I've decided to photograph some of the idyllic apiaries Old Sol is fortunate to operate in. These are located on private land in a variety of mutualistic agreements (a place to put the hives in exchange for, say, free honey or pollination, or just because the landowner loves bees). Please right-click on the photos to view the enlarged version, as the panoramas are rather large files. The panorama above is the apiary closest to home, a field that is home to both horses and some very curious yet friendly llamas. The field is flanked with big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), all of which give the bees a great start at the beginning of the year. There are a few other apiaries in Rogue River that I will photograph and share in a future post.

Central Point, OR
The Central Point apiary is located on a 100+ year old organic [though not certified due to prohibitive costs] family farm that grows mainly pears, as well as a variety of annual crops. They also have a very large rose garden, though they are likely mostly doubled roses which offer little to bees. A variety or wild roses and other crop weeds are a likely source of nutrition for these bees throughout most of the year after the pears are done blooming. One weed in particular, catsear (Hypochaeris radicata) was blooming en masse during my last visit earlier this week. It is an excellent taprooted resource for a variety of bees, and even though it will probably be turned or disked into the soil it is no doubt a great source of nutrition.

Ashland, OR
Ashland is host to two apiaries, one of which I have yet to work. This apiary is situated on a hillside amidst wildflowers, native and otherwise, with a stunning view of the valley. The kind owner is simply a fan of honeybees, and wanted them nearby despite having a hive or two herself. As mentioned, there were a ton of wildflowers. A few natives are shown in detail below, but others include hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) and starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), two very invasive yet bee-friendly weeds.

Achyrachaena mollis
At first I had assumed this was a species of Madia, bearing a few resemblances such as petal color and shape as well as the entire plant being covered by hairs (minus the resinous odor). I now know this is the monotypic species Achyrachaena mollis, often referred to as blowwives. This is an annual species native to California and SW Oregon that is better known for the showy seed heads which to casual passerby would resemble flowers. I will return to this apiary throughout the year, and will no doubt see/photograph the said plants in seed. And in case you were wondering, this photo shows the fully opened flower. I didn't see honeybees working them, though the weather was poor which would have limited their foraging activity that day.

Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia
Another wildflower in bloom is common fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia), one of my favorite wildflowers. It is in the family Boraginaceae, a family that includes many bee-coveted plants such as the ubiquitous borage (Borago officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum sp.), Echium sp., and others. These were growing to roughly two feet in large drifts as shown here:

Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia
Due to the clouds and low light of the days I was there, there were few pollinators about and most of our honeybees remained in their hives. I'd be surprised, however, if during optimal conditions the honeybees ignored this resource.

Grants Pass (Merlin), OR
Our Grants Pass apiary, actually situated between Merlin and Grants Pass, is accessed through a dense forest which opens up to this very large field that I think is home to cattle for at least part of the year. Few was in bloom in the field, the most prominent wildflower being English plantain (Plantago lanceolata). The forest, no greater than twenty feet away, was host to a variety of wildflowers such as Dichelostemma capitatum, Silene hookeri, and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). The particular Silene is most likely a fly pollinated species, while the other two would be of use to honeybees if it weren't for the heavy shade which tends to deter honeybees despite the abundance of blooms.

Lower Table Rock, Central Point, OR
Table Rocks in Central Point are known for their vast floral diversity and endemic wildflower species, much of which is bee pollinated. The surrounding landscape, however, is wrought with nonnative agricultural weeds like vetch (Vicia sp.) and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). The apiary is still a sight to behold, situated between both Upper and Lower Table Rocks.

Castilleja tenuis
One flower stood out to me, probably the only native angiosperm in a mile radius, hairy paintbrush (Castilleja tenuis). These are bee- or perhaps occasionally hummingbird-pollinated plants, though to be sure I saw no sign of pollinators on it (I was hard at work!) This is an annual species that is probably more known for having yellow flowers rather than white.

Castilleja tenuis 
Castilleja are semi-parasitic, meaning they tap into the root systems of nearby plants, either trees or grasses (I am unsure which, or maybe both), though they do photosynthesize unlike true parasites like broomrape (Orobanche) or ground cone (Boschniakia). I have read that they can be grown without a host, but require additional fertilization (which I cannot fully endorse since learning about the potential harm fertilizers can do to soil fauna).

Want to help bees and other pollinators? All the experts point to two things anyone can do to help: A) plant flowers and B) don't use broad spectrum pesticides. Planting flowers, or improving wildflower habitats by removing or controlling noxious weeds, gives bees [and other pollinators] the opportunity to remain fit through good nutrition. Avoiding pesticides, be they herbicides or insecticides, should be obvious. Of course there are times when, in my view, the use of such chemicals is warranted (infestations of either hard to control noxious weeds or particularly harmful invertebrates, for example). Proper use (by reading the labels) and good discretion should always be top priority. But by providing good nutrition to beneficial invertebrates, hopefully with locally native wildflowers, the need to use pesticides should drop dramatically. Good day to you! [Also see: Apiaries Pt. 2]

Monday, May 2, 2016

Floral Visitors 19

Preface ~ This year has been wrought with challenge, risk, and excitement with our new baby girl (two daughters now) and my recent employment with a local beekeeping company (I was formerly employed at a local cabinet factory, a far cry from my interests). Both are huge changes essentially happening simultaneously. That being said, I am delighted to discover new interactions between plants and pollinators that seem strange and unexpected. Given that much of the "prime pollinator time" is when I'm working and taking care of my daughters, I am given the opportunity to photograph plants and insects at odd times of the day when most bees are inactive. Nocturnal and crepuscular pollinators are often neglected in the eye of pollinator conservationism, some even considered pests, even though efforts to support bees and butterflies (the allegorious prom queens of pollinator conservationism) will likely support a range of other mildly valuable pollinators. I've also included in this post a few non-pollinating organisms that are beautiful (to me anyway) and ecologically useful in other ways. Enjoy!
Honeybee (Apis mellifera) foraging on poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
I was shocked to discover a huge mass of poison oak in bloom on the side of the road, absolutely teeming with bees and other pollinators. Honeybees were the most surprising, as I have seen poison oak in bloom many times in the past but never have I seen a honeybee show the slightest interest. Other pollinators included solitary bees, probably Andrena, and dermestid beetles (Anthrenus).

Apis on Toxicodendron
Honeybees were gathering both nectar and pollen, as evident by the pollen sacks shown on this bee and others I witnessed. I can't help but wonder: What will the honey taste like? Does the pollen or nectar contain the same skin-irritating compounds found in the rest of the plant? I wouldn't question the safety of eating the mature honey derived from this plant. Evidence of other poisonous or toxic plants being used to make honey (From the nectar of Euphorbia or Rhododendron, for example) suggests that the mature honey is perfectly safe to eat once mature. Microbes (kingdom Archaea, similar to bacteria) in the gut of honeybees (specifically the "honey stomach" or crop) break down the complex molecular structures into simple sugars that honeybees can digest, i.e. honey. Apparently poison oak varietal honey is available from some beekeepers, and it is worth a fortune (but this could be because it is derived from poison oak rather than the actual flavor; I'd love to hear from someone who has tried it).

Apis (lower right, in flight) and Toxicodendron
Poison oak is in the Anacardiaceae family, which includes a wide range of plants seldom in cultivation, and a few surprises such as Anacardium occidentale (cashew tree), Mangifera indica (mango tree), and Pistacia vera (pistachio). It is also related to Rhus (sumac), in which all species of Toxicodendron were once included. Other species of Toxicodendron include T. radicans (poison ivy), T. vernicifluum (Chinese lacquer tree), and T. vernix (poison sumac) among many others. All species of Toxicodendron (and to a much lesser content, Anacardiaceae in general) contain urushiol, an oily organic allergen that causes contact dermatitis. It can take a few to several incidents of contact before an allergic reaction occurs, so some individuals may think [wrongfully] that they're immune. The oil can adhere to anything, including fabric, and until it is washed can contact skin and spread the oil, resulting in a rash. I haven't got it yet, though I have a feeling it will happen eventually due to my plant addiction, or rather my incessant need to get a decent photo.

Lomatium dissectum with Andrena
Each year a local roadside is filled with the large inflorescences of Lomatium dissectum, a carrot relative with medicinal attributes. The umbels it produces are roughly eight inches across, some bigger still. I decided to stop and look one day, only to find tiny solitary bees, Andrena sp., foraging on the abundant resource. Unfortunately it was mid afternoon and the sun was low and direct causing some of the photos to be bleached out.

Lomatium dissectum with Andrena
Lomatium dissectum roots, and perhaps other lomatiums, are used in herbal medicine as antivirals, though to exceed the correct dosage could lead to a rash on the torso.

Lomatium dissectum
Andrena ♀ on male Quercus kelloggii catkins
Many plants this year have experienced an intense bloom. Trees have been no exception, including some of the oak trees. Oak (Quercus) is monoecious meaning it produces separate male and female flowers. The female flowers are minute and grow to become acorns if pollinated. Male flowers are produced in catkins yielding abundant pollen. It is unlikely that they produce nectar (even though some beekeeping sources claim it so), but are instead sources of honeydew (the exudates of sap-sucking insects). Bees, like this female Andrena mining bee, were seen to be foraging on the male catkins on a variety of days while the tree was in bloom. I doubt that bees contribute much in the way of pollination of what is typically considered a wind-pollinated tree since the female flowers offer no incentives for the bees to visit.

Quercus kelloggii with gall wasps (Cynipidae), flying left of the lowest leaf
I took this photo since the light was wonderful and was surprised to find I had captured what appear to be three tiny gall wasps in flight left of the leaf at the lower middle of the photo. Gall wasps are active as new growth appears since it is in this surge of plant hormonal growth that they lay their eggs on leaf and flower. The process causes the trees to grow the galls which the wasp larvae use to pupate. This is how the oak apple is formed, large conspicuous galls that can reach a similar size to an average apple. As far as I know, adult gall wasps do not live for very long and don't eat so they are not likely to contribute to the task of pollination, yet they surely serve as a food source for other animals.

A carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.) sizes up an orb weaver (Araneus sp.)
These two are unlikely to play a role in pollination, yet are interesting characters in my garden. The spider on the bottom right is an orb weaver, a term used for the family Araneidae and the usual suspects when it comes to the spiraling wheel-shaped webs so often associated with spiders. This one, probably a female, is helping to keep my plants safe by capturing pests, and perhaps a few pollinators (everyone's got to eat).

The ant is a large carpenter ant, Camponotus sp. They are omnivorous, feeding on honeydew, tree/plant sap, other insects (dead or alive), and a variety of other materials. Despite their name, they do not eat living or otherwise undamaged wood, but will nest in wood that has been softened by fungi or rotted by other means. In nature, these ants are much needed recyclers of forest debris, shredding dead wood into finer bits that can be further broken down by microarthropods and finally microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, recycling nutrients and soil-building matter and making them available to plants.

Ariolimax columbianus (Pacific banana slug) eating oyster mushrooms growing on a decaying log in the forest understory
Banana slugs are also unlikely to play a role in pollination, though they do help break down matter in the forest understory where there is sufficient humidity to sustain them. This one was feeding on some very large oyster mushrooms that were growing out from a decaying log. I have also heard that banana slugs eat feces of probably many animals, no doubt a vital role. As is the case with all the "recyclers," banana slugs break material down into smaller grains that can then be broken down into nutrients and soil building particles by soil microorganisms. Eventually nutrients are made available to plants and the cycle starts over again: Plants absorb nutrients; fungi decomposes dead plants; banana slug eats fungus; soil microorganisms eat slug poop; microorganisms die and release nutrients derived from said slug poop. Circle of poop life.

Harpaphe haydeniana
Yet more decomposers I happened upon recently while exploring a local forest, a pair of beautiful forest millipedes were wandering about in search of food or shelter. Their conspicuous, and gorgeous markings should be taken as a sign that they are not to be eaten or handled since this is probably one of many cyanide secreting species of millipede. Like other millipedes, they are scavengers, mostly vegetarian, and contribute to the breakdown of decaying forest materials into fine matter more accessible to microorganisms.

Harpaphe haydeniana mating
I felt fortunate to have seen one, lucky to have seen two, and then they decided to mate. How cool is that? Very, indeed.

Agulla ♀ on Lamium maculatum
This was a surprising find, particularly since I had never seen this before. This is a snakefly (order Raphidioptera), unrelated to true flies (order Diptera). These are beneficial to a garden, or anywhere, as they are predatory in both larval and adult stages. As larvae their food probably consists of microarthropods such as mites, springtails, and thrips while the adults feed on aphids and other pests.

Agulla ♀ on Lamium maculatum, what a cutie!
They are often seen on flowers, but it is far more likely that they are on the hunt rather than feeding on floral resources.

Agulla ♀ on Lamium maculatum
The "stinger" on her back is actually an ovipositor, which is where the eggs come out. Snakeflies can't sting people.

A weevil (family Curculionidae) eating a wild strawberry flower (Fragaria vesca)
Weevils are beetles in the family Curculionidae, also affectionately known as snout and bark beetles. They are often regarded as pests, and probably best serve the garden as a food source for more beneficial creatures. There is always the chance, however, that this weevil or one like it will stumble across a flower such as this one and transfer pollen to a fertile stigma. The hairy body of this one would certainly hold onto some pollen.

Forficula auricularia ♀ on Dasiphora fruticosa 'Abbotswood' (syn. Potentilla fruticosa)
Though this looks similar to the Fragaria flower above, this is a flower of Dasiphora fruticosa (a white form) though they are both is the same family: Rosaceae, the rose family. This is a small woody shrub that blooms over a long period, and bridges the gap between the spring ephemerals and the summer blooming flowers. Bees of various types are attracted to the flowers, which are abundant, during the daylight hours while darkness brings a different player to the game. European earwigs, Forficula auricularia, although seldom if ever considered as pollinators, are common visitors of flowers at night. They are mostly nectar feeders, though they occasionally appear to be eating pollen as well.

Forficula auricularia ♀ on Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'
The more I wander about the garden in the dark, the more often I find earwigs on/in the flowers. This one appears to have the wrong body shape for this rosemary flower, and is reduced to floral visitor status (rather that pollinator), and maybe even nectar thief. Fortunately, mint family plants (Rosmarinus is one) produce ample nectar on many flowers.

Forficula auricularia ♀ with a harvestman (order Opiliones) on Alyssum montanum 'Mountain Gold'
Pincher bugs, again, on the open inflorescences of Alyssum montanum in my rock garden, this time accompanied by many harvestmen (order Opiliones). They harvestmen appeared to be feeding on nectar, which isn't that far fetched seeing as they are omnivorous scavengers. Harvestmen are related to spiders, yet are differentiated by having all their segments fused into what appears to be a single segment. Another differentiation between harvestmen and spiders, mating is direct with the former because the males have a pene/aedagus (aka a penis) while males of the latter secrete semen directly from their abdomen and scoop it up into a sack made from their silk glands only to forcibly plunge it into the [usually larger] females with one of his pedipalps (the arm-like appendages near their mouths).

Alyssum montanum 'Mountain Gold' is an excellent plant for beneficial insects, including honeybees, and is attractive for most of the year. After flowering, simply trim the dead flowers and enjoy the leaves.

Forficula auricularia ♀ with a coating of pollen on Iris chrysophylla
Still not convinced that earwigs may act as pollinators? It is hard to ignore the pollen grains coating this individual. I have observed directly that they feed on both pollen and nectar during the night, and in the day they enter flowers (if the flowers are large enough) to hide out until the sun goes down. It is conceivable that during hiding out, the pollen from their bodies contacts the stigma, and pollination is achieved. Another consideration is that since earwigs can fly (many will deny it, but they do possess wings which are folded and hidden) and thus may move between flowers in the dark. This would be difficult to observe, since their reaction to a perceived threat (me with a light) is met with letting go of whatever they're attached to and falling to the ground (quickest escape) rather than fly away.

Crane flies (Tipuloidea) mating on a daffodil early in April
Though they probably play a minor role in pollination, crane flies do have a relationship with flowers. This is the third year in a row that I've seed this species on Narcissus in my garden.

Crane flies (Tipuloidea) mating on a daffodil early in April
Crane flies do feed on flower nectar, though I have seldom witnessed it.

Anchusa azurea is highly attractive to bumblebees and other pollinators
One of my favorite plants in my garden, Anchusa azurea bridges the gap between the spring ephemerals and the summer bloomers. It is related to borage and forget-me-nots, and is similarly attractive to bees and even hummingbirds as I witnessed on many consecutive days last year. Bumblebees are the primary visitors at this time, honeybees will probably began to show interest in the coming weeks. It blooms over a long period, all year if chopped to the ground at the first signs of seed formation. It isn't invasive like Echium or Symphytum (comfrey), but likely has nectar with a similarly high sugar content.

Ranunculus repens with a honeybee
I'll end this post with an odd sighting. In one of the apiaries of my new employer, creeping buttercut is running rampant. I have long read that honeybees seldom, if ever, work buttercups due to their toxicity which extends into the pollen and nectar. Despite this, honeybees were frequently seen on the flowers, also despite the abundance of alternate floral resources available at the time. From my observations they seemed to be collecting both pollen and nectar, though more emphasis on the latter. Another observation worth mentioning, they seemed to stumble around inside the flowers and sometimes spend several minutes before taking off, seemingly befuddled. Peculiar.

Ranunculus repens with a honeybee