Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Floral visitors, again!

As Spring approaches, more and more plants are jumping into growth and some are sending up flowers. These are the plants I have observed in my own garden to be most attractive to insect visitors (of the floral kind). Crocus  are still the most popular, but as they fade away for the season many other genera will come into the picture to take their place. Here's what I've observed:
Crocus chrysanthus with small solitary bee
Bees are more and more active, as are a variety of other types of pollinating insects. Unfortunately, our nights have decided they still want it to be winter, so it has been hovering around the twenties (F) with a persistent layer of frost that doesn't thaw out until late in the morning as the shadows diminish with the rising sun. This is bad news for some bees, like the one above, who felt it was safe enough to spend the night in an exposed position, like this flower. This bee did not survive.

Scilla siberica with honeybee collecting pollen
Fortunately, most bees are doing just fine. Honeybees, bumblebees, and a variety of solitary bees have been venturing out to collect the fresh new resources these early flowers have to offer.

Scilla siberica has been attractive to a wide array of bees, from honeybees to bumblebees and solitary bees, to syrphid flies who will not let me take a good photo of them. Bees are acquiring both pollen and nectar from the variable feast these flowers are offering, and I imagine they will set much seed this year.


 I spotted this bizarre fly (I guess it's a fly) on several occasions visiting the Crocus flowers. In this picture, you can see the pollen covering its body, indicating it as being a possible pollinator of the flowers (as opposed to just stealing the resources, pollen and nectar). If anyone has a suggestion to this insects identity, please help!


Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant' with solitary bee
This small solitary bee was in this single flower for a long time, much longer than a honeybee typically spends on one flower. Also, the bee was moving between the anthers and the base of the flower. From watching this bee, I am sure it was getting nectar from the base, then up to get pollen, then back for nectar again. This cycle repeated for some time. I recorded a video of it, you can see it here. Compare that video with this one of a honeybee on Crocus vernus 'Pickwick'.


Crocus vernus 'Jeanne d'Arc' with honeybee collecting pollen
Here, a honeybee visits a white Dutch Crocus cultivar. The bee takes the opportunity of relative safety (inside the semi-protection of the flower) to clean the pollen off her body and pack it into her pollen sacks, or corbicula. I made a short video of it here.


Anenome blanda with Syrphid fly eating pollen
Most pollinating insects will flee when a large mass, like a photographer, gets too close. Syrphids are no exception, and in my experience will flee quickly, especially when the camera gets too close. I usually try to get the camera within three or four inches to the subject when taking macro shots. Syrphids make this challenging, and require me to creep in slowly, crawling if I have to, to get this close (not close enough in my opinion).


Erica carnea with bumblebee
Bumblebees are still very active, and seem to be living inside this small heath, foraging on its flowers til it is literally too cold to move. This was was slowed down, probably by the cold, so gave me a good shot. Bumblebees, unlike many of the small solitary bees, persist throughout the year and are good reliable pollinators because of it.

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