Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Floral Visitors 3

With winter nearing its weak grip on us (like a limp handshake) the flowers begin to hint an the proliferation to come, and the insects rejoice! Unlike people, who yearn for the end of winter to SEE the flowers, many insects REQUIRE them to survive.

This is, in part, why I have such an aversion to doubled flowers. If you don't know, "double" means some or all of the reproductive structures (anthers, stigma) are replaced by petals (think of a rose), a genetic mishap. Not only does this mean there's less pollen for the foraging insects but all the extra petals can prevent the insect from accessing the nectar. Less importantly, the reproductive structures are often the most interesting parts of any flower, in my opinion. And it seems I'm not alone in this, the insects are partial to them too:

Ranunculus sp. with fly
I have for a long time suspected buttercups as being fly pollinated. Literature has described the pollen and nectar of Ranunculus as being toxic to bees. Somehow, they seem to know this so avoid the flowers. I have observed hundreds of beehives in a field of buttercups without a single bee showing any interest in the little yellow flowers. It was fascinating!

Erodium cicutarium with fly
Flies hve also shown a minor interest in Erodium. For such diminutive flowers, they have shown to be attractive to a wide range of insects. In a short observation, honeybees, tiny solitary bees, Syrphid flies, and the odd butterfly were all seen landing on the flowers, which last only one day each. The tiny flowers are less than 3/8" across, by the way, but they form a carpet on an area of the "lawn" with apparently poor soil (little competition from taller more robust weeds).
Anemone coronaria with fly
The poppy-flowered anemone, Anemone coronaria, is primarily a beetle pollinated species in its native Israel. In my garden, it is rare that the deer leave a few uneaten for me to observe. I have never seen bees visit the flowers, and to date this one fly is the only floral visitor I have witnessed taking an interest.
Anemone blanda with honeybee
The Grecian windflower is native to Greece and Turkey, and into Syria. A diminutive species, it has in past years been completely ignored by all but a few syrphid flies. Every year I plant more and more of them, and this year there must be enough planted around the yard to entice the honeybees, fickle as they are, to forage on it. Bumblebees occasionally visit the flowers, as well as many syrphids who eat the pollen. See a video of a syrphid on A. blanda here. It's a bit shake, because the syrphids don't like when I get too close. Watch as the fly's proboscis moves in and out on the flower. I suggest viewing it in full screen and selecting the high-def version.

Hyacinthus orientalis hybrid with honeybee
Honeybees have going crazy over the hyacinths, though to be honest there are only about six or seven of them in my garden. I watched as two or even three bees worked a single scape at a time. I was out in the garden with my daughter, four months away from turning two years old, and we were watching the bees. I recorded the bees on a blue hyacinth here, and my daughter helped with the soundtrack. Notice the bees have collected loads of pollen, but are also diving deep to get at the nectar. The pollen they are collecting is inadvertent, as there is no way to bypass the anthers to get to the nectar. However it is collected, the bees clean themselves off periodically and pack it into their corbicula (pollen baskets) as they go.

Hyacinthus orientalis with earwig (Dermoptera) in the evening
On a brief stroll through in the dark, I was tempted to check out the flowers of the garden to see what I could find. Lo and behold, I spotted these pincher bugs inside the florets of the hyacinths. I have observed these bugs on a few nocturnal occasions of different flowers over the years, suggesting that they may play a small role as pollinators, if only part time. It is hard to say whether they are there for the pollen or nectar, but my guess would be the protein rich pollen. It goes to show that earwigs shouldn't be passed off as pests. They serve other roles as well, such as eating dead plant material and aiding in the decomposition process. A few bites of a living plant is a small price to pay.

Narcissus hybrid with earwig
This was a first for me, seeing an earwig in a daffodil. I suspect that in this case it is more of a hiding place than a food source, but the ample pollen could have enticed the insect there in the first place. I think that when a Narcissus flower is opening, so fresh and new, is when it is at its most beautiful. Perhaps the earwig thought the same thing, or maybe it crawled in when it was more hidden, before it began to open (they open rapidly).

Narcissus 'Jetfire' with solitary bee
Bees and even spiders find solace inside the flowers of Narcissus. The mini-greenhouse effect created by the corona may be what draws the insects in, pollination may then be incidental. Nonetheless, I will always take the opportunity to catch bees in the act on these flowers. Strangely, I have not seen bumblebees visit Narcissus flowers yet, perhaps when more are blooming and the flower density increases they will become interested. I was amazed to see a few honeybees expressing curiosity in a few Narcissus blossoms, but apparently embarrassed by being seen on them they fled before I could take a decent photo.

Crocus vernus 'Jeanne d'Arc' with solitary bee
The small solitary bee here, possibly a species of Andrena, was spotted again on this white Dutch Crocus. Covered in pollen, the bee must have been busy! I didn't notice until I looked at the picture on the computer, but there is something strange about the stigma! What peculiar behavior for a caterpillar! It fooled me! I wonder what brought it to this flower? And that it appeared to be mimicking the reproductive structures of a plant from across the ocean is extremely fascinating to me. Surprises like this are why I love nature.

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