Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bees and their Comrades

Honeybee on Erica carnea
A day of warm weather with clear skies gave the bees a chance to venture out from the hive for the first time in weeks. Immediately I noticed a few bees working the Winter heath, Erica carnea. This is interesting, because in past years I have seen bumblebees on this plant while the honeybees have shown no interest in it. No bumblebees yet this year that I have seen. There are also fewer flowers after a deer snacked on most of them before deciding it didn't like it. Early nectar sources like this are crucial to honeybees this time of year, because they survive the Winter by feeding on honey from the previous year which has surely gotten low at this point.

Taraxacum officinale with a tiny Chalcidae wasp (top right)
Only a few other flowers are blooming now, including a few dandelions. Honeybees will work these, but typically only when they are abundant. One or two flowers scattered around the lawn will attract few to none. However, a group of them on, say, a dozen plants will probably get noticed.

Crocus sieberi
The only other thing blooming in my yard are the very early Crocus sieberi, with C. chrysanthus to follow. They have attracted few honeybees in the past few years, or ever as far as I know, perhaps as a result of blooming so early when conditions are too cold/wet for honeybees to venture out from the hives. These species also appear to yield less pollen than the large Dutch crocuses (C. vernus) which have historically attracted many bees.

Honeybee with a load of pollen
Despite the lack of flowers in my garden, honeybees are bringing in pollen from another source. My hypothesis is the pollen is being collected from filbert trees (Corlyus sp.) which are blooming prolifically alongside the rivers and creeks right now, soon to be followed by the willows (Salix sp.), alder (Alnus sp.), maples (Acer sp.), and others. Fruit trees (Prunus, Malus, etc.) and madrone (Arbutus menziesii) follow, all excellent sources of pollen and nectar.

Honeybee meeting
Honeybees greet each other as they return to the hive, clean each other, find out where the good flowers are at, and check for intruders. There was some nectar robbing going on, evident by the squabbles occurring around the hives. One hive did not appear to have any bees returning with pollen, and did not respond when I knocked on the side, indicating it is no longer alive, but instead being looted by the stronger neighbor hive. This is sad news if it is true, and I hope I am wrong. Hopefully it is not the result of mites.

Blow fly (family Calliphoridae)
 A variety of visitors were attracted to the scent of the hives on this sunny day.

Scathophaga sp.
Lucilia sp.
Lasioglossum and Lucilia
I noticed this small bee (top left) hanging around the side of the seemingly inactive hive. It is a member of the genus Lasioglossum, a small (sometimes social) ground nesting bee. It must have been attracted to the scent of the hive.

Lasioglossum and Apis
Strangely, it was left alone by the honeybees. This was, of course, on the apparently dead hive, so there wasn't anything to defend. This photo illustrates the size differential.

Alucita sp.
Not quite near the hive, but interesting enough, was this tiny many-plumed moth (family Alucitidae). In this photo, one can see why they are called many-plumed moths, their wings are not scaled like most moths and butterflies but rather composed of "feathers" with alternating colors. This creature was no wider than the width of a dime, smaller even, with its' wings expanded.

Apis on Erica carnea
One more view of a honeybee visiting the heath. Another sign of Spring! There will be more to come!


  1. as a beekeeper i greatly appreciate your comments on what's blooming now that bees are attracted to. Thank you!

  2. The Alucita (Alucitidae) is known as 'many-plumed moth' to me, 'plume moth' fits Pterophoridae. Have you seen the Alucita also at nectar on the Muscari? So far I have nothing on Alucita except that it noted as using Symphoricarpos species as hostplants.


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