randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
Another story about this happy return, which I previously noted last July. Choice tidbit: 'Farmers value bumblebees because they use their tiny jaws to bite and shake each flower, a distinctive and efficient pollen-dislodging practice known as "buzz pollination." Humans can mimic buzz pollination with various gadgets, including electric toothbrushes ... '
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
Via the University of Wasington News and Information Office (hello, [livejournal.com profile] wrdnrd), here's an interesting squib in the Guardian about a study of urban bees being conducted by researchers at the University of Washington. The study, which uses local gardeners ("citizen scientists") to gather data, is called the Urban Pollination Project.

What I found most interesting about all this is this claim by the Guardian: "The aim of the project is to understand which bumble bee and solitary bees are pollinating the city and to make conclusions about what bees need to survive in urban environments. This is important because with the growth of intensive agriculture production, the countryside is becoming less bee-friendly, so cities, with their community gardens and allotments and street trees and parks have the potential to become bee havens." I can't actually find anything on the UPP site that articulates this goal, but the idea of cities as bee havens is immediately appealing to me.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
Native bee species spotted for first time since ’90s

Funny thing is I don't remember ever seeing white-butted bumblebees, which this article says "were once among the most common bumblebees in the Western United States." Just goes to show how unobservant I've been all these years. To my eyes bumblebees were always just black and yellow. Is that because that's how they were drawn, so I saw what I was expected to see?
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
I have just discovered that this week is National Pollinator Week: 'Six years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.'

So go out and pollinate something. The bees need your help. I'm not sure about the beetles. (Beetles are pollinators?!!!!)
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
Poppy bees

Honeybees in a poppy

[Previously posted to Facebook, but this is cropped differently.]
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
New plants today:

Salvia nemorosa ('May Night' Meadow Sage)
Lavandula angustifolia ('Violet Intrigue' English Lavender)
Echinacea purpurea ('Ruby Star' Purple Coneflower)
Eryngium something ('something' Sea Holly)

It was a nice day today, and I also trimmed a couple of box hebes, pruned the California lilac (ceanothus), pulled weeds, and generally did enough to make my shoulder muscles sore. It's been a chilly spring, so things are getting off to a late start. The nursery had a Spanish lavender that I also coveted, and I think I know where it could go now. Bees like lavender, oh yes they do.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
The Seattle Times ran an article yesterday about wild lupine and the part it plays in the local ecology. Amongst other things lupine was the first thing to spring up in the Mt St Helens pumice. The thing that caught my eye, however, was that lupine has evolved to react to the native bumblebee: "The blossoms include an ingenious spring-loaded mechanism, triggered when the bee's weight opens the flower. That trips a dusting of saffron-colored pollen popped loose from 15 tiny anthers."

I planted a lupine in my bee-friendly garden this year, but since it's apparently a June bloomer, I guess it won't flower until next year, because it certainly isn't blooming right now. I wish I had planted more than one now, but there's time enough for that. The bee-friendly garden is nothing if not a long-term project and process of self-education.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
A question my spam asks me, in one form or another, almost every day. The answer is always that there is no good reason, especially at this late date, so why not talk about bees instead? After all, bees never worry about their peter size.

So there's a shrub growing against the back of our house that flowers this time of year. I don't know the name of the plant. Denys planted it many years ago, and I keep forgetting to ask him if he remembers the name. (Hey, Denys, do you remember the name of that plant?) Anyway, I hadn't previously noticed that bees like those flowers, but they do. I've checked out the bees on that plant several times this year, and every time there have been at least a half dozen honeybees. It's the only place I've seen honeybees in my yard this year, and I've only seen two other honeybees in the yard in the past I don't know how many years. Five? What's particularly strange to me is that I'm seeing them on this plant but haven't see any in the raspberries. They used to be all over the raspberries before the big Colony Collapse Disorder honeybee die-off in recent years. Or maybe they were in the raspberries too and I just didn't notice them, since they're still so few.

Whatever the case, possible signs of recovery in the honeybee population. Or it could be just a random fluctuation, I suppose. My boss says he's just discovered a hive of them in an old birdhouse on his property near Briar. Hm, the birds and the bees? That brings us back to peter size ...
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
Disease dooming native bumblebees

They work in the cold when honeybees are still snug in their hives, and cloudy days don't stop them either.

Bumblebees are workhorse pollinators, depended on to pollinate everything from cranberries and blueberries to hothouse tomatoes.

But native bumblebees are in trouble, victims of diseases some scientists say are spread by commercial bumblebees shipped around North America to pollinate crops.

While much attention has been given to the plight of European honeybees, dying in droves in so-called colony collapse disorder, the sharp decline of some species of native bumblebees has been largely overlooked.

So much for my observation that local bumblebee populations have actually increased in the wake of the die-off of honeybees. Then again, it could be that native bumblebees are more threatened in agricultural areas where the commercial bees are more likely to be introduced. It could be that in non-agricultural urban areas like my neighborhood they're doing fine.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
The Seattle Times reports on something some of us have noticed in our own gardens for quite a while now: where the European honeybee has died back, the native bumblebees have stepped in to fill the pollinator niche.

This doesn't necessarily help farmers of monocrops, because native bees require a diverse habitat to thrive. An interesting tidbit from this article that I hadn't known: "In recognition of the pollinator problem, Congress in the 2008 farm bill included cost sharing to encourage farmers to plant some of their land just for bugs, to diversify the nation's pollinator portfolio with more native bees and other beneficial insects." Nice to be reminded that Congress isn't completely useless! I'm still working my way slowly toward helping out with this project by planting a garden that's friendly to native bees.

The article also reports on yet another theory about what's causing Colony Collapse Disorder amongst the European honeybees. Still inconclusive, it looks to me.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
So we're probably all familiar with the idea of micro-climates, where my east-facing hillside near the lake may have an appreciably different climate from your your south-facing slope a half mile inland from the lake. Well, what about micro-ecologies? As I've written before, I haven't seen more than a stray pair of honeybees around my house in a number of years. We used to get them in the raspberries every year, but no longer. It's mostly just bumblebees now. I've attributed their disappearance to the two big die-offs of honeybees in the past decade. However, I just now spotted a flowering hedge at 42nd and 11th here in the U District that was full of honeybees. Now I'm wondering whether there was a hive in the old cherry tree across the alley from us, and whether the honeybees disappeared when the cherry tree was cut down to make way for townhouses.

So now I'm curious whether any Seattlites reading this have seen honeybees in their neighborhoods. (I know that [livejournal.com profile] akirlu and [livejournal.com profile] libertango see them at their place in Kent.)
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
The ceanothus hedge out front has bloomed, and it is crawling with bees. I saw honeybees in two different places on Vancouver Island the past couple of weekends, but I still don't see any around here. The ceanothus is crawling with two different kinds of bumblebee. I saw some bumblebees at Mossybanks on Sunday that looked absolutely enormous in comparison. They looked two or three times as big as the larger of the two types that I see around our house. It's also curious that there are a bunch of ceanothus bushes along the Burke-Gilman trail that bloom before mine do and don't ever have any bees on them. The flower clusters are almost identical; maybe a little smaller. Are they different enough that they don't attract bees, or are there no bees in the vicinity? Hard to believe the latter is true, but then I have no idea where the bumblebees in our neighborhood live, unless it's in the dead trees in the park up the street.

Update: Closer inspection of the ceanothus this morning discovered a third variety of bee. It looked somewhat like a honeybee, but maybe a little larger and with slightly different coloring. I'm far from an expert on the matter, but perhaps this was the elusive mason bee that I keep hearing about.

I also spotted two more ceanothuses in bloom on 36th as I walked to work -- one of them with bees, the other without. I'm still curious why the difference.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
The Economist says that the honeybees are recovering their numbers, at least in California. The theory put forth here is that Colony Collapse Disorder was the result of malnutrition that weakened their immune systems.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
A rather fluffy piece in today's Seattle Times on creating a bee-friendly garden reminded me that a couple of days ago I saw two honeybees working the flowers on the broadleaf plant out front. (Thought that plant was called a bear claw, but can't confirm it via googling.) Those were the first honeybees I've seen in my yard in several years. There have been two big die-offs amongst honeybees in the past decade, and the current one -- a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder in which whole colonies die -- is ongoing. Now it sounds as though something similar is happening to bats.

Anyway, I was curious whether those two bees represented a return of honeybees around here or if they're just part of a surviving rump population.

Speaking of bee-friendly gardens, I haven't made much progress on mine, although I did bust a little more sod last weekend when I was weeding the yard. Part of the reason for the goddamned bee-friendly garden is to get rid of more lawn so I don't have to weed it anymore! Well, one good idea I got from the SeaTimes' fluff piece was that dead logs make good places for bees to nest in. I've got an old stump from a butterfly bush sitting around in my back yard, so this gives me something to use it for. (Wow, two sentences in a row with dangling prepositions! Loose living.) One nice thing about taking one's time with a project is that it allows ideas to accrete. Yeah, that's why I'm taking my time, yeah, exactly.
randy_byers: (Default)
So I have a head cold, huzzah. Stayed home the last two days while it got worse, but I think it's as bad as it's going to get now. (Knock would.) Yesterday as I was heating some soup, I went out and looked at the bees in the ceanothus again. I noticed some bees that had a distinctive orangish section in the abdomen, and googling makes me think they might be red-tailed bumblebees. I looked at the bees in the raspberries too, and finally saw an orchard mason bee, which I'm sure in the past I would have thought was a fly. Would I have wondered why a fly was crawling around so purposefully on a flower? And I'm now wondering whether the other very hairy bees I'm seeing in the ceanothus are actually bumblebees of various types, because they're so much bigger than the orchard mason bee. As you can see in the red-tailed bumblebee, there can be a lot of variation in coloration of bumblebees.

This morning I was thinking about Marija Gimbutas' books about the neolithic great goddess. Her theories may well be bogus, but she at least is looking at primary evidence, such as the decorations on pottery. I seem to recall that she wrote about bee imagery and bee-headed goddesses. Symbols of reproduction, no doubt. Makes me wonder how far back bee-keeping goes. I suppose that as soon as agriculture became a mainstay of food-production, bees became important too. Were they important to humans before agriculture, just as a symbol of natural fecundity?

Update: A kindly lurker (my housemate) has pointed me toward a page that led to a page at Evergreen State about local bumblebees with the following enlightening comment: "Bombus are notorious for having considerable variation in coloring within a species. One reason for this is a single species may be involved in different mimicry systems in different parts of the species' range (see mimicry). This variation makes taxonomy difficult. It is often hard to define a species, and even harder to define subspecies. A common method is to look for discrete forms in sympatry (occurring in the same area), this reveals two distinct species. The variation in coloring within a species is more extreme with male Bombus than females. To identify males, it is usually necessary to dissect the genitalia."

Um, ouch? I'd say that this makes taxonomy not just difficult, but torture!

Bee crack

May. 20th, 2007 07:07 pm
randy_byers: (Default)
Well, it's been a relatively productive weekend, despite the fact that I seem to be trying to get sick. It pissed rain this afternoon, but yesterday I mowed the lawn when the weather warmed up after some morning showers. The ceanothus hedge out front is blooming, and I stopped mowing long enough to look at the many bees that had congregated in the hedge. It does seem to be mostly something like mason bees, including hornfaced bees but several other varieties as well, plus a couple of different bumble bees, and a much smaller bee too, even smaller than a honeybee, but with a similar hairless, striped abdomen. The ceanothus is a bee magnet, that's for sure. Hadn't seen half those bees in the raspberries.

I also finished a sercon piece about early SF for Rich Coad, grappling in the end with the evolution of the alien. It sucks, dang it, but writing actual criticism is a good break from personal journalism. Such as:

all you boys
lonely and drunk
on your knees

Which is lyrics from LCD Soundsystem, "Us v. Them", and a good description of life for a fair few of us, or them, at least if I'm reading LJ correctly.

Have watched Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief twice this weekend, once with meandering commentary by Peter Bogdanovich and Laurent Bouzereau. (Priceless moment: when Bogdanovich responds to the French Bouzereau's comment that Under Capricorn was Hitchcock's only costume picture with, "The French think highly of it.") To Catch a Thief has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock films, despite its determined inconsequence, at least partly because Grace Kelly is the only screen gem worth being stolen by, at least when it's Hitchcock's screening. Or as Cary Grant puts it, "You know, back home in Oregon we'd call you a headstrong girl."

(To which she knowingly replies, "Where in Oregon, the Rogue River?")

Was that productive? Well, the bees were reproductive instead, I suppose. The mason bees in the ceanothus had big balls of orange pollen on their legs, and that's how plants have sex. Growing things are going to be happy after the heavy rain this afternoon, too. As for me, I'm happy to have finished writing, once and for all. Urgle. Hope I can fight off this bug.
randy_byers: (Default)
The raspberries have just started to blossom, and I saw my first bee of the year. I still don't know what kind they are. This one was pretty much as I remembered the bees that have shown up the past couple of years since the local wild honey bees apparently died off. It was a little bit bigger than a honey bee, quite hairy, with bands or areas of black and a pale, buttery yellow. It may be a mason bee, but it's not the Orchard Mason Bee, which seems to be all black with a metallic green or blue sheen, from the pictures I've seen. Is this some kind of bumblebee instead? I guess I did see a bumblebee earlier this year -- not in my garden -- that was what I think of as the traditional kind, with lots of black and a few bands of bright yellow.

This hornfaced bee is close in coloration and hairiness to the bee I saw in the raspberries. I guess the hornfaced bee is another type of mason bee, so maybe that's it. I'll have to look for the horns next time.

Hm, just stumbled upon this page about the type of garden plants that attract mason bees. Raspberries are on the list. "There are about 3,500 species of native bees in the USA," it says. Good luck identifying the species in your garden, it might as well say.
randy_byers: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] akirlu recently posted about a huge die-off of whole honeybee colonies that's being reported around the country. A story in the LA Times says that scientists have some new theories about what's causing it. It possibly involves a single-cell fungal parasite called Nosema ceranae that has wiped out colonies in Europe and Asia as well. The LA Times story includes a lot of interesting tidbits about bee pests and pathogens. For example, the Varroa mite, which also kills lots of bees, is itself infected by a virus that is then passed along to the bees. Pests within pests within pests!

Colony Collapse Disorder is such a strange, literal, bludgeoning name. Whatever is causing it, it has killed off a quarter of the commercial honeybee colonies in the US.


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