Bug o’the Week – Closed for June 2 – Pollinators

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Closed for June II Pollinators

Howdy, BugFans,

We’re getting a jump on National Pollinator Week (June 17 to 23) with a few articles about pollinators, which, if you like to eat or watch birds or photograph flowers or (add your favorites here ___________) are pretty indispensable.

What does it take to be a successful pollinator?  The ability to deliver pollen to multiple flowers in a short time span and the ability to transport pollen, either by general hairiness or by special pollen carrying structures.  Ants, with their smooth exteriors, impeccable grooming, and pedestrian habits, are all over flowers, but they are inefficient pollinators.


Flies are all over flowers, too – are they on the list of important pollinators?  Check this: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-much-do-flies-help-pollination-180977177/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210308-daily-responsive&spMailingID=44581828&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1960663514&spReportId=MTk2MDY2MzUxNAS2

How do pollinators find flowers?  Flowers have developed a variety of lures to attract insects, like color, UV reflections, patterns on petals that act as nectar guides, electrostatic charges, and flower size and shape.  Specialized flowers “train” their specialized visitors, with which they have evolved over millennia.  Scent is important, too, especially for nocturnal visitors.  What happens if an insect can’t smell its usual blossoms?  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/air-pollution-makes-flowers-smell-less-appealing-to-pollinators-study-suggests-180983766/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&spMailingID=49430515&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2641244472&spReportId=MjY0MTI0NDQ3MgS2

A lot has been written in the past decade about the crash of honey bee colonies.  Honey bees are, after all, responsible for pollinating about one-third of the foods we eat, accounting for about $15 billion in crop values annually (and they make honey and beeswax, too).  But, honeybees are an alien bee that was imported to pollinate alien crops, and we have many species of native bees.  Do honey bees disrupt native relationships – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41271-5?fbclid=IwAR3gFJuCvy1t3GEPCRGDW1nDzOGLjB-G0vLFiYHJtfU7TgVLTUnShMa5NJ0

Go outside – look at pollinators.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Closed for June Ii – Bugs! Love ‘em or – well — love ‘em by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Closed for June II Bugs! Love ‘em or – well — love ‘em

Howdy, BugFans,

Here’s a pot pourri of articles about insects for your enjoyment.

Bug Love: the BugLady is aware that some BugFans read Bug o’the Week selectively, skipping episodes like the one about the Cockroach (you know who you are).  Why?  Because, among other reasons, certain bugs give us the heebie-jeebies.    https://www.npr.org/2017/03/26/520250032/to-put-you-at-ease-with-creepy-crawlies-entomologists-face-your-fears?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20191031&utm_campaign=best-of-npr&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675

Crowded skies: we know that birds and bats and some charismatic insect megafauna like Monarch butterflies and Common Green Darner dragonflies migrate.  So do some of the little guys, and in Biblical numbers.  https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/22/506581610/bugs-abound-if-you-think-the-skies-are-crowded-you-have-no-idea

How long have people been enthralled by insects?  Probably since they started slapping them and scratching the bites and discovering that they occupied the same caves.  For fellow History Geeks, a timeline of entomology – (be sure to click on the picture by van Kessel) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_entomology_%E2%80%93_prior_to_1800

This week, June 19th to 25th is National Pollinator Week.  Bumble bees are the main pollinators of red clover (an important livestock food) because the nectar prize is deep in the floral tubes, and some species of long-tongued bumble bees have tongues long enough to reach it.  Here’s a guide to native pollinators: https://www.pollinator.org/pollinator.org/assets/generalFiles/3002022284_Bee-Identification-Guide.pdf.  

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bugs in the News

Howdy, BugFans,

As usual, the BugLady’s “Bugs in the News” folder runneth over, so here’s a collection of articles to chew on.  Many come from the wonderful Smithsonian Daily Newsletter, which not only posts a lot of good stuff, it doesn’t put articles behind a paywall.  Support your Smithsonian!

THANKS, POLLINATORS – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-zoo/2022/06/29/8-reasons-to-bee-in-awe-of-pollinators/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220629-daily-responsive&spMailingID=47040669&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2263232055&spReportId=MjI2MzIzMjA1NQS2

SMALL BUT MIGHTY (get in line, Ben Franklin) – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/honeybee-swarms-can-produce-as-much-electric-charge-as-a-thunderstorm-180981005/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221028daily-responsive&spMailingID=47569605&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2326297509&spReportId=MjMyNjI5NzUwOQS2

JUST MIGHTY – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-just-discovered-the-largest-invertebrate-to-ever-live-an-ancient-9-foot-millipede-180979293/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20211223-daily-responsive&spMailingID=46155101&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2142675899&spReportId=MjE0MjY3NTg5OQS2

HOW SPRINGTAILS SPRING – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/springtails-are-natures-tiny-gymnasts-videos-reveal-180981094/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221109daily-responsive&spMailingID=47620026&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2341182089&spReportId=MjM0MTE4MjA4OQS2

SPIDERWEBS TRAP SOUND – https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/03/orb-weaver-spider-uses-web-capture-sounds

ANTS MAKE MILK – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-discover-that-ants-make-a-milk-like-substance-180981237/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20221205daily-responsive&spMailingID=47722949&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2360514556&spReportId=MjM2MDUxNDU1NgS2

AND THEY SERIOUSLY OUTNUMBER US – https://www.npr.org/2022/09/21/1124216118/ants-number-study-quadrillion?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20220921&utm_term=7276606&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

BUMBLE BEES PLAY – https://www.npr.org/2022/11/05/1134355887/bumblebees-can-play-does-it-mean-they-have-feelings-study-says-yes?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20221107&utm_term=7492099&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675&utm_att1=

MOTH NAVIGATION (AND ain’t technology grand!) – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-study-how-deaths-head-hawk-moths-fly-along-a-straight-path-180980680/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220908daily-responsive&spMailingID=47344619&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2320890017&spReportId=MjMyMDg5MDAxNwS2

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Management of Late Season Composites and Their Native Pollinators

October 11 @ 9:00 am – 2:00 pm

Management of Late Season Composites and their Native Pollinators

Rescheduled from 9/27/2022

Join Riveredge Research & Conservation Director, Restoration Ecologist Randy Powers of Prairie Future Seed Co. & Dr. Laura Smith of the Pollinator Partnership for a day in the field discussing pollinator conservation and identifying a great variety of asters and goldenrod species in their habitats. Participants will get to know hard-earned tricks to tell species apart as well as become familiar with restoration and management specifications. All experience levels welcome!

All Access Members: $45 | Trail Pass Members: $50 | Non-members: $55

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October 11, 2022 @ 9:00 am 2:00 pm

4458 County Hwy Y (Hawthorne Dr)
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Bug o’the Week – Leafcutter Bees – Pollinators Extraordinaire

Bug o’the Week

Leafcutter Bees Pollinators Extraordinaire

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady loves standing next to flowers and photographing their visitors (N.B: communal nesters like honey bees, bumble bees, and paper wasps will sting to defend their nests/hives, but they’re harmless on their food sources unless you really get in their face).  Lots of insects – butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, flies, and ants – pollinate plants, but some are better at it than others.

Bees seem to have been designed to do the job.  There are more than 400 species of native bees in Wisconsin, and they pollinate native plants, ornamentals, and farm crops, alike.  Native bees are considered “keystone species” because of the profound effect they have on their communities, tending the plants that produce the fruits, seeds, nuts, and leaves that feed and shelter other animals.  Imagine what the landscape would look like if the pollinators disappeared! 

Leafcutter bees are in the family Megachilidae (Greek for “big lip,” because of their big, toothed mandibles), a family that includes leafcutter, mason, carder (the BugLady wants to find a carder bee because they have such a cool story to tell), and resin bees – all named for the materials they use to make nest chambers for their eggs.  There are about 4,100 species of Megachilids in the world (630 in North America), and they’re a cosmopolitan bunch – found just about everywhere. 

(Most) adult Megachilids drink nectar from a wide variety of plants, and many species are long-tongued, which allows them to harvest pollen and nectar deep within a flower.  There are a few black sheep in the family – brood parasites that reap the harvest of other species’ labor by waiting until an egg chamber has been provisioned and then inserting their own egg.  Their offspring will kill the rightful owner of the cache (if Mom didn’t, already), steal the food, and develop in the chamber.  It’s called kleptoparasitism. 

The stars of today’s show are the leafcutter bees in the genus Megachile.  Bugguide.net tells us several basic ways of telling bees from the often-similar wasps, yellowjackets, etc.  First, bees are hairy, and at least some of those hairs, especially those on the thorax, are plumose (branched); wasps have simple hairs.  Second, bees eat pollen, so they (the females, anyway) need to have a way to transport it.  Most bees have scopa, which is Latin for “broom” (plural – scopae) – dense, textured hairs that the pollen collects on.  The hairs of the scopae are electrostatic, and the bee uses its forelegs to move pollen that collects on its hairy exterior to its scopae.  Bumble bees and honey bees have pollen baskets rather than scopae, and some kinds of bees transport pollen by eating it. 

At first glance, some leafcutter bees look similar to dark-colored honey bees and sweat bees, but their head is disproportionally large (because it houses the bulky muscles that operate that “large lip” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1778942/bgimage).  Females have a pointed abdomen https://bugguide.net/node/view/2049111/bgimage, while males’ are blunt https://bugguide.net/node/view/2053907/bgimage).  And then there’s the scopa.  Many bees, like this long-horned bee https://bugguide.net/node/view/2046527/bgimage collect pollen in the dense hairs on their back legs, but leafcutter bees carry pollen on hairs on the underside of their abdomen https://bugguide.net/node/view/2060994/bgimage.  As Planet Bee’s bee-blog says, “This creates bright yellow/gold colored bee butts that are easy to spot” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1989844/bgimage.

About their courtship bugguide.net says, “Males of most species have enlarged light-colored front legs with a fringe of hairs and with odor glands. They use these features during mating. They partially cover the female’s eyes with their hairy legs and the odor glands are placed close to the female’s antennae.”  After they mate, the male dies, and, like other solitary bees, the female starts to construct a place for her eggs. 

Many solitary bees nest underground, but leafcutter bees mainly pick nest sites that are above ground.  They favor pre-existing insect tunnels in rotting wood, man-made holes (another common name is “wall bee”), wind chimes, pithy hollow stems like rose canes, and even abandoned snail shells.  Like other solitary bees, leafcutter bees cache provisions in chambers, deposit an egg, seal the chamber, and depart when the tunnel is complete.  A tunnel may be 8” long and contain a dozen chambers, each housing a single egg, and she may make several tunnels. 

For her young, she collects nectar and pollen, and she uses her saliva (which may have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties) to fashion them into a “loaf” of bee bread.  The larvae hatch and eat and grow, and sources disagree about whether they overwinter in a prepupal stage and then finish their metamorphosis in spring, or whether the mature larvae pupate and emerge as adults in fall, waiting out the winter within their cells, and chewing out in spring.

Leafcutter bees are famous for two things, and one of them is cutting leaves, which they do in order to build a more hospitable egg chamber for the next generation. 

The tunnel she fashions into a nursery for her eggs is lined with overlapping ovals of leaves (or in the case of simpler-jawed species, of petals) that form a narrow cylinder (to seal the door to each cell she cuts a circle).  Each egg chamber is separated from the others by a wall made up of chewed leaves and resin https://bugguide.net/node/view/1252173.  Scroll down to the video of a bee in action https://wisconsinpollinators.com/Bee/B_LeafcutterBee.aspx, and here are pictures of bees carrying pieces of leaves: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1851490/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/2034354/bgimage.  During her life, a female may carve off 10,000 tiny, green discs.  White ash, Virginia creeper, lilac, and rose are favorite leaves.   

The other thing they’re famous for is pollination: https://bugguide.net/node/view/2060993/bgimage   https://bugguide.net/node/view/1985225/bgimage.  Leafcutter bees scramble all over the flowers they land on; the pollen they carry under their abdomen is loosely held, and it dusts each blossom, sharing the wealth (a honey bee wets the pollen so that it sticks to her legs better; the pollen she spreads is that which is caught on the hairs of her body).  Because leafcutter bees are homebodies, probably living their whole lives within 100 yards of their nest tunnels, the flowers they pollinate are neighborhood flowers. 

According to the US Agricultural Research Service, the efforts of one alfalfa leafcutter bee are equal to that of 20 honeybees, and in greenhouses, 150 leaf cutter bees = 3,000 honey bees.  They are important pollinators of crops from alfalfa to blueberries to sunflowers, and like honeybees, they are used commercially.  Farmers provide bee boards for the bees to nest in, shelter them during winter, and put them out for the next growing season.  

How can we help these very helpful, but unsung, creatures?  By not disturbing their nests (the BugLady doesn’t take in her wind chimes in winter, because so many things are nesting in it) and by hanging Bee Hotels, bundles of tubes, in your yard (here’s a bee using one https://bugguide.net/node/view/1879948/bgimage).  There are many designs available online for DIY folks, or you can buy them in garden stores.  Solitary bees are not aggressive, only stinging if you decide to handle one, and a leafcutter bee is more likely to bite than sting.  One source said that watching bee houses is as entertaining as watching bird houses! 

Awesome pictures at – https://www.flawildflowers.org/know-your-native-pollinators-leafcutter-bees/

Go outside – thank a pollinator!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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