Honeybees

honey-bee-in-flightWe’ve heard a lot about honeybees in the news, and you humans are very concerned about their decline, but did you realize they aren’t even native? We squirrels kind of knew that, but it’s not like we keep track of your human activities. Even the ‘wild’ bees are escaped from domestic colonies brought to North America, according to the Bug Guide website’s article on bees. (Can you tell we love that website?)

First, the decline. It started in the mid 2000s and is still somewhat of a mystery. Read here for more on how Colony Collapse Disaster unfolded: Earthjustice’s The Perfect Crime: What’s Killing all the bees?

Second, take a gander at some honeybees to you can identify them.

honey-bee-on-a-sneezeweed

Honeybee on a sneezeweed.

honey-bee-on-a-butterfly-bush

Honeybee on a Butterfly Bush

honey-bee-on-a-zinnia

This Honeybee on a Zinnia has pollen sacs on his legs filled with pollen.

Have you ever seen bees swarm?

honeybees-swarming

See all the little gold dots? Bees.

honeybees-moving-into-tree

It takes them a bit to gather after they leave. See the thickening of bees on the branch on the upper right?

honeybee-swarm-1

And the branch below it!

honeybee-swarm-collecting-on-branch

They take a bit to get organized into one swarm.

honeybee-swarm-gathering-before-they-move-on

Then they collect and rest before taking off again. We squirrels don’t want to be in the treetops when this happens, but it’s an amazing thing to watch!

Just how important are honeybees? We squirrels believe our readers know, but if you still haven’t had enough of reading about bees, check out Earthjustice’s 11 Bee facts that will have you buzzing.

A honeybee is a wasp who turned vegetarian.

Did you humans know this? We squirrels didn’t. But doing our bee research–actually trying to identify some bees–we learned that honeybees descended from wasps and they aren’t at all good at pollinating some vegetables that originated in North America, like blueberries!

Rather than chitter and chatter about these neat facts, we suggest you readers just go to the Native Bees of North America article on Bug Guide, especially if you have some of those ‘other’ bees and wasps hanging about your garden and want some confirmation they belong.

Or maybe you’d like to know what they are? We did.

Because wasps and hornets are the older species, it only seems right to let them go first. And stay a respectable distance away–this is all the closer Hickory wanted to get to this European Hornet.

european hornet

When they are all black and yellow (or white!), how can you tell it’s a wasp and not a bee? Wasps have little or no hair on their bodies. Their legs hang down while they fly. And maybe you don’t want to get this close to look at one’s face…

european hornet face

but those are biting mouth parts, not sipping ones! Wasps and hornets eat other insects, which is a really good thing in the animal world! Even squirrels leap aside when we see that warning flash of yellow and black–a sting will hurt! But wasps kill and eat many harmful insects…insects that eat your human foods. Insects that eat our food! One tiny wasp feeds on the eggs of Gypsy Moths, which like to eat White Oak leaves, which harms our acorn supply!

You humans have probably all seen a paper wasp nest. Here are the paper wasps.

paper wasp

They live in colonies like honeybees do, and feed on caterpillars, flies and beetle larvae–all of which eat garden plants–so are a huge help to humans growing food.

Most wasps live alone. The potter wasp makes its own little home out of clay.

potter wasp

But they are really hard to find. (In other words, send us a photo if you have one to share!) Other bees hide over winter in hollow stems. You can help them by not cleaning up your yard too much. Or if you do cut those dried flower stalks, set them in a corner until spring warms up. Or consider making and maintaining a ‘bee hotel’.

wasp and bee house

No, it doesn’t need to have this many rooms, and yes, we mentioned maintaining. It’s not something you can just put up and leave alone, according to The Pollinator Garden. These insects can fall ill if the hotel becomes moldy, or is placed in a spot that gets too wet. This website offers detailed instructions, for both Britain Isles and North American species. Start with The Pollinator Garden’s Make A Bee Hotel guide for Britain, which has most of the details and valuable cautions and links, and look for the North American link at the bottom.

Wasps and hornets may scare you humans since you don’t have protective fur, but every species helps our natural world in some way, so we encourage you to give them a chance!

We survived!

The Blogging From A to Z Challenge has issued a survivor badge for completing the April challenge of posting blogs related to all 26 letters of the alphabet! We hope to pull together a reflections post, but in the meantime, admire our colorful new badge, created by Jeremy @ Hollywood Nuts. Thanks, Jeremy!

survivor-atoz 2016

(We think the A to Z team has outdone themselves this year!)

T is for Towhee

Eastern Towhee female

Ol’ Wally remembers when Towhees were called Rufous-sided Towhees–see the reddish side feathers–but you humans have shortened that to Eastern Towhee.

We see the Towhees when we’re digging in the underbrush looking for acorns we hid. They like thickets and and though the males are most strikingly marked, they’re good at hiding in dense foliage.

Eastern Towhee with red eyes

Females like this one are particularly hard to see with their more brownish coloring. That makes hiding while hatching eggs easy, though doesn’t explain why they have red eyes.

G is for Grape Hyacinths

Grape Hyacinths

Ok, this isn’t a native plant, but it does bloom early in the spring and lasts longer than a tulip. See how the flowers at the bottom are open but the buds at the top aren’t? It’s also pretty hardy–they lasted through the freeze we had earlier this week. Plants like this help out insects by filling in with steady nectar supplies while everything else gets going. Consider how you can provide overlapping blooms in your garden to help wildlife!

D is for Darned-good Drainage Ditch

Sadly, D did not fall on Thursday–for Ol’ Wally’s Thirsty Thursday column–but I gratefully took his advice to post this fabulous D entry for the letter.

drainage ditch made of rock

This type of drainage ditch always gets our votes! It is not concrete, it’s permeable! Permeable is oh-so superior because it allows the water to seep into the soil instead of shooting it off somewhere else. That ‘somewhere else’ usually has too much water and leaves the original spot with too little. Also, all those rocks are a huge benefit. They provide more surfaces to hit so a stream is forced to slow and spread and seep.