Butterflies on your flowers means…

…caterpillars eating your their leaves. All around our neighborhood, we’re seeing eaten leaves.

On burdock.

On the coneflowers.

On pink turtleheads.

On dogbane.

And upon closer inspection, we found a few caterpillars, too.

The dogbane caterpillars were quite conspicuous in the protective webbing at the ends of the leaves. We’re not sure if this is Fall Webworm. They have the yellow body and the dots, so we’ll have to keep watch and see if they develop the hairs as the younger caterpillars grow and shed their skin.

Underneath a coneflower leaf, we discovered a clump of black spiky caterpillars hanging out.

After doing some looking around, Ms. Flora determined that they are likely Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars–which we’ve seen on the flowers! So that’s a good match. Check out Growing the Home Garden’s website for some photos of them as they grow.

Something concerns us though. Some of the flower gardeners who commented were ready to ‘get rid of’–kill–the caterpillars on their flowers. Sad. The way the insect populations are plummeting these days with pesticide use, nature needs every caterpillar out there. Many of these caterpillars never make it into their chrysalis because they are picked off by wrens and other alert, insect-eating birds to feed their young. We squirrels also, ahem, don’t mind a few insect snacks.

We hope a few more of you humans might be willing to accept a few bug-eaten plants to keep our world thriving.

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Have you seen a swallowtail?

No kidding, years ago, we’d see dozens of these big guys. This year, this tiger swallowtail is the first we’ve seen in this bushy garden. True, the these Joe Pye Weed flowers just began blooming, but the dogbane has been in flower for a month and attracting all kinds of bees… Just no butterflies.

What’s your swallowtail count?

Happy Pollinator Week!

Yes, pollinators have the support of a week dedicated to them, just like squirrels do! (That shows you how important they are. Squirrel Week IX was back in April when we were doing out Blogging From A to Z Challenge, so we, um, missed it.)

Pollinator Partnership sponsors this activity to coordinate events and raise awareness about the need for pollinator health.

We’ve tried to do that here, without any coordination, and we trust that our human readers are interested in keeping our natural world healthy, not just squirrels activities. We put out a bee and wasp quiz after featuring bees in 2016. This is a fun look at our most common bees and was a lot of work for Hickory to collect for a Mystery post, so we will just post that here for you to return to: One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve — Bee Quiz.

Pollinators aren’t just bees…so maybe we will get together another post–quiz?– by the end of pollinator week. But for today, we have some bee identification resources for you.

In that bee quiz, we suggested using the Native Bees of North America on Bug Guide to identify your bees. We’ve found another site specific to Bumble Bees that is more detailed in breaking down each part of the bee that you need to look at to make an accurate identification: Bumble Bee Watch. You can even submit your bumblebee photos and go through the guided key to identify your local species.

We gave it a go, because Hickory and I have pretty good photos, right? Hmm. Take this group of the same bee foraging on a Purple Turtlehead.

We know the location, the date, the plant the bee is on. We have a great view of his side and tip of his abdomen. But the bee face is missing! And so is the very top of the bee’s thorax. And we can’t see how the yellow bands merge with the black ones, which can take many, many shapes. You need to have these bee parts to identify the bee!

Bumble Bee Watch has a very clear tips on how to photograph bees for identification. We get close enough–bumble bees are focused on getting their nectar and pollen supplies when they visit a flower, so don’t worry about being stung. But in the future, we will take more photos from different angles–especially if the bee is on the flower for as long as this one was!

Bumble Bee Watch has a nice gallery of dozens of bumblebees showing their identification features, flowers, and range. So even if you don’t submit a photo, you can learn a lot!

Have you tried to identify a bee? What resources did you use? We’re sure we haven’t found them all yet!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We have a flower and an…insect for you identify today.

Give me your best guesses in the comments and I’ll check back later!

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Here’s a little hint:

This tree is blooming now–it’s a Hawthorn, Crataegus sp., sometimes called May-tree (it blooms in May), thornapple or hawberry–because all of those pollinated flowers become little red fruits or ‘apples’ in the fall.

The insect doing the pollinating is a honeybee – family identifiable by the yellow and black stripes on its abdomen. Many insects were visiting these flowers the day Nutmeg and I ran down to visit it, including what we think is a mason bee.

The all black abdomen matches the bees we see going in and out of the mason bee house.

The branches of the hawthorn are loaded with flowers and insects seeking the nectar and pollen. If you look closely, you might see a few that scattered off when I shook the branches!

Trees & Shrubs for Bees ~ Our 2019 Blogging from A to Z Challenge Reflections

This year was the 10th year anniversary for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and the 8th year anniversary for us squirrels. In fact, we began our blogging in 2012 with this challenge.

We’re both proud and excited to complete our challenge. If you’ve spent any time poking around our website, you’ve likely noticed the line of ‘survivor badges’ our sidebar. We have not been able to find this year’s–and it’s not for lack of digging around! (Ok, Hickory found it–we have to complete a survey first. Ha, good way to get us to do that!)

On the A to Z site’s master list, we are number 592 of 685 blogs that sign-up this year. It’s the first time we’ve had a theme other than local nature observations from our neighborhood in suburban Washington, D. C. Our focus on woody plants that provide our bee neighbors bigger supplies of nectar and pollen is a very timely theme, one we are seeing more frequently in your human news as insect populations decline.

This is a scary thing for us. Our favorite food–acorns–are wind pollinated, but we squirrels eat a variety of other foods as well, including a lot of other nuts, berries, and yes, insects. We bet you humans might like a variety in your diet as well. I’m sure you can see where we are headed with this: we all need to be scared…and we all need to do something to help. Anything, no matter how small you think it may be.

Our April posts included: Fifteen flowering trees that help bees. Nine flowering shrubs that help bees. One insect that feeds on a tree. One structure that you can offer to supplement bee housing. We saw another blogger list his prior year’s posts in a review, so we’re offering that here.

The A to Z site suggested several questions that we might reflect on. We liked this one:

What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge?

Our best moment was discovering that though we made a point about including native and honey bees, we honestly were thinking more about those hive bees, the colony dwellers. Right up until three-quarters of the way through the month when Hickory checked in on that mason bee house and discovered that the native bees were using it. That thing went up April 1st!

Within 3 weeks the bees were using half the tubes. We had no idea there were that many bees around. That many bees in need of places to lay eggs so desperately that they found this one house on a fence in one back yard.

See? Any little thing that you might do helps!

Read other 2019 A to Z Reflections here.

Thank you to Jeremy for the fantastic A to Z graphic–not just this year, but every year!

Thanks for being with us on this journey!

No, we have not buried ourselves!

We are just tired. Blogging for month takes a lot out of a squirrel. We are pulling together the entire Trees and Shrubs for Bees list for a post and that plus the unexpected heat, got he better of us.

While you wait for us, enjoy this new White Fringetree the humans win our neighborhood planted last year.

 

Z is for witch haZel

Again! (We used witch hazel in our 2018 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, too!) There just aren’t enough ‘Z’ names in nature. But we’re lucky witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has a Z in there for our Trees for Bees posts.

The native witch hazel becomes a small tree–to 25 feet–in the shady understory of the forest, but there are also many shrub forms of this species available. They may bloom at different times, like very early spring.

The native tree’s flower blooms in the fall, right around Halloween, and the long, stringy, yellow petals look like spiders–making us squirrels think you humans named it because you thought the tree was ‘bewitched.’ Not so! The name comes from wiche, which means pliant– as in bendable branches.

That makes no difference to bees or other nectar-seekers! If it’s one of those warm fall days that we are prone to having, they want to eat! Witch hazel and the late fall asters are about the only things blooming in October-November, so planting this tree is a real benefit to insects.

And indirectly to us squirrels, I should fairly add. Once the bees pollinate those flowers, the nuts will form, a tasty treat for wildlife.

Of all the woody trees and shrubs we’ve presented for our April ‘Trees (and Shrubs) for Bees’ challenge, witch hazel is one of our favorites. Those crazy fall-blooming flowers are just a neat thing about about nature. We hope you put it on your planting list!

We will compile a complete list of Trees for Bees for you as a summary of this month…sometime this week!

And remember: Please don’t purchase plants that have been grown with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. You’re not doing anyone a favor with that these days. And if you haven’t yet, please watch Marla Spivak’s TED talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and what  you can do to help.

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

Oops! We got our alphabet days wrong!

‘Y’ day is today for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We accidentally posted it yesterday. So for today, um…

…remember that blackberrY and raspberrY flowers also are a favorite with pollinators! Just  because these trees and shrubs help the bees doesn’t mean they can’t help us squirrels, too!

Y is for blueberrY

Again, we know this isn’t exactly how the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is supposed to run–with our chosen alphabet letter at the end of the word instead of the start–but desperate times… Honestly, we should have saved Yellow Poplar for Y, used tupelo for T… and on and on, but you know, squirrels!

Nonetheless, you readers are getting a nice list of Trees and Shrubs for bees!

Blueberry, Vaccinium sp, is found as a wild plant and a cultivated one across the entirety of North America. The wild blueberry bushes in our mid-Atlantic states are Vaccinium angustifolium.

They grown in a partial shaded forest floor, whereas most cultivated blueberries prefer full sun. The soil can be dry to average and our native plants only grow to 2 feet high, while the cultivated shrubs are 8 feet tall.

All blueberries have a small urn-shaped flower that opens at the bottom.

Only the smallest of bees pollinate them, or bees with very long tongues. However, some bees–like honeybees, carpenter bees and short-tongued bees–cheat. they chew holes in the back of the flower postal the nectar without pollinating the plants! They bloom in the spring and set berries that ripen throughout the summer.

All of the wild blueberry relatives attract bees: cranberry, deerberry, lingonberry, bearberry and huckleberry

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

 

X is for IleX glabra

Sigh, another hard letter. But we squirrels are up to the challenge!

Ilex glabra, better known to you humans as Inkberry, is an evergreen shrub.

If you look back to I is for Ilex opaca you will see that the American Holly is a close relative–but it grows into a tree, and though we squirrels love our trees, we realize not everyone can plant one. Inkberry you can do and the bees will love you for it! They think the nectar on an inkberry is great. It has a small white flower similar to the American Holly, and unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of them.

Inkberry grows up and down eastern North America, but does best in the southeast. It likes part shade and moist to wet soils. Gardeners favor it because the bushes stay compact and green through out the winter, then set up with pretty purple berries. Take note: that’s only on the female plants and if you have a male plant planted nearby! But your friendly neighborhood squirrels like them and so do the songbirds.

~~~

Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing