Monday, September 28, 2009

Crab Spider Kill and a Bee with Ears

White-banded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes)
September 23, 2009

This crab spider caught one of my honey bees last week--I came back out several times to see her in the same position, perhaps sucking fluids from the body. This spider has the ability to change colors over several days to match the flowers where its sits waiting for prey (rather than spinning a web).

Why yellow when the phlox is purple? (Note: my garden phlox blooms late because the deer eat it early in the summer) I assume the spider was trying to fool the bee thinking it's a big source of yellow pollen--as the anthers on the other blossoms have.

Crab Spider with eggs rolled in petal
September 24, 2009

The next day, I went out to see the bee gone and the crab spider had rolled two petals to protect her eggs which she deposited. She won't eat while she protect the eggs which will hatch in about 3 weeks.

Today, I went out to check and could not find the spider or her rolled nest nor any flowers on the plant. The flowers probably fell during our deluge of rain on Saturday--over 3 inches.

Honey Bee on Obedient Plant

This honey bee looks like it has ears on its head but it's the anthers of the plant. The plant evolved its design perfectly so that the bee picks up the pollen while feeding on the nectar deep inside. Then, when it goes to the next flower, it will deposit some pollen. When the pollen piles up, the bee uses its legs to put the pollen in sacs.

I am so glad I have quite a few fall flowers in the yard because there's very little in the fields now.

Native Bee on White Snakeroot Flowers

Finally, I wanted to post this photo of a copper-colored bee on White Snakeroot. It's about the length of a worker honey bee but slimmer. Does anyone know what it is?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

House Hunting Wren and Migrations

Every winter, Carolina Wrens sleep on my front porch. This wren seemed to be checking out the clay birdhouse. Not sure she will like it since bumble bees nested there this summer although they are gone now. The last few nights have been very warm so maybe the wrens don't need the cozy shelter.


Birds are migrating through here. The American Redstart has been seen in our little pond/waterfall this week. I have seen this bird before but not so close to the house. Also very close was a Brown Thrasher in a thicket of blackberries and multi-flora roses.

Monarch Butterflies are flying south to Mexico, passing through Virginia right now. It's amazing that they fly that far on such fragile wings.

I saw one earlier this week in my yard and then this one yesterday. They seem to stay for several hours feeding on the nectar and then leaving. I thought I saw one flying high in the sky, above the trees.

With the sunlight shining through, the wings look like stained glass windows.

I saw two Monarchs this morning at two different stoplights in town. Both butterflies seemed to know to fly well above the traffic. I wondered if anyone else noticed.

Good Migrations!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bees on Wingstem, Kick the Bums Out!

Honey Bee on Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)

My honey bees are foraging nectar and pollen for the past several weeks on Wingstem, a native plant in the composite family. The plant is easy to identify by the stems which have "wings" actually leaves on each side of the stem (seen in the upper right of the photo).

Wingstem in Pasture

The tall (4 feet or more) plants cover most of the pastures around here. Cows don't eat the plants so I am glad the farmers don't brush-hog the plants to get rid of this important source of nectar. Both bumble and honey bees collect orange pollen from the Wingstem. Fritillary butterflies were also on the flowers. I admit I never thought these plants were pretty but now I have an appreciation for this plant now that my bees seem to love it!

When I went back to the hive, I noticed that bees were collecting several different colors of pollen-orange, light yellow, and bright yellow. Perhaps they are foraging on the goldenrod but I haven't seen it (not much goldenrod compared to wingstem here).

Lion's Foot (Prenanthes serpentaria)

This lovely native wildflower, Lion's Foot, came up around my hive this summer. I did see a honey bee on it so maybe that's where they are getting the white pollen. I was surprised this flower was in the composite family (daises, dandelions, sunflowers). The leaves do look similar to dandelion leaves though.

My Bee Hive Update

My hive inspection of September 4 showed that the bees were very strong in 2 of the medium boxes (box 2 and 3 of 4)--good brood pattern surrounded by pollen and nectar. Bees were all over the 8 frames. On the bottom of the hive, box 1was almost empty of brood--and only a little pollen and not that many bees. Box 4 on the top had more bees and 3 frames of honey.

As I have done all summer (usually 10 day intervals), I used the powdered sugar treatment for varroa mites. This time, I kept the mite check board underneath just to see what I was getting. The next day, I counted about 150 mites on the board! Also worrisome was that I counted 3 wax moth caterpillars--these guys can ruin honeycomb quickly.

Last week, I attended the meeting of the local bee club (New River Valley Beekeepers Association). There I told the group about what I found. Jerry, club president, reassured me about the mites--the powdered sugar treatment gets rid of 80% of the mites so I probably don't have too much of a mite problem.

Mark, an expert beekeeper, recommended the following:

1. Reverse boxes, putting box 1 where box 3 is to have the bees clean it out. Later, if it's empty, remove it for the winter. That will put more bees on the bottom where they can guard against the wax moths and other intruders.

2. Keep box 4 on--hopefully the bees will fill it out and keep it for their winter supply (darn--would have liked that honey!).

3. Start feeding with 1:1 syrup to prompt bees to build up the brood--should have 3 medium boxes of brood/honey/pollen for winter.

I did not have another medium box to use for the jar I put on the top for the syrup. With my husband's help, I made a box out of old shelves--it works fine on top.

During my last inspection (Sept. 11), I noticed there were no wax moths so I was relieved. I reversed the boxes as recommended and noticed more bees at the entrance already. I again did the powdered sugar treatment. I checked for mites on Saturday--only a couple found on the mite check board!

Throw the Bums Out!

One beekeeper mentioned that the workers (female) were throwing the drones (male) out of the hive. The drones don't do any work except mate with virgin queens. Their job done for the season, the workers will discard them so they don't have to waste resources this winter.

This worker appeared to be biting the large drone. When the drones try to return, the workers will not allow them in, repeating the harassment.

This worker rode on the back of the drone, both falling right out of the hive. The worker returned while the drone flew away.

These workers don't show any mercy. When I have accidentally squashed a bee during inspection, bees come over to get any pollen or nectar. So, I should not be surprised at this behavior--everything is for the hive, no slackers allowed!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Caterpillar Time

September is a good month for spotting caterpillars. Many overwinter as pupae so they are eating up everything in sight. I use Caterpillars of Eastern Forests published by the U.S. Printing Office as my guide along with Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars.

Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar (Apatelodes torrefacta)

This caterpillar was on our rusted gate--about 2 inches in length.

Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae)

Right above the gate, I saw this tussock moth caterpillar which prefers hickories and walnut trees, all of which were in abundance here.

Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar (Ecpantheria scribonia)

This large, about 3 inch in length caterpillar looks scary enough. It rolls into a ball when threatened, exposing the red rings which make it easy to identify.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

This is also a prime time to see Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. This caterpillar will pupate and then emerge and fly south to Mexico before winter! I watched one for a day or two, then it disappeared or was this one about 3 feet away. This one also disappeared after a couple of days--not sure if there's a chrysalis around but I can't find it.

This isn't a caterpillar but a little stick bug--only about 3 inches in length. It should be on a brown blade of grass to be camouflaged but I spotted it easily on these ferns.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Butterflies on Thistles

I'm behind on posting but still wanted to put up these photos I took 10 days ago. Our back pasture was filled with thistles covered with many swallowtails (giant, spicebush, tiger), fritillaries and other butterflies. Talk about a butterfly garden!

Spicebush Swallowtail

The spicebush swallowtail is our most often seen butterfly, probably because we have a lot of spice bush, its host plant, in the woods.

Tiger Swallowtails

These butterflies are also quite common maybe because their host tree, yellow or tulip poplar, is in abundance.

Great Spangled Frittilary

I believe the thistle is a bull thistle, an alien plant.

Orchard Mason Bee

Bees also love the thistle. I saw bumble bees, orchard mason bees, and many smaller bees but no honey bees.

Thistles are not a flower I would want around my house because of the thorns. But I don't have a problem with letting them grow in the pasture for the insects.