Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Native Pollinators Part 2: The Pioneers of April

Huge grains of pine pollen cover everything for awhile in April.
The Lynnhaven watershed occupies a fortunate location where extremes of weather are rare and generally short, and flora and fauna of all varieties can count on the same conditions month in and month out, nearly every year. However, those species which emerge at the spring seasonal margin must be hardy in order to survive April’s weather fluctuations. The earliest-emerging native bees, for instance, have fur coats, reserves of stored energy and live in protective shelters. But generally speaking, by April, nature starts opening the grocery store and the wild rush of seasonal shopping gets under way.

Delicate shadbush (or Serviceberry) blossoms provide brief sustenance for pollinators such as hover flies.

Things move along quickly in April as the days lengthen and the earth warms. I kept a thumbnail list of what I saw as it appeared. So on April 1st I noticed the buds in the very tops of trees were beginning to color and quicken; on the 2nd a carpenter bee noisily inspected me; on the 3rd, a paper wasp prowled our garden; on the 5th a Prothonotary warbler, an Eastern bumblebee, and a very early, very tiny butterfly; on the 6th the first of the fleeting Shadbush blooms; on the 10th “our” Five-lined skink, a big female, came out to lounge and sun herself on the front porch; on the 15th the exotic Sweetleaf blossoms began to open and bumblebees showed up to notice; and on the 17th I saw the first dragonflies, dining on insects too small to see, as well as an early Swallowtail butterfly. 

Of course all this activity depends on the food web and that web has as its foundation the emerging stems, leaves and flowers of native plants. With rare exception, native pollinators are not attracted to non-native species. 

Though non-native, dandelions sustain a variety of insects during the chilly months, especially in suburban areas.  Here we see a pollen-laden Andrena mining-bee moving to another blossom.
By and large, April is the province of the furry bees, such as mason bees, mining bees and bumble and carpenter bees, but they have vast armies of help in the pollinating work they do. Jewel-like Syrphid flies, known collectively by names like “flower flies” and “hover flies,” begin their emergence. Paper wasps that survived the winter as adults try to find mates and begin to forage for nectar while beginning their work as master builders. There are also many types of beetles and bugs that contribute to the pollination. Almost all of these animals become active on any day the temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but all have strategies to cope with the variability of the April weather.

The beautiful blossoms of the Eastern Redbud attract bumblebees and other pollinators.

Some of these individuals, notably the mining bees, will spend only 6 to 8 weeks as free-roaming, working adults. Others, like the large and durable carpenter, have relatively long lives lasting for months. Collectively, these are the animals that show up when the weather is often bad, the work is difficult and life is dangerous. You have to be tough and resourceful to be an April insect.

Among the many dangers pollinators face is the presence of predators, such as this assassin bug seen here on a Common Sweetleaf bud.

Guest writer: Robert Brown, LRNow Stewardship and Access Committee

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