Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Everybody Shows Up to the Party Hungry

Everybody Shows Up to the Party Hungry

This large leafcutter bee is a serious pollen magnet.  Most of it goes to feed her brood, but some, by chance, is transferred to the flowers it feeds on. Most pollen is not as large as that of these Indian Blankets.  If you have an area of full sun, these are terrific flowers to attract  pollinators.

In February when you were looking out the window at the snow and daydreaming about summer, June is the month you were probably imagining.  It is the “What is so rare as a day in” month.  By now most of your early annual flowers, bulbs and spring ephemerals, have bloomed and gone, but the big, sturdy summer blossoms are opening up and serving the vast insect public as meeting place, restaurant, cheap motel and nursery.

If you search around you’ll find orb weaver spiders, smaller than coriander seed, that by October will be the size of Concord grapes if your Carolina Wren doesn’t find them first.  You’ll find nymphs of all sorts, from leafhoppers to katydids. Some of these creatures bear no resemblance at all to the adult, but some do appear strikingly similar in form to their parents.  Caterpillars begin to munch your delicious herbs and tender leaves, and paper wasps begin to munch the caterpillars in order to feed their brood.  Nothing is safe out there. 

June brings in the “solitary” hunting wasps which have spent the last 10 months in burrows which their mothers dug for them the previous summer. Their life cycles are very similar to the mining bees I have described in a previous entry, with the notable exception of the type of provision they make for their offspring.

  The sand wasp is one of the earliest of the solitary hunting wasps to emerge, 
                                        normally around the beginning of June.  The females of this species have                                                    relatively long lives that last well into July.

These wasps emerge around the end of May and spend a few weeks eating nectar, finding mates, and maturing, after which the females settle down to the hard work of being a single mother. (For the males, this is a delirious, festive period, like spring break in Cancun, except they never make it back to class. In the insect world, this is by no means an uncommon fate for the boys of summer.) When fully matured, the females generally dig tunnels in the same area where they were born. This is normally a barren, sunny place also busy with other wasps of the same species nearby doing the exact same thing.  These animals are communal, but not social in the way paper wasps are.  Each adult is responsible for her own nest entirely.   

Not coincidentally, their arrival is timed to coincide with the maturing of the nectar-rich blossoms they require for energy, which they in turn help pollinate, and the maturing of the prey they hunt to provide for their future young.  Each type of hunting wasp recognizes only a narrow range of prey species, be it cricket, katydid or caterpillar.  You might think of these  wasps as the prom queens of pollination: beautiful, athletic, and, without knowing it, ruthless.  We will check back in on them in July when the dance is in full, mad swing.

Pollination is not something insects do on purpose. This little Eastern
bumblebee is ensuring the next generation of clover while at her task
of gathering nectar and pollen to feed herself and her growing young.

June is also the happy month that the little Eastern Bumblebees becomes your garden companions, almost like small yellow-and-black puppies. Unlike honeybees, which have armies of people and wheelbarrows full of  dollars working on their behalf, bumblebees of all types are in trouble to one degree or another due to habitat loss and chemical interference.  Most of their help comes from individuals, who garden with them in mind, together with scattered, small organizations who work on their behalf.  Bumblebees are generalists, but it’s easy to find out what flowers they prefer and all kinds of excellent information is available at the link below.  Don’t want to read any more?  Grow hyssop!  Grow salvia!  Grow sunflowers!  (Who knows, maybe the Tour de France will ride by.)   

The wonderfully named Fiery Skipper is just one of the butterflies you
can attract with just a simple, compact garden. Butterflies pick up
pollen on various parts of their anatomy and carry it on to the next 
flower they visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment