Tag Archives: insects

The Bombini are not the robbers.

bee in the neighborhood

This is a post about bees. If you find them icky or boring and don’t care which bee is a robber, I understand! I put a pretty flower at the bottom for you to look at before you leave.

One morning this week I went back and forth along the front walk, for fifteen minutes or so, stooping over the germander hedges to watch a bumblebee. It caught my eye because of its yellow markings that were not what I’m used to seeing, and also because  of its nectar-gathering style.

Was it because of its size and weight, that it couldn’t manage the flowers near the tops of the germander stems? It seemed to get lost in the understory of that purple forest, but would eventually resurface, tempting me to try again and again with my camera to fix his image (I can’t help switching male pronouns so I will just give in to my inclinations and be unscientific, because of course I have no idea of “his” sex.) so as to be able to see his markings better.

Here are the best pictures I got. Bees are buzzy and usually vibrating!

My Yellow-Faced Bumblebee is funny-looking! In that middle picture sprawled on his back like a suckling child, his yellow face is more like a yellow toupee. Here is a clearer, more classic image of the bee:

yellow faced bumblebee seek

It is from the page Bumblebees of California, which is where I realized that what I thought for years was the primary bumblebee enjoying my pollinator garden is not a bumblebee at all.

It wasn’t until that same evening that I was set straight. As the sun was about to go down, I was snipping spent penstemon blooms in the back garden when I saw one of these “bumblebees” visiting the non-spent ones. He was not trying to go in at the door, so to speak, but was busy at the top. Did he have a short cut to the nectar? Was he making a short cut?

Back inside, when it began to dawn on me that he was not a bumblebee, I searched for “black bees that  look like bumblebees,” and soon realized that he is a carpenter bee. And on the first site I found they described what I had seen a few minutes before: “On flowers such as salvias, penstemons, and other long, tubular flowers the carpenter bee, due to its large size, is unable to enter the flower opening. Instead they become nectar robbers. Using their mouthparts they cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal away with the nectar without having pollinated the flower.”

I learned that there are 500 species of carpenter bees! Most of them are all black and hard to tell one from another. The easiest way to tell them apart from bumblebees is by their abdomens: The bumblebees’ abdomens are covered with dense hair, while the carpenters’ are shiny. This last fact I was well aware of, because it has been the biggest hindrance to me getting a picture of these bees that usually show up as shiny black blobs. But now that I  have identified two bees in one day, and have blurry pictures to refer to when I forget, I will relax and move on.

But — early this morning I went out looking for Yellow Face. I didn’t see him, but I did see the carpenter bees, and what were they doing? Stealing nectar from the tubular white salvia flowers!

I wasn’t shocked, but pleased. And I don’t see why this should be called “stealing.” Is there a law of nature that says a bee has a right to nectar only if he pollinates the flower at the same time? Have the tubular flowers filed a complaint about the theft?

Last year I was trying to identify a strange-looking wasp, and I browsed entomology sites to no avail. Entomologists can’t even keep the thousands of species straight, and we common people who deal with insects our whole lives have strong and conflicting beliefs about their names and identities. I realized back then that wasps were a low priority for me; I’m sorry to say that I even hate some of them. But I feel otherwise about bees. Here is a photo from the U.S. Forest Service showing the smallest bee with the largest bee:

It is the Perdita minima on the head of a female carpenter bee. Wasps and bees, along with ants, are among the members of the Order Hymenoptera, but wasps are not bees any more than ants are bees. The first very readable paragraphs on this site I found helpful in refreshing my own memory on these creatures: Bees, Wasps, and Ants.

The tribe to which the 250 species of bumblebees belong is called Bombini. Isn’t that cute?

Okay, enough entomology for today. Here is that flower I promised you. It is my Belle of India jasmine that Soldier and Joy gave me for Christmas one year. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to make it happy, but now it is healthy and blooming and so sweet! I wonder if any Bombini will come by for a taste?

Looking autumn in the face.

What sets this autumn apart from any other is my distaste for leaves turning color. Out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen it happening, and my heart protests, “Oh, please don’t!” I look the other way. Time has been swallowed up in remodeling, or waiting for remodeling, and the steady progress of months and seasons was not in my face so colorfully until now, telling me that without a doubt the end of the calendar year is drawing near as well.

Until yesterday, when on the way back from the gym I drove around a corner and was met with this familiar tree that had just put on its late-season dress. I couldn’t help loving it, just as I couldn’t help being angry with those other orange leaves a week earlier.

The cold weather I dread is holding off, and it’s gotten to 90° for a few days, making for unusually balmy evenings. Sunny weather means I can work in the garden for hours every day, putting up pea trellises, weatherproofing the planter boxes, and staining the rim of the fountain that had built up a layer of white mineral scale.

Rain would be better, though. In Northern California the combination of tinder-dry foliage and wind gusts creates a situation that threatens to repeat the horrors of the fires of the last two years. Too bad we can’t put all that behind us — but “it” is trying to be part of our future as well, a reality of which the power company keeps reminding us, and shutting off the power as a precaution.

A few of my volunteer tomatoes turned pink. They look like Juliets. Barely any sun is shining on them these days so I brought several into the house and when they turned red I ate them. They taste as one might expect from such culture!

 

These moths are all over the garden, but especially on the salvia here pictured – I think I have identified them as Fiery Skippers. What a cute name for a cute moth. [oops – not a moth! See about skippers in the comments.] I began to wonder if it is their caterpillars that are eating my sunflowers, so I researched that, too, and I don’t think so. Next photo is in the Disturbing Photos category. 😦

But look at this: The most fun insect I have discovered this week is these caterpillars…

… and they appear to be the Black Swallowtail again, on the parsley again, looking as though they wanted to be eaten by birds, so I brought the two of them into my mesh cage, after the carpenter and I took pictures outdoors near the parsley patch.

Other heartening events: One window in the soon-to-be sewing room has been framed, and irises keep blooming like they want to be my best friends; the tropical milkweed also, and it makes more and more seeds! I harvested the mystery squashes. [Update: I found the tag that came with the 4″pot, and they are Buttercup Heirloom Squash.]

Tiny harbingers of spring caught my eye as I came up to the front door yesterday, just after my encounter with the bright tree. Yes, the daphne is putting out new leaves, so that in a very few months it can put out those divinely aromatic flowers. See, I do know that the seasons are good! Of course. And when winter comes, this particular challenging and wonderful time will be a thing of the past. I must enjoy it while I can!

Stay upside down, and be silent!

DIVAN

I’m a slave of the moon. Speak only moon to me.
Speak of candles and of sweetness or don’t speak at all.
Speak of gains not losses, and if
you don’t know how, never mind. Say nothing.
I went crazy last night. Love saw me and said,
“I’m here. Don’t shout! Don’t tear your clothes! Be still!”
I said, “Oh, love. It’s not that I fear. It’s something more!”
“That something more is no more. Don’t say a word!
I’m going to whisper secrets in your ear.
Just nod your head and say nothing.
A moon, being made of soul, appeared on the path of love.
Ah, how delicious it is, a journey on the heart’s path! Don’t speak!”
I said, “Oh, my heart, what moon is this?” Love pointed and said,
“This one’s not right for you. Pass by in silence!”
I said, “Could this be an angel’s face? Could it be human?”
“It’s neither human nor angel. Hush!”
I said, “What is it? Tell me! You’ve turned me upside down!”
“Stay upside down, and be silent!”
You’re seated in this house filled with images and illusions.
Get up! Don’t say a word! Just pack your bags and leave!
I said, “Oh, my love. Be like a father to me.
Isn’t this the face of God?”
“It is. But by your father’s soul,
Hush! Be silent! Don’t say a word!”

-Rumi
1207-1273
translated by J.W. Clinton

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been trying to put into words how it was for me, releasing Monarch butterflies who had emerged from their chrysalises two or three hours before. It was the most exciting thing yet to happen in my garden, that’s for sure. I had an rush of adrenaline stretching over the several days it took for all four caterpillars to finish their metamorphosis into creatures exquisite and huge. They were huge by comparison with the tiny pods from which they’d unpacked themselves, and their delicate design and bold colors were revealed in all their glory by being seen close-up and still in their mesh cage, waiting for their wings to dry.

I watched them as they hung and dried. When the time was right, I followed the Monarch website instructions: Move your finger toward the head of the butterfly, and it will climb on. Lift it out… I got a phone video with one hand while carrying the first Monarch to a flower I chose because it was both a known Monarch favorite nectar source, and purple to contrast with the insect’s colors.

That one was fully dry and not hungry yet; it wouldn’t step off my hand onto the blossom, but as soon as a breeze came by, it flew. I looked down and the second butterfly was climbing out of the cage and fluttering away. As one friend said, “It’s like being present at a moment of creation.” Indeed. And that was a little much to take, the reason for my intense feelings, and why this Rumi poem resonates with me. An insect, a moon, a grain of sand… anything might bring you there.

The next chrysalis wasn’t due to open until the afternoon; I deadheaded coneflowers nearby and met with this mantis, who I think was probably the same one I had encountered a few days before. I was friendly and he looked at me; I took his picture in full daylight. Then my neighbor stopped her car in the street and said out the window, “Isn’t it a little hot to be working out here?” I checked the thermometer and it was 93°; okay, I will go indoors for a while. Once in the house, I felt something on my head, and brushed it off… the mantis! Hey, fella, I know you like me, but you belong outside… So I gently carried him out, with my bare hands this time, being so comfortable/familiar with the creature. 🙂

The third butterfly’s wings were still a little damp when I released it in the afternoon; that same neighbor had come over for a cool drink in the cooler indoors, and she stayed to watch. And before the Monarch was dry enough to fly far, the little girl next door was able to come and get close to the action. I was really happy that it worked out for me to share at least a little bit of this wildlife event with other humans.

Following Rumi’s imagery, on my path in just one week’s time I have had encounters with 1) the moon and the mantis,  2) newborn butterflies walking on my hands and 3) a mantis who likes me. Somewhere inside I was going crazy and shouting, and also trying to listen to that voice saying, Hush!

This whole experience certainly jolted me out of my waiting doldrums. A word from another friend helped calm me down: She told me that mantises eat butterflies, and I laughed as I guessed the mantis “mind” as he looked so friendly-like at me: This large shape carries the scent of those juicy Monarchs I like, but I don’t see how to get my mouth around it….

At least one of the butterflies hung around the garden for a few days, giving me more opportunities for picture-taking, and to say a more leisurely good-bye. These were the babies I’d collected as eggs and raised for more than a month; I’d invested a lot of time in collecting milkweed leaves for them and cleaning their cage. It seems now a small price for the reward, though I could wish my responses were more like quiet joy and not so emotionally exhausting.

More recently, a building inspector was here and needed to write a note for the contractor, so I invited her to sit at my kitchen table, from which she immediately saw my garden and calmly gushed over it. I told her about the joy my garden gives to me, and about the Monarchs, too. She said, “It’s like the first garden….” Well, yes. Isn’t this the face of God?

Annus est Christus.

Much earth and earthiness, fruitfulness, and aromas from it all, here on September 1st. I have been gardening a lot, soaking up the heat, collecting seeds, and ripping out vegetables that are done in by “pests,” those other hungry creatures who enjoy my garden. In a few days, God willing, my Monarchs will emerge from their delicate green chrysalises. In the meantime, other insects have been patiently posing for me.

I keep buying plants, and sticking them in the ground or in pots. Lots of perennials that will go dormant in a few months, but then they will be beautiful in the spring. I’m planning for another year in the garden, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

This nursery in the country that I rarely visit, I managed to drive to yesterday; they specialize in edible perennials and pollinator plants. I bought five unusual plants, which I’ll have to tell about in a separate post. One lovely thing  I saw but didn’t buy was this passion flower that has decided to grow all over the mesh ceiling of the nursery.

In my own space, Alejandro spent a couple of hours trimming the lamb’s ears back to the steel edging of the paths. If we let it, it would grow all the way across the path, living a dry existence in the bark mulch, waiting for winter rains. I like to have my helper come at a time when I also can be working in my garden, and for some reason we seem to get more than double the work done. The other day he told me that my plum trees seem very likely to bear next year, judging from all the fruit spurs on them. 🙂

That mantis praying makes me want to tell you that it’s the beginning of the church year! Why, you may ask, does it start now? Why, because of Rosh Hashanah! I had been thinking a lot about this special day in preparation for teaching 7th-10th graders this morning, and then in today’s homily we were given a heavenly vision of this church calendar year and its cycles within cycles, with Christ at the center.

One book I used to prepare my lesson is The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. He says, “The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ himself, annus est Christus.”

Our homilist taught us about how we humans, along with angels, were made to live in a created eternity, something different from the unchanging, eternal nature that characterizes the Holy Trinity. But since the fall of mankind into sin, we find ourselves in a linear, world time, a fallen time that carries death in it; we are born, grow old, and die.

But we don’t have to live there exclusively; in the Church Christ gives us Himself by many means, including the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayers and hymn-filled services, feasts and saints’ days. The calendar brings the heavenly realm down and puts it into fallen time, where it is possible for us to enter in and live. We often get a taste of this kind of life at Pascha, but it is happening all the time.

I love the church calendar, and have always reckoned it a great gift — that is, since I found the Orthodox Church. It was August twenty years ago that I was invited to a women’s retreat at a monastery, and the brief immersion into the daily, weekly and festal cycles of worship — eleven services! — made me feel that I’d found my true home. Here was a way to live with Christ!

It’s more helpful to think of the church calendar not as the paper type with boxes for each day, but as circles and cycles and rhythms, some following the cycles of the sun or the moon, some celebrations fixed on the linear calendar and some moving with the changes of the earthly seasons. Jesus Christ entered our linear time, where He lived through 33 years of Jewish festal seasons; through the church calendar we can follow Him through His life, death, Resurrection, and the birth of His Church, and use it all to unite ourselves to Him day by day. 

I think August and September might be my favorite months of the year. We’ve had other traditional, seasonal events, like barbecues at church – yum! Green beans from my garden slathered with pesto from my garden, and Gravenstein apples, harbingers of fall. September is the month that I love most to go to my cabin in the mountains, but this year is full in ways that prevent that. It’s really a year of preparation of my house, so that I can, if possible, live here for a long time to come, and continue to make it a hospitable place for my family and others whom the Lord brings.

“We can only see a short distance ahead,
but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
~ Alan Turing