What are bees doing right now? Spring edition

It’s early spring and the trees have begun leafing out. Colorful flowers are springing from the ground, and the landscape is slowly coming to life with insect activity. In this post, I’ll highlight some of Oregon’s ubiquitous spring bees, what they are up to, and how to easily recognize them.

Graphic by Jen Hayes

Queen bumblebees are emerging from their winter burrows under leaf litter and forest duff. They zoom by with boisterous buzzes. Queen bumblebees are sturdy and furry, and can power through wind, rain and cold better than any other type of bee. Queens are much bigger than the workers that will come once the queens find nest sites and begin laying eggs. For now, they work alone, preparing to lay their first set of worker eggs.

If you see (or hear) any queen bumblebees this spring as they scan the sparsely blooming landscape, they are most likely looking for a proper nest site, finding nectar to energize this search, or, if one has already found her nest, she may be collecting pollen to feed her developing worker offspring.

A rain-drenched Yellow-faced bumble bee on Oregon Grape. Photo by Jen Hayes.
A female mason bee has brought bright yellow pollen to her nest. Video by Jen Hayes.

Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are a cherished Oregon spring bee active from March to early June. Look closely in a bee hotel for a chance to observe mason bees in action!

Male mason bees emerge first from their pupal cocoons. You might see them patrolling bee hotels waiting for a female to chase down. When the females emerge a little later, they mate and then begin their work provisioning nests with pollen balls and eggs. An individual female has a short lifespan living only about 20 days, but in this time, she may provision anywhere from 2 to 7 nest holes each containing many offspring cells.1 Quite the busy bee!

Andrena is a genus of mining bees that are some of the earliest risers when it comes to spring emergence. They are a diverse group of small, furry, ground-nesting bees that are only active for a few weeks out of the year. Andrena are solitary bees, but can be seen foraging and mating in droves on early blooming fruit trees like cherry, apple and pear. Last spring, I watched hundreds swarm this cherry tree to collect nectar and mate.

Spring Bee Quick ID:

Now, let’s identify some of the bees you may see out and about on sunny spring days when the wind is low. We’ll start with the most conspicuous group – the bumblebees. Bumblebees are the biggest and the loudest bees on the landscape, covered in a thick coat of fuzz. Here’s how to recognize the 3 most common species of bumblebees you’ll see in the Willamette Valley in early spring.

Bombus vosnesenskii or the “yellow-faced bumblebee” is by far the most common bumblebee in this region. It is recognized by the yellow fuzz on its face and yellow band near the distal end of its abdomen.

B. vosnesenskii foraging on butterfly bush. Photo by Mallory Mead.
B. melanopygus queen foraging on Wartleaf Ceanothus. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Bombus melanopygus, the “black-tailed bumble bee” is another of the earliest Bombus species to emerge. You can identify this bee by the orange band in the middle section of its abdomen!

Bombus mixtus, the “fuzzy-horned bumblebee”, tends to emerge a little later than the previous two species, and has orange hair on its lowest abdominal segments.

B. mixtus flies amid borage plant. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Mason bees can be recognized by their deep iridescent blue-green color, that sparkles in the sun. Males are distinguished from females by their small size and the yellow mustaches found on the front of their faces. Females lack the yellow tufts and are larger than the males but smaller than a honey bee. They carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen which is a trait unique to their bee family, Megachilidae.

Female mason bee. Photo by Jen Hayes.
Male mason bee. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Andrena are a diverse group that are tricky to identify. They can be distinguished from other small, furry bees by the presence of velvety hairs between their eyes and the middle of their face called “facial fovea”.2

Pollen on Andrena bee. Photo by © vespidmacro, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)

Facial Fovea. Photo from the ODA Bee Guide

They also carry pollen on their hind legs and on hairs between their abdomen and thorax, which distinguish them from bees in the Megachilidae family.

We hope this little guide will help you experience the native bees in your landscape this spring that make the pollen go round.

Thank you for joining us on this exploration of Oregon’s spring bees and what they are currently doing! We will release two more blog posts in this series, one for each of the four seasons. Blogs will be posted during their prospective seasons, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next in the series!

What are bees doing right now? Winter Edition ❄️.

Welcome to the Garden Ecology Lab’s “What are the bees doing” mini-series! This series will extend through the four seasons to shed some light on where bees are in their life cycle and what they may be doing during each of the four seasons. We begin with winter, and an overview of the overwintering and nesting strategies of common groups of bees in the Pacific Northwest.

Graphic by Jen Hayes

As the seasons change, where do all the bees go? Different groups of bees utilize unique strategies to survive the cold of winter. In many cases, bees require cold temperatures to develop properly, and as spring rolls around, they rely on thermal cues to determine when to start their next phase of life.

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We can divide bees into four broad categories based on their strategy to nest and survive the winter. There are the Ground Nesters – who find or dig in the ground to nest and lay eggs, Cavity Nesters – who nest in hollow reeds, canes, or in people’s backyard “bee hotels”, Bumblebees – whose new-born queens burrow into leaf litter, waiting to start a colony in spring…. and then there is the oddball: the European Honey Bees, who are not native to North America, but were brought here along with European colonizers and are now key players in modern agriculture. They do things pretty differently than our native bees, so we’ll start our discussion with them.

The European Honey Bee

European honey bees (Apis mellifera) survive the winter huddling in their hive! They are an example of a social insect and many consider a honey bee hive a superorganism. Fueled by their honey stores, the colony huddles together in a mass to thermoregulate at temperatures between 33 – 36°C (91.4 – 96.8°F).1 I love these words from the American Bee Journal:

 "The honey bee is a cold blooded insect; but the honey bee colony is a warm blooded creature."1

We will see that honey bees are the only bee in our landscape to overwinter socially. The rest go it alone.

Bumblebees

A Bombus californicus queen on Comfrey (Symphytum sp.) in early Spring. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Bumblebees are social bees too, living in natural cavities most often in the ground, but in winter, the members of the colony die off except for the new-born queens. These queens will fly out of the hive on her maiden voyage to mate with a male bumblebee before finding a place to settle and overwinter alone.

Queens find a safe environment often a few inches deep under leaf litter or light soil. As temperatures decrease in Fall and early Winter, the queens do not thermoregulate. Instead, they enter diapause, which is a state of arrested development. An overwintering queen appears frozen in the soil until warmer temperatures wake her again. In the late Winter or Spring she will begin looking for a site to start her own colony.

Cavity Nesting Bees

About 30% of native bees are cavity nesters who build their nests inside cavities in wood or reeds.2 These bees avoid overwintering as adults, and instead, they lay their eggs in cavities and die before the winter temperatures come.

Female cavity nesting bees forage for pollen and nectar and nesting materials in the spring or summer and make balls of pollen and nectar (often called “bee bread”) as food for their offspring!

They lay eggs on the pollen balls, and then proceed to seal off compartments, one for each of the eggs, until the cavity nest is full. These eggs will hatch into larvae that consume the bee bread as winter approaches.

Bee nests in bamboo sticks, indicated by the mud caps at the front of the stakes. Photo by Gail Langellotto
Video by Oliva Honigman.

Here is a video of a small carpenter bee larva eating its bee bread, magnified under a microscope!

Once the larvae finish off their food store, they may spin themselves a cocoon in which they further develop into pupae. Cavity nesters spend the winter developing from pupae to young adults in their cocoons. These developing bees go into a state called torpor to survive the winter, where the bee is inactive and its body temperature drops, but it still goes through critical physiological processes and development.

These bees must experience low Winter temperatures natural to their region to undergo proper development. Mason bees, for example, have lower survival and vital rates when exposed to warm nest temperatures that simulate predicted climate change temperatures for their region.3

Empty mason bee cocoons that were removed from cavities for an experiment, and a newly emerged male mason bee. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Mason bees (genus: Osmia) are cavity nesters that have become well known in garden and agriculture circles in recent years, but many other groups of bees fall into this category too including leafcutter bees (family: Megachilidae), small carpenter bees (genus: Ceratina), large carpenter bees (Genus: Xylocopa), and masked bees (family: Colletidae).

SARE has a great resource on identifying which cavity nester might be nesting in your bee hotel!

A friend of the lab, Olivia Honigman, conducted a brief research project on small carpenter bees in Vermont. Here are some photos from her study that showcase a tiny cavity nesting bee, from the genus Ceratina, nesting in raspberry canes.

Ground Nesting Bees

Last but certainly not least are the ground-nesting bees which make up about 70% of native bee species! Bees from the genera Andrena, Lasioglossum, and Halictus fall into this category.4 Ground-nesters have unassuming nests that are hard to spot, but under the soil, they are putting down bee loaves and laying eggs in a compartmentalized fashion, just like cavity-nesters!

Similarly, adult ground-nesters die after they finish provisioning their nests for their offspring. In the winter, the young bees of the new generation are developing from pupae into adults in their underground nests.

Left: exposed soil revealing tiny holes- could these be bee nests? Top right: A ground-nesting bee pokes its head out of its home. Bottom right: The entrance to a ground-nesting bee’s home. Photos by Gail Langellotto.


Although their nests are modest, some of Oregon’s showstopper bees fall in the ground-nesting category, such as the metallic green sweat bees (Agapostemon).

Metallic green sweat bee on a Clarkia flower. Photo by Mallory Mead.

Long-horned bees from the genera Melisoddes and Eucera also flaunt unique forms with noticeably fluffy, feathery hair on their legs they use for collecting massive volumes of pollen!

A female long-horned bee with dense hairs or scopa on her hind legs. Photo by Mallory Mead
This long-horned bee has “pollen pants” Photo by Mallory Mead.

To invite these bees to your garden, leave patches of earth free from wood mulch and instead mulch with compost! To avoid disturbing ground nests, avoid tilling when possible.4

Here is a great resource from the Xerces Society on how to protect pollinators during the Winter months.

Something remarkable about nesting in the ground is that, depending on nesting depth, ground nesters are more buffered from extreme temperatures than honey bees and cavity nesters whose homes may be in the direct sun. This may be a critical difference when it comes to surviving climate change.

Changing Climatic Norms…

With climate change upon us, native bees have experienced warmer than usual winter temperatures. These conditions may be suboptimal for their development and survival and encourage bees to emerge earlier in the season. Cavity and ground nesting bees require low temperatures with which they have evolved to reach physiological benchmarks for their development, and scientists worry that there will be phenological mismatches between plants and their pollinators in which bees emerge at different times than when their optimal food sources are in bloom as plants and insects will experience novel timing of thermal queues under climate change predictions.5

As bees and other pollinators face a multitude of challenges, we should support our local bees and appreciate them while we can!

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Thank you for joining us on this exploration of what bees are doing during the winter! We will release three more blog posts in this series, one for each of the four seasons. Blogs will be posted during their prospective seasons, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next in the series!

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: WEEK 10!!

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Douglas Aster!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 10, which marks the end of our 10-week series! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Melissodes visits Douglas Aster. Photo by Tyler Spofford.

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum subspicatum
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Growth Habit: Vigorous spreader, spreads through underground rhizomes
  • Bloom Duration: July-November
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-9
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant
  • When to plant: Starts can be planted in the spring or early fall.

Pollinator Facts

  • Douglas aster provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • Aaron’s research found three species of long-horned bees (Melissodes robustior, M. lupinus, and M. microstictus) and three species of bees from the family Halictidae (Halictus ligatus, Agapostemon texanus angelicus and A. virescens) to be associated with Douglas aster.
  • Other common visitors to Douglas aster include syrphid flies and northern checkerspot butterflies! Douglas aster may also be a larval host to 8 different month species1.
Photo by © mandamasprime, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC).

Douglas Aster‘s Native Range in Oregon

Douglas aster is native to Northwestern Oregon and most of the coast.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google. Copyright 2022© TerraMetrics

Douglas Aster as a pollinator plant

Douglas aster is native to Western North American with a range extending from Alaska to California. It has an impressive ability to spread and a high volume of flowers that buzz with pollinator activity throughout its long bloom season. Hosting a high abundance and diversity of bee visitors, Douglas aster is a pollinator plant superstar. It is particularly valuable as a late-season pollinator plant, able to provide both nectar and pollen to its visitors when these resources may otherwise be scarce in the landscape.

People often have strong reactions towards Douglas Aster – they either love it, or find it to be “weedy” in appearance. We hope that this highlight may help some people change their opinions about it! We in the Garden Ecology Lab love Douglas Aster for its abundant blooms in varying shades of purple and for its great capacity for supporting wildlife. In the late summer, we love watching the diversity of pollinators bouncing from one flower to the next! Some common visitors to Douglas Aster that we see at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture include bumblebees, green bees, long-horned bees, small sweat bees, and butterflies, including the woodland skipper (pictured below) and the occasional grey hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

Here, we see a woodland skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) foraging from Douglas Aster!
Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Did you know?

By mid to late summer, Douglas aster is quite the frenzied pollinator feeding ground, making the Oak Creek team’s sampling effort always a bit of a challenge. These photos are from 2 years after these plants were established, so you can see just how full these young plants can get when grown in favorable conditions!

At Oak Creek, we started all of our Douglas Aster plots with 4x 4″ pots, planted in the spring of 2020. As you can see in the photos below, they easily filled up their 1×1 meter beds! If you’re worried about Douglas Aster taking over your garden, consider starting with a single plant and observe it over the season to see how it reacts to your garden environment. Aggressive spreaders can be used to fill spaces such as borders with forest edges or along fences where low maintenance plants are key. If you want to contain your asters, consider planting some in a large pot or in an area where you can easily control the spread of their underground rhizomes. The purple flowers contrast beautifully with other late season natives, such as goldenrod and Madia.

Jen standing next to her Douglas Aster experimental plots. Photo by Tyler Spofford.
Tyler vacuum sampling bees off of a Douglas Aster plot. Photo by Jen Hayes.

Photos from the field

Thanks for tuning in to the last posting of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign! We hope you try growing some of these fantastic pollinators plants.

3 Ways to Help Pollinators During Winter

I’m sure many are familiar with the long treks that many pollinators make when winter begins to roll around. Monarch butterflies will travel thousands of miles to reach their final destination. Rufous hummingbirds will spend August swooping and diving in your backyards before moving Southward as September slowly drizzles it’s way into October. But not every pollinator decides to seek warmer climes as the temperature drops. Many opt to hunker down and wait out the cold weather, seeking shelter in any manner of burrow all around your gardens. This post is focused on several things that you, as caretakers of your gardens and friends of pollinators, can do to watch out for your hard working friends. 

Photo: Steven Severinghaus / Flickr Creative Commons 2.0
  1. Leave the leaves

One of the most important things you can do to help overwintering pollinators is by doing nothing at all. By leaving the ground cover of leaves, sticks, and plant material you are also leaving the material that many pollinators use to make nests. Many pollinators will snuggle down into this protective layer, and be safe and sound during the colder months. By not raking up the leaves deposited by shedding trees, you are helping pollinators have a safer and more comfortable winter. If a little clean up is necessary, try not to completely remove the leaves or plant material, but instead, rake it onto beds or around shrubs so that it stays as part of the environment. Along with protecting pollinators, leaving this cover can help retain soil moisture, prevent weeds, return nutrients to the soil, and reduce waste entering landfills. So if and when possible, consider leaving the leaves. 

Pale Swallowtails overwinter in Central Oregon during the chrysalis stage of life. Photo: Steve Pedersen. 
  1. Postpone pulling up dead stems, or moving old bark 

Many pollinators will use dead stems or old bark as protection from the elements while they are overwintering. If possible, postpone pulling dead steams, or throwing out old branches, sticks or bark. Cavity dwelling pollinators will often seek shelter inside wood piles, old logs, or dead flower stalks. Several types of chrysalis’s have patterns similar to wood to blend into the environment while the pupa inside waits for spring. Butterflies that do not migrate will spend winter in varying life stages, some as eggs, some as caterpillars, some as a chrysalis, and some as adults. Therefore, it is best to leave as many forms of shelter as possible. Keep your eye on any bamboo posts in your garden, as many different types of bees will use these as bunkers during the cold. Be careful when moving or uprooting, and keep an eye out for pollinators hiding in crevices, cracks or crannies.

Photo by Kyle Blaney
  1. Leave your hummingbird feeder up

There are many different opinions on this advice. Many people will say that leaving your hummingbird feeder up during the winter will deter the hummingbirds from migrating. However, there is no easily found evidence that supports this. The Audubon Organization indicates that you can leave up your feeder for as long as you have hummingbirds, and having a feeder up as winter rolls around will not keep hummingbirds from migrating. Hummingbirds migrate due to genetics and other factors, not necessarily due to availability of food. However, not all hummingbirds migrate. Anna’s hummingbird, which can be found across the Northwest, Oregon included, is nonmigratory, and might be extra appreciative of feeders that are left up during the colder months. Adding extra sugar to keep the hummingbird food from freezing is not recommended, however, as this can dehydrate the birds. Keep the ratio of 1:4 parts sugar to water. Instead, to try and prevent freezing, you can take the feeder inside at night; hummingbirds don’t feed at night. You can also hang an incandescent bulb near the feeder, as this can generate enough heat to keep the feeder thawed. 

While the three listed above are only a few steps to be taken to help overwintering pollinators, a little help can go a long way for our essential pollinator companions. They, like any of us, just want to stay warm and fed during the cold months, and I’m sure would greatly appreciate any help from you in helping them stay that way.

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 6

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Common Madia (AKA Tarweed)!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 6! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo © Rob Irwin
 some rights reserved

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Madia elegans
  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Growth Habit: Erect, slender
  • Bloom Duration: July – September
  • Hardiness Zone: 1-11
  • Light requirements: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade.
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, seeds valued by birds, adaptable to many soil types and textures.
  • When to plant: Seeds can be sown directly in the fall, or sown in containers or cold frames in the winter. Stratify seeds if growing indoors.

Pollinator Facts

  • Common madia provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors and blooms during a period where foraging resources are often scarce (late summer – early fall).
  • Madia was found to be associated with two bee species in Aaron’s research: the Bi-colored Sweat Bee (Agapostemon virescens) and Titus’s Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum titusi)
  • Madia is also the larval host for three moth species: the Spotted Straw Sun Moth (Heliothis phloxiphada), the Small Heliothodes Moth (Heliothodes diminutivus), and an Epiblema moth (Epiblema deverrae)1.

Photo © Chris Cameron
 some rights reserved

Common Madia‘s Native Range in Oregon

Madia elegans is native to most of Western Oregon. Although it's native range does not extend east of the Cascades, it is a hardy annual that may do well in Central- and Eastern- Oregon gardens.

Map acquired from Oregon Flora with imagery sourced from Google.

Common Madia as a pollinator plant

Common Madia is an ideal plant for pollinator gardens due to its long bloom duration and attractiveness to bees, caterpillars, and butterflies. Madia was found to attract both a high abundance and a high diversity of bee visitors, which further speaks to its use as a great pollinator plant! Due to it’s late-summer bloom period, Madia can act as a great source of forage for it’s various visitors when there may not be many other plants flowering in the landscape. Madia flowers, which close at dusk and reopen in the morning, may also come with a fun surprise if you catch them before the sun has finished its ascent: if you’re lucky, you may be able to find male long-horned-bees sleeping in groups within the flowers2.


Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Abundance Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.

Diversity Calculations. Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.


A syrphid fly visiting a Madia flower. Photo by Signe Danler.

Did you know?

The other common name for Madia, “Tarweed”, comes from its foliage. It’s covered in stiff trichomes (hairs) and stalked glands which emit a tar-like scent. Common Madia is not the only species with this nickname, it applies to plants in the entire genus! For example, Madia glomerata, “Mountain Tarplant”, is a species of Madia native to the Northeast United States.

Common Madia‘s fruits are flattened achenes, which are valued by small mammals and birds as a food source. The achenes were also used by Indigenous groups, including the Pomo, Miwok, and Hupa and as a staple food source3. The fruits were often roasted with hot coals and then ground into flour.

Photos from the field

Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.

A Bee’s Eye View: UV photography and bee vision

Flowers and bees have one of the most well-known symbiotic relationships ever formed. Flowers rely on bees for pollination, and bees rely on flowers for nectar and pollen. It is generally understood that flowers act as advertisements to attract bees. However, less is known about what exactly bees are seeing and how that can change once humans get involved. This project is focused on the changes that can arise after a plant is cultivated, and how these changes can affect pollinator preference of a flower.

While changes made by breeders might not seem all that drastic to our eyes, we have little idea if that is the case for bees. Often breeders will change flowers for aesthetic purposes. This can have unknown consequences. These changes might not seem like such a big issue since the flowers are still colorful. However, bee vision is very different from humans, with bees having the ability to see into the UV spectrum. This means that while we might think we are only changing the bloom size or the color, we could also be unintentionally changing UV messaging visible only to the bees.

The purpose of this study is to use UV photography to explore these invisible differences between the native and cultivar. We also want to determine if the differences have a tangible impact on pollinator preference. This study is ongoing, but the images so far have shown a few native/cultivar sets that have a marked difference in UV markers between native and cultivars. While the study has only just started, our excitement and curiosity have not abated. This is an entirely new foray into pollinator relationships and mechanisms and could open up the world of bees and flowers in a brand new way.

An example of a UV photo of a nemophila flower, with a UV marking in the center, highlighted in blue

Native Plants and Pollinator Survey

Aaron Anderson is repeating his original survey on native plants and pollinators. This time, he is trying to understand how knowledge of a plant’s ecological function may alter impressions of native plants.

The survey takes about 25-30 minutes to complete. Folks who have taken the survey thus far have commented on how much they learned from taking the time to answer the questions.

If your time and interest allows, we would be extremely grateful if you could take the time to respond to this survey. The direct link to the survey is:

http://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9Alhv961rZX8Vs9

If you have friends or acquaintances who also might be interested in taking the survey, please feel free to share it with them.

A syrphid fly pays a visit to a California poppy at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center.

A bee visiting one of the Canada goldenrod plots in our Native Plant study.

Gilia capitata

Lotus unifoliolatus

Pollinator of the week: Bombus fervidus

This entry is from Angelee Calder, and undergraduate Agricultural Science student at Oregon State University. It highlights a bumblebee that can be found in Oregon gardens, but that is currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ to endangered species status, due to documented population declines (Hatfield et al. 2015).

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Dorsal view, Bombus fervidus. This bumblebee was collected from a Portland area garden in August 2018. Photo Credit: Angelee Calder and Isabella Messer

Anterior view, Bombus fervidus. This bumblebee was collected from a Portland area garden in August 2018. Photo Credit: Angelee Calder and Isabella Messer

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When we think of bees, we usually conjure up the image of a cute fuzzy black and yellow puff of an insect. Bombus fervidus, which is also known as the Golden Northern Bumble Bee, looks just like that cute bee stereotype. This bumble bee has a black face, yellow body, and single black band across its body near its wings (Discover Life 2019). Although Bombus fervidus can be found across most of the whole United States, studies have shown that their population numbers are declining (Colla and Packer 2008). This bee is attracted to clover, which is one reason to tolerate (or even embrace) clovers in residential lawns.

We spent 120 hours hand collecting bees from 24 Portland area gardens in 2017 and 2018. In addition, across these two years we set out water pan traps to collect bees for an additional 3,450 hours of passive collection. In all this time, we only collected two Bombus fervidus. Both were collected from the same yard in August 2018. This yard is our largest garden, and it sits adjacent to Forest Park. It could be that this species, known to be in decline, does best with larger patches of habitat, that are close to a natural area.

The Northern Golden Bumble Bee is in the running for cutest bee, so make sure to take a look while he is out foraging. The peak viewing times to catch a glimpse of these cuties May to October (BugGuide.Net 2019).

References

Colla and Packer. 2008. Evidence for decline in eastern North American bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with a special focus on Bombus affinis Cresson. Biodiversity and Conservation 17: 1379. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-008-9340-5.

BugGuide.Net. 2019 “Species Bombus fervidus – Golden Northern Bumble Bee”, https://bugguide.net/node/view/23135. Accessed February 27, 2019.

Discover Life. 2019. “Bombus fervidus“, https://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q. Accessed February 27, 2019.

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L., Colla, S. & Foltz Jordan, S.2015. Bombus fervidusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T21215132A21215225.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T21215132A21215225.en. Accessed  February 27, 2019.

Plant of the Week: Douglas Aster (Revisited)

Image from: http://www.nwplants.com/

This entry is from Lucas Costner, an undergraduate horticulture major at Oregon State University.  It highlights one of the plants that Aaron Anderson is using in his research.

Original “Plant of the Week: Douglas Aster” post available here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2017/11/07/plant-week-doulgas-aster/ 

 

Last November I took a look at a Pacific Northwest favorite, the Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum (1)). What I didn’t know then was just how popular this species would be with the bees we had been sampling in the field. It turns out that while surveyed gardeners ranked Douglas aster 14 out of 27 in terms of attractiveness, based on the 2017 data it boasted the third highest number of bees (2). This means that it is the most attractive native perennial species for bees that we sampled, and the 2018 data shows this as well (3). Based on the gardeners’ ranking, however, which placed it in the bottom 50% of all the species we sampled, it also looks as though the Douglas aster is in need of some public relations help. 

It is my personal belief that it isn’t just the showiness of the blooms or the potential benefits to X, Y and Z that brings plants into our gardens, but rather the stories we tell about them. Familiarity after all is more than just recognition; it is also marked by appreciation and understanding. One of the stories we can tell through our work in the Garden Ecology Lab about Douglas aster is of its relationship with our native bees. As gardeners we are uniquely positioned to both benefit from and to be of service to these insects. 

Here are some of their “faces”: 

Long-horned Bees

Melissodes sp. 

The most common genus of bees collected from Douglas aster in the field, Melissodes are true summer and fall flyers, easily recognizable by their long antennae. These bees are solitary ground nesters, although they have been observed forming nesting aggregations in the soil (4). While we collected potentially five species of Melissodes in total, one species in particular, Melissodes microsticta, was especially common. Many Melissodes species are generalists, but can usually be found visiting members of the Asteraceae family (such as sunflowers and our Doulgas aster) because of their late season blooms.

 

Image from: https://odabeeguide.weebly.com/melissodes.html

Yellow-faced Bumblebee

Bombus vosnesenskii

The second most commonly collected visitor of Douglas aster, the yellow-faced bumblebee is really a remarkable native pollinator. While many native bees are considered solitary, bumble bees are social insects, with a queen and workers (4). Like non-native honeybees, they have been investigated for their potential as commercial pollinators, being used in greenhouse production (5). Isabella Messer wrote a post for the “Pollinator of the Week” series highlighting these ubiquitous bees that can be found here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2017/08/29/pollinator-week-yellow-faced-bumble-bee/ 

 

Image from: https://odabeeguide.weebly.com/bombus-sp.html

Ligated Furrow Bee

Halictus ligatus

The third most commonly collected visitor of Douglas aster is the ligated furrow bee. Found throughout North America, Halictus ligatus is special amongst native pollinators (like the yellow-faced bumblebee) for its social nature (4). Sociality is rare amongst native bees, as it is in nature in general, but amongst the Halictus the situation is even more unique. This is because, unlike other social species, Halictus have been seen to switch back and forth between solitary and social behaviors over time as environmental conditions differ (4). Isabella wrote a post about these bees a while back for the “Pollinator of the Week” series that can be read here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2018/04/30/pollinator-week-mining-bee/ 

 

Image from: https://odabeeguide.weebly.com/halictus.html

Virescent Green Metallic Bee

Agapostemon virescens

The fourth most commonly collected visitor of the Douglas aster is none other than my personal favorite, the virescent green metallic bee. These stunning bees are communal soil nesters and are members of the Halictidae family, cousins of the ligated furrow bee introduced above (4). I wrote a post about them for the “Pollinator of the Week” series last November that can be found here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2017/11/13/pollinator-week-virescent-green-metallic-bee/ 

 

Image from: https://odabeeguide.weebly.com/agapostemon.html

In addition to these bees, we also collected striped-sweat bees (Agapostemon texanus/angelicus), brown-winged furrow bees (Halictus farinosus), metallic sweat bees (Lasioglossum sp.), and common little leaf-cutter bees (Megachile brevis). We also collected with a number of long-horned bees (Melissodes) that have yet to be identified to species. 

Walking the streets of Portland and seeing Douglas aster’s purple flowers still in bloom this late in October brings a smile to my face because it tells me that people are indeed planting this species. If only for its benefit to wildlife and pollinators in particular, that is still good news. As you may be able to tell from the information given above, we are still learning about these bee species while we are simultaneously working to save them — not just for future generations but for ourselves as well. Hopefully, by putting a “face” to the bees that visit and depend on these plants and our gardens, the bond that links us to them can be strengthened and our preference for them in our landscape enhanced. 

 

Sources: 

  1. Geraldine A. Allen 2012, Symphyotrichum subspicatum, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=88843, accessed on October 30, 2018.
  2. Langellotto, G. (2018, September 12). Do Gardeners Like the Same Flowers as Bees? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2018/09/12/do-gardeners-like-the-same-flowers-as-bees/ 
  3. Anderson, A. (n.d.). First Look: Research Into Native Plants in the PNW Garden. Webinar. Retrieved from http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2018/10/23/webinar-on-willamette-valley-native-plants-and-pollinators/ 
  4. Wilson, J. S., & Messinger Carril, O. (2016). The Bees In Your Backyard. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  5. Dogterom, M. H., Matteoni, J. A., & Plowright, R. C. (1998). Pollination of Greenhouse Tomatoes by the North American Bombus vosnesenskii. Journal of Economic Entomology, 91(1), 71-75. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/jee/91.1.71
  6. Oregon Department of Agriculture: Bee Pollinators of Oregon. (2016). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://odabeeguide.weebly.com 

Webinar on Willamette Valley Native Plants and Pollinators

Aaron’s webinar on his Ph.D. research has been posted on YouTube.

He highlights some really interesting results from his 2017 and 2018 field seasons, including recommendations for what to plant, if you are interested in attracting native bees to your garden. I’ve asked him to write a blog post, summarizing the results to readers.