Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Black Bees

I mentioned in June that I've been watching very intently for honeybees this year. I'm not doing it for any particular reason; I've just been curious, what with all the talk of colony collapse disorder, about whether honeybees visit the yard, and if so how many, and so forth.

For a very long time, the closest I got was the bee-mimic fly (picture at the end of the above link). At some point in the last couple weeks, I finally saw my first honeybee. Which is much, much longer than I was expecting to have to wait.

It's entirely possible that the long wait to see one has a lot more to do with what we've chosen to plant here, and not much of anything to do with how they're doing overall. (However: I saw one yesterday on a marigold that didn't fly away when I approached it. I didn't sit there and poke at it or anything, but it didn't strike me as healthy.) In any case, because I've been watching so closely, I can report that the tiny bees and hoverflies from the June post have now given way to a different group of pollinators. The bee-mimic flies are still occasional visitors. The husband poured more concrete a week or two back and butterflies were really into that, and a few have stuck around for the marigolds. I see bumblebees here and there, though they're small: not the bumblebees I remember as a kid.

But then there are the black bees. So many black bees.

I don't know what species they are; Google has led me to a number of websites, but there are many, many kinds of bees. A carpenter bee of some kind seems most probable -- many of them are the right color and approximately the right size -- but I have very little confidence in that guess. I've never seen the black bees before this year, either, as far as I can remember, which is weird. (Also weird: the green metallic bees I saw four years ago are entirely absent this year.)

I'm very fond of them, whatever they are. In the mornings when I take Sheba out, the black bees are reliably all over the marigolds and Portulacas, even on the cloudy mornings when most of the Portulacas don't open.

I haven't bothered to take many pictures of them on the marigolds, because they're all business with the marigolds: land, nectar and/or pollen, fly away to next flower. With the Portulacas, they actually crawl down into the flowers a ways, and get all tangled in the stamens and such.

I doubt that bees experience "fun" in the way people (or even dogs) do, but they really do look like they're having fun: I can't help wanting to anthropomorphize.

They manage to collect an impressive amount of pollen. I know bees have "pollen baskets" on their legs for this exact purpose, but I can't figure out how they work to hold the pollen in. I mean, pollen is small, and the bees fly around a lot: how do they hold on to it? How do they get it back off again later?

I don't know if they sting; the husband said that he was out with Sheba a few days ago, and that he thought she'd caught one in her mouth, but she didn't seem to be in pain or anything, so if she did catch one, it apparently didn't sting her. They've never bothered me either, but then, I don't give them any reason to.

This is all just encouraging me to get even more intense with the Portulacas next year, of course. I kind of understand why they're not more widely planted -- most of the flowers that are open in the morning have closed up by the early afternoon, and the leaves and closed buds aren't particularly attractive.

But the flowers are so nice when they are open, and they're so easy to grow, that it kind of makes up for the afternoons. And anyway, pollinators dig 'em. My hands are tied. We're just going to have to plant some every year. Have to.


Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Great post! I'm not sure if I've seen these bees, but they are pretty cool-looking. There have been a lot of bees coming around lately, and some of them are honeybees. I'm not sure if it's a normal amount or not (considering the decline talk), but it's nice to see them.

Liza said...

I agree about the Portulaca. Last flower awake in the morning, first to bed in the evening. But man do those flowers accomplish a lot while they are up!

Ginny Burton said...

The honeybee you saw may not have been sick. I've noticed the ones that I get tend to hang out on the flowers and nestle down into the pollen more than the bigger bees. Maybe they're a lazier species. Or maybe they're just groovin' on a sunny afternoon.

Lea said...

I love those flowers, but mine are not doing well this year. Don't know why.
You got some really good photos!
Hope you are having a wonderful day!
Lea's Menagerie