native bees 101

Glorious wildflower meadow - a real field day!

Glorious wildflower meadow – a real field day!

Just returned from a fantastic week of bees and flowers and study and wine touring in the stunning interior of B.C. What an enriching experience it was to peer at bees in the lab, to learn more about our native bee species and then to go out into the field (literally) amidst the flowers that are the nutritional resources for the bees. (Ahem, the wine touring was not part of the course).

Our native bee ID course was led by super-star bee expert, Lincoln Best. We were at Thompson River University in sunny Kamloops; hosted by the Master Gardener’s Association and organized by master gardener and artist, Elaine Sedgmen.

Our instructor, Lincoln Best demonstrating how to "tumble dry" bees

Our instructor, Lincoln Best, demonstrating how to “tumble dry” bees

I must say that one of the funniest highlights of our course was watching our fearless instructor, Lincoln Best, demonstrate how to “tumble dry” bees in preparation for pinning. Fluffing up wet bee fuzz is hard work! And listening to him describe how he had to shave the hair off a tiny bee’s face in order to find those oh-so-important identifiers, the “subantennal sutures,” was hilarious! Yup, that must have been one tiny razor!

Just a few of the stars I had the pleasure of photographing:

Andrena-on-gumweed

A bee from the Andrenidae family (I think) with a super load of golden pollen she collected from gumweed (Grindelia).

Andrena-on-gumweed-2

The thrill for me is always seeing how different bees collect pollen. This little bee has pollen right up into her armpits, all along her hind legs and even some on her abdomen.

Lori-at-the-Knudsford-Meadow-copy

Madame Beespeaker aka Lori Weidenhammer of “Victory Gardens for Bees” fame, glorying in the bee search amidst the vast, stunningingly beautiful meadow  near Kamloops. The afternoon was astounding – payne’s grey menacing clouds and gold and siena fields. Unforgettable!

male-megachididae-on-Mariposa-lilly

A very wet male bee from the Megachilidae family, waiting to dry out on the lovely petals of a Mariposa Lily. He’s got highly specialized front legs that he uses to cover the female bee’s eyes during mating. Kinky, blind-folded sex; who would have thought it?

Melissodes-and-aphid-Copperhead

A long-horned male bee (a Melissodes from the Apidae family, I think), and an aphid in discussion on a gumweed blossom. Hmmm, was the topic climate change or the vintage of nectar?

Bombus-huntii-on-gumweed

Perched on its forelegs and midlegs, a brilliantly striped bombus huntii (again, I think) purveys the surrounding territory.

Bombus-huntii-on-Melilotis

Another bombus huntii foraging on Melilotis. Look at those beautiful orange pollen loads!

bombus-on-chicory-2-at-Old-Grist-Mill

Bumblebee (possibly bombus bifarius?) deep into the nectar of chicory, and already powdered with the off-white pollen from the anthers.

Andrena-sp-on-cinquefoil-at-Old-Grist

A mining bee busily foraging on potentilla.

bombus-and-mining-bee-on-veronica-at-Summerland

The Veronica buffet – speedwell is a favorite of many different types of bees. Here, a large bumble bee and a smaller mining bee enjoy the sweet nectar.

Leaf-cutter-on-Trefoil

A leaf-cutter bee with some orange pollen on her abdomen sinks her head into the throat of a Trefoil blossom.

honey-bee-on-chicory-at-Old-Grist-Mill

Honey bee with amazing pollen loads she collected from chicory blossoms. How can she fly with such a heavy weight to carry?

Mystery-bombus-on-solidago-2

A rather blurry shot of a mystery bumble bee on solidago. More bee ID work needed here!

Bombus-on-spirea-with-rainbow-pollen-loads

This bumble bee foraging on spirea has a stunning two-toned pollen load

bombus-on-vetch-with-rainbow-pollen-load

Look at this amazing multicolored pollen load on this Bombus vosnesenskii! She’s got her head deep into a vetch blossom.

 

 

Nevadensis-queen-butt

My all-time favorite newly recognized bee was this stunningly gorgeous bombus nevadensis queen I discovered foraging on thistle. She was huge!  I’ve used an image of her as the header to my blog site.




 

Victory for Queen Lori and the bees

Wow, it’s mid June and I haven’t posted anything since April!  I’m deep into pollen collecting; it’s taking all my time and energy right now. Everything is early this year!

But now to other great news–my bee-buddy, Lori Weidenhammer (aka Madame Beespeaker, Queen Lori), has been on a grand tour, promoting her new, fabulous and informative book on bees, Victory Gardens for Bees. Check out her super blogsite for postings of her experiences. This is a great time of the year to be reading and learning about pollinators since many of the plants mentioned in Lori’s book are blooming right now. I find it such a delight  to read about a bee or a blossom and then actually see one in the flesh!  There is so much useful, practical information in this book–about our native bee species, about native and near-native plants, about gardens and garden design, about natural ways of controlling pests, about easy ways for all of us to help pollinators–and, it’s Canadian! Yay, Lori!!! Need a good summer read? This is it. Completely enjoyable and yet so informative!

Lori-Weidenhammer-book

not by chance alone

September marks a special month for me—the project I have been working on for almost 3 years is on display at the Richmond Art Gallery. (The exhibition opens on September 12th). Well, about 2/3 of the entire project has been installed for this exhibition. It climbs 16′ in height, and we have placed a few pieces on the floor, not many, just to indicate that the work continues and the installation is partial. I am most grateful to the curator of the RAG, Nan Capogna. She’s wonderful to work with. She’s very knowledgeable, she’s got a keen eye, she’s considerate yet honest with her comments and critiques. It is a privilege to work with someone of her caliber. The Preparators at the gallery are also fantastic–sensitive, very capable and efficient. Thank god they know how to do math and grids!  Kathy, Hilary, Melanie and Paula, part of Nan’s educational, administrative and curatorial team at the gallery are super to work with too. What a great group, and what a great experience this installation has been.

I’m sharing the exhibition space with an artist from Vancouver, Cameron Cartiere, and although we are thematically connected–we are both exploring the subject of bees–our approaches, perspectives and modes of execution are different. Cameron’s installation is stunning.

install

Installing almost to the rafters with Darius!

gallery-front

Partially completed text in the large windows

jasnaguy_RAG

Detail of installation. Photo by Scott Massey.

a mother’s day feast

The rhodos and hawthorns were abuzz these last few days with a variety of pollinators:  flies, wasps, solitary bees, bumblebees and honeybees. A feast for the eyes! Could one say some of these busy visitors were mothers and others were workers foraging for their mothers? A little bit of anthropomorphization, yes.   Nontheless, such a delight to observe. I cannot identify them specifically–this will be a lifetime’s work, but some of the bees are easier to distinguish than others.

A little Megachilid mason bee (?) about to descend onto a cluster of hawthorn blooms.osmia-on-hawthorns A honeybee already partially loaded with creamy-white pollen.honeybee-on-hawthorns

A beautiful little mining bee,  rear legs and head covered in pollen about to move from one cluster of flowers to another inviting bloom.andrena-on-hawthorns Little worker bumblebee sisters with bright, fuzzy bottoms busy at work.7290-bumblebees-on-hawthorn

A pollen-loaded mining bee taking a break to clean off those important antenna. She carries pollen even high up on her rear legs and on the hind side of the thorax.
andrena-resting-on-hawthorn-leafA little bumblebee worker diving into a bluebell.
bumblebee-on-bluebell Look at the pollen load on the belly of this little bee. Her abdomen is upturned and she has a large head. Megachilid, but cannot be more precise.megachile-on-rhodoAnother view of the same bee. megachile-on-rhodo

And here’s a mystery bee. Is that the same bee as the one in the two images above?mystery-bee

Bluebells

Bluebells-comp Bluebells have appeared in my garden faithfully every spring since we first moved into our home. They came gratis. Originally I thought they were the native bluebells famous in English countrysides, but no, my bluebells, and white bluebells and pink bluebells are Spanish hybrids and therefore have no claim to fame. They are beautiful nontheless, and the bees enjoy them too. Apparently, the true English bluebell (Scilla nonscripta)  has creamy colored pollen.  You can see the yellow to creamy-yellow swatches on the bottom left of the image below. The swatches represent the various tones of pollen loads collected from honeybees that have foraged on English bluebells. Garden-Bluebell-with-pollen-colors-copy   The blue-green swatches on the right represent the colors of pollen loads collected from bees that have foraged on Spanish bluebells. Quite a difference! The blue-green dust in the image above is the anther pollen I collected from the Spanish bluebells in my garden. Although the pollen loads from honeybees will always be different in tonality from fresh anther pollen (because honeybees mix nectar or honey with the pollen thus resulting in tonal changes), there is still quite a similarity between the pollen dust and the lightest sample in the swatch.

collecting magic dust

I am always surprised and completely taken aback by even the smallest encounter with the beauty and complexity of nature. Yes, it sounds rather excessive, but it’s true.  I am still dazzled by Dorothy Hodges’ book on the pollen loads of the honeybee, but I am now collecting anther pollen for myself. Experiencing pollen first-hand is incredible (despite the sneezes).  I can completely understand how an artist like Wolfgang Laib can spend decades patiently collecting pollen.The work that Laib creates with sifted pollen is extraordinary, breath-taking, genial. (Wolfgang Laib).

My undertaking with pollen is miniscule, but nontheless full of thrilling discoveries.This is Erica Carnea (Winter Heath) pollen shaken from the tiny flowers onto a black piece of paper. Only the top left corner of the sheet is still black, the rest has been lightened by the fine dusting of pollen. The amount is tiny actually, even though it seems like more in the photo.

Erica-Carnea-pollen-collected-2015

 

The pollen color looked warm and creamy on the black paper, but when I transferred it into an acetate envelope, the color looked far more peachy-beige. I’m attempting to match the pollen colors in pencil crayon here.

Erica-Carnea-pollen-2015-on-white

 

Siberian Squill: blue/green anthers and pollen and a rhapsody of blues in the petals!

6887-squill-anther-pollenAnd here, in this close-up, the pollen grains are visible on the anthers of the squill. The stigma has some pollen transfer,  probably the result of my having shaken the flower to release the pollen grains.

squill-pistil-with-pollen

A crocus, with the intensely golden pollen collected from the flowers:

IMG_6788-copy

Profitable, laborious and chaste

I’m reading a book called Buzz: urban beekeeping and the power of the bee, by Lisa Moore and Mary Kosut (2013). The authors read the practices of beekeeping through a sociological lens, and call their study an “api-ethnography.” Yes, they have a sense of humour–bees can’t be interviewed or participate in the same way that human research subjects can, but the authors created their own research strategies to successfully manoeuver through the social territory of the honeybee.

One major area of exploration for the authors is our tendency to anthropomorphize honeybees–they are “cute and fuzzy” and lend themselves to cartoon-like renditions rather easily. These characterizations make bees less threatening and more accessible, but we also load heavier baggage onto bees: “Bees are described as industrious (“busy as a bee”), helpful, driven, purposeful, cooperative and smart.” (p.126) Certainly these attributions reflect our cultural expectations and values, and perhaps tell us more about ourselves than they really do about bees. When I read the above passage, I recalled a similar description in Charles Butler’s book of 1609, The Feminine Monarchie.  Last year, I used Butler’s bee proverbs in an art piece; I was so taken by his charming collection of phrases.  Interestingly, Butler’s descriptions of bees are: profitable, laborious and loyal, swift, bold, cunning…”   We haven’t changed that much apparently since the 1600’s in our relationship to bees, or at the very least, in our descriptions of them.Profitable-as-a-bee---Butler-copy