Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Second Look Update--Bees

What are those bees doing?

I admit that as far as bees go, I have very limited knowledge. To me anything that buzzes and looks like it could sting is a bee. But as most of you know, not everything that looks like that is a bee. Some of them are wasps. And no matter how many times I try to learn the differences between the two, I don't remember for very long what they are. So here it goes again.

A papery, yellow jacket wasp's nest that I found
in the ground while I was weeding.
Yes, I did get stung.
Bees and wasps come from the same Order, Hymenoptera. After that, they differ in their Family, Genus, and Species. (Remember the taxonomy classifications for biology?) If you can get close enough to look at them, there are some physical differences. Bees are hairy and wasps are smooth. Bees usually have a fatter and rounder abdomen than wasps. And if the buzzing insect is chasing you, it's probably a wasp. Wasps are more aggressive than bees. Find a papery nest in the ground, it belongs to a wasp. Bees make waxy hives. All bees are social insects, but not all wasps are. Some are solitary. Bees eat nectar, but wasps usually eat other insects, unless of course you have a can of soda around. And the list goes on. There are over 20,000 different species of bees and over 100,000 different kinds of wasps, so if I'm playing the odds, wasp should be my first guess when I'm trying to identify one or the other.

Even though I refamiliarized myself with some basic bee and wasp knowledge, I was at a loss to explain what I saw about a month ago during a Second Look. I saw a smaller bee/wasp attach itself to the bottom of a different kind of bee/wasp. So it was time to go for help. The first place I turned was my bee expert--a friend who raises honey bees. I sent her pictures and asked her what was going on. She had no idea, so she sent them to her local county extension agent. The extension agent had no idea what was going on either so she sent them to an entomology professor she knew at large university. He didn't have a good answer, so he showed the pictures to all of his colleagues. And none of them could give a good explanation of what they saw. 

Smaller bee with larger ones to the side

Smaller bee attached to the bottom of larger bee

However, here is the information that they did provide for what they saw in the pictures above.

The responses I have gathered from my colleagues agree that this type of interaction with carpenter bees* is unusual. Bees sometimes get in territorial disputes, but this doesn't appear to be the case in the pic.  Everyone agrees that the bee on the carpenter bee is probably not doing any harm.  Based on what they could tell from the photo, and the host plant they are on, they believe the other bee is in the genus Osmia (e.g. blue orchard bee).  Why they are interacting like this is unclear. 

So I didn't get a definitive answer to my question, but I did learn a lot while looking for an answer. Now, lets see how long I can remember it. :)

*I called the big bees bumble bees in the original post, but they're not. They are carpenter bees as evidenced by their smooth abdomen. If they had been bumble bees, this area would have been hairy. Live and learn.

But Wait There's More:
--Did you know that male bees don't sting? The stinger is a modification of an ovipositer--an egg layer, so male bees have never had one to modify. This may be common knowledge for those of you in the know, but it was fascinating news to me.

--A good paint job is a good deterrent to the carpenter bees.


And some others that disappeared when my computer crashed. :(

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Second Look--May 20, 2015

We have been having very summer-like weather this past week with hot days cooled off by evening thunderstorms. Last night's was supposed to bring a cold front so we should have more spring like weather. I hope so. I also hope that last night's storm cleaned the air of pollen. Yard work has very difficult to impossible to do when with the pollen laden air and the sneezing and coughing it produces.

On the bird nest front, there continues to be action. I have seen a wren going in and out of two boxes continuing to work on nests. As far as I can tell, there are no eggs yet, but I can't see very well into the back on one of the boxes where they are building the cup for them. However, I can definitely see that all of the bluebird eggs have hatched. We have four newborns. I've been able to peek at them twice without the mother dive bombing me. However, if it's like other years, that will start soon as she protects her babies.

But I'm not the only one she has to protect her babies from. Saturday we saw a 4' long black snake in the backyard. Last year, a snake cleaned out three babies from a sparrows nest in a tree by our garage. That is definitely the way things work in nature, but hopefully the snake-proof design of our bird boxes will work and protect the newly hatched birds.

On the plant front, it has been the week of the iris. They started blooming and there are new ones every day. I love irises, not only because of their beautiful blooms, but also because the deer don't like them. :)

Here are a few things I saw this week 
during a Second Look.


Male Goldfinch, I have seen several pairs around but they usually don't nest until summer.

Asparagus. The story about my asparagus is this. I had wild asparagus growing in various places in the yard that I dug up and put it in one spot hoping for some to eat. So far, I only get one or two edible stalks per year, but I do get several plants of the beautiful airy foliage that asparagus has.

The rhododendron is in full bloom now.

The black snake as it is slithering its way to our wood pile.


Newly hatched bluebirds. Notice the one with it's mouth open. The gray bulges around the top of its mouth are its eyes, and its wings are stretched out to both sides under them.

Old leaves and new blossoms that have dropped from the holly tree.

Monday, May 18, 2015


A few of you may have noticed that I had a post up on Saturday about my personal experiences and feelings about aging. After reconsidering, I decided it was best to take it down and not have it out there for the world to see. Although it had an overall positive message and it was not likely to be read by anyone involved, I still felt as if I needed to respect the situation and the people it was about.

It was one of my more heartfelt posts where I explored my emotions more than I usually do. As you have probably noticed, this is not a blog where you will learn about my innermost thoughts and feelings. That's because my strongest feelings involve relationships with other people and I don't feel that I can share other's trials and tribulations even if they involve me. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine. Of course, I will talk about others with simple things like we went for a walk or grilled asparagus for supper. I occasionally share what my kids did when they were in the under 10 set. But I don't share what scares me, saddens me, or angers me about those close to me. Sometimes I want to and that's what I recently did before I removed it.

Several years ago, my mother wrote her autobiography. Her childhood was quite challenging, so she had a lot of interesting material to work with. But I thought she was leaving out some of the best stories that had a part in shaping her life. However, she told me that some of the people in those particular unflattering stories were still alive, so she wasn't going to write anything about them out of respect.  I didn't understand at the time, but I do now.

I think there's actually a very fine line between writing a tell-all blog and sharing enough to be relateable. After three years, I'm still trying to find this balance. For all of you out there who are able to share your innermost feelings, I admire you. But for now, you'll be getting the sanitized version of me.

Note: If I mention anyone in a significant way in one of my posts, I let them read it and approve it before I post it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Soil Knife

Ward and I have been working in the yard this weekend doing some mowing, planting, pruning, and just general clean up. And the whole time I was never without our handy, dandy soil knife. That is I was never without it unless Ward was using it. It is just that handy. Below is a previous post about the knife that gives a little more information. It might be a good present for Father's Day for those dad's who like to garden. 

Ward's new soil knife

I have a new favorite garden tool.  It cuts, it digs, it measures, it saws, it makes coffee. Well, actually I'm not sure about the coffee part, but it might. What is it? A soil knife also known as a hori hori knife.  The miracle tool is the shape of narrow trowel with a sharp knife edge on one side and a saw-tooth edge on the other. The one we have is also marked off in inches for measuring.

Apparently, it's been around for a long time. It was first implemented in Japan to dig mountain vegetables. (Thus the original name of hori hori which means "to dig" in Japanese.) However, I only heard of it recently when Aunt Martha suggested that Ward might like one for his birthday. I got it for him, but I felt like when I was a kid and for my sister's birthday bought what I really wanted. Ward has gotten to use it a few times, but I have had it out almost every day.

Each time I use it, I find another thing it does better than any tool I've used before. It makes digging very easy. Its sharp blade cuts into hard soil almost effortlessly. And if you run into roots while you're digging--no problem. You can saw right through them. You can measure the depth of your hole when you are planting, and it cuts better than any razor blade I've ever used when opening a bag of mulch. I love it. The only problem is that Theodore has discovered it too. Maybe Ward needs another one for Father's Day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Second Look--May 13, 2015

I have two special needs girls that I am friends with. One of them, Callie, lives next door and visits almost every day to read a book or two with me. One day the book was talking about cows and I asked if she had seen the cows behind our houses. She had never seen them and thought the idea was ridiculous. Since then, I have been trying to show them to her. However, that has been harder than expected because but the cattle are rotated from field to field frequently.

Well today, I thought I had hit the jackpot. While doing a Second Look, I found many of the new calves and their mothers right up against the fence in the back. Close enough that you could reach out and touch them if you wanted. I hurried next door looking for Callie so we could get a look at the cows that she thought didn't exist. One thing after another seemed to delay us to the point that when we got there, they were all gone. She still thinks I'm a little crazy, but I'm sure soon enough it will work out. However in the meantime, I did get some pictures.

On bird nest front, the wars are on. The wrens are building a nest on top of the sparrows nest. I'm not sure what happened to the sparrow's eggs but there are no new wren eggs yet. Apparently, the wren's nest in the other box, may be there just to prevent other birds from using the box. Survival of the fittest. The bluebird didn't lay any more eggs this week so the final total is four. I have seen the mother going in and out of the box often. Since the weather has been really hot (80's and 90's), she may not need to spend as much time sitting on them to keep them warm.

New things are blooming continuing the beautiful display of spring colors. The rhododendron is the most noted of these this week with new buds blooming every day. Not as showy, but just as beautiful are the lily of the valley that started blooming a few days ago.

Here are a few things I saw this week 
during a Second Look.


Elusive Calf

Star of Bethlehem

Notice the twigs that the wrens are using to build a nest on top of the sparrow's.

Lily of the Valley

So many colors of green this time of year.