Ruby-throated Hummingbirds aren't the only things with wings that are attracted to bee balm, Bumblebees are too! While we sit birding on our deck in the early a.m., we see hummers as well as the bees, coming to this red flower that looks like a fireworks display. Since I love to photograph critters in flight, I had to try and photograph the bees in flight. Pretty much of a difficult task, since bees are fast and smaller than even hummingbirds, but that never stops me. Thankful for my Canon Mark II camera and Canon 300 mm IS lens, I tried to get the autofocus central sensor focusing on the bee. Since the bee was so small, there was not much for the autofocus sensor to grab onto. Great challenge for eye-hand coordination.
The wonderful thing about photographing birds and other wildlife critters with a digital camera, is that you can later blow up the image and look at details that you wouldn't ordinarily see on these fast moving creatures. In the first bee photo, you can see the long black mouthpart of the bee extended down from its face. You can also see the little yellow "saddlebags" of pollen it has collected. In the second bee photo, you can see that it has pushed deep into the tube of the flower to reach the nectar with its mouth.
Bumblebees are our only "social" native bee. They overwinter as fertilized adult females, or queens. These emerge in early spring and start a nest by choosing an existing underground cavity, such as an old chipmunk burrow, collecting pollen into clumps, and laying eggs on the pollen. The pollen and eggs are covered with wax, and the queen sits on them, keeping them warm while they develop. The eggs hatch in four to five days. The larvae feed on the pollen, and in about a week pupate in tough cocoons that they make. During pupation, which lasts about ten days, the queen takes off the wax that is covering them. The emerging adults are sterile females, and they take care of the subsequent broods during the summer. In later summer, the queen lays eggs that develop into fertile females and males. These leave the hive, mate, and the fertilized females overwinter. All other members of the colony die. The next spring the process starts over.
Bumblebees, Bombus americanus, are native bees, unlike honeybees that are not native to North America and were brought here by European settlers. Honeybees are in trouble.
According to a San Francisco Chronicle article on 7/6/07,
"U.S. populations of pollinating honeybees are mysteriously collapsing, and that could cause irreparable damage to crops worth billions of dollars a year across the nation. That in turn could mean higher food prices, and because all kinds of wildlife depend on pollinated plants for food, the decline of pollinators could spell trouble for other animals.
The cause of the decline -- estimated to be as much as 25 percent of the honeybee population -- is a matter of scientific debate. But it is mirrored by rapid population loss among such native pollinators as butterflies, bats, birds and bumblebees."
So we're especially grateful when we see Bumblebees on our bee balm.
Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007