Posts Tagged: Melissodes agilis
If you've ever watched a karate competition, you've probably seen the roundhouse kick, tornado kick, the reverse roundhouse kick or the flying side kick.
But have you ever seen a bee do that?
We were photographing sunflower bees on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) yesterday, trying to catch the territorial dive-bombing. We were shooting with a Canon E0S 7D equipped with a 100mm macro lens. Settings: ISO, 1600. Shutter speed, 1/1400 of a second. F-stop, 10.
If bees could engage in humanlike conversation, imagine this dialogue:
"This flower is mine! Get off! I want my ladies to have that flower!"
"No, it's not! It's mine. I was here first! Leave me alone!"
For awhile, a large bee, a male longhorned bee, Svastra obliqua (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis), appeared to be the "king of the mountain." It held its ground...er...floral resource.
Suddenly, faster than my shutter speed, a smaller bee of a different species, a male longhorned bee, Melissodes (probably Melissodes agilis, Thorp said) headbutted Svastra, a scene reminiscent of a World Cup play.
One swift kick by Mr. Svastra and a surprised Mr. Melissodes shot straight up in the air, whirling end over end.
Roundhouse kick? Tornado kick? Reverse roundhouse kicK? Flying side kick?
Whatever it was, the "bee master" won.
And he wasn't even wearing a black belt.
A male longhorned sunflower bee, Svastra obliqua, foraging on a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male longhorned sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis (right), targets the larger Svastra obliqua. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melissodes agilis shoots straight up after a powerful kick by Svastra obliqua. (PHoto by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melissodes agilis (left) goes sprawling. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy," belted out Ella Fitzgerald.
She wasn't singing about bees, but she could have been.
Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush little baby, Don't you cry.--George Gershwin.
Not always so easy if you're a sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Here you are, nearly tangled in a thicket of yellow pollen. You're absorbed. Totally. In fact, you're absolutely oblivious to your surroundings.
Suddenly, you feel as if you're being watched. Watched. Targeted. Bombarded.
Fact is, you are.
Off in the distance, another male bee is speeding straight toward you in the proverbial beeline maneuver in a territorial war.
Pull up! Pull up! Ground proximity warning system.
Whew! That was a close one.
A male sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis, keeps a wary eye out as she forages on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ah, bliss. A male sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis, is head first in the pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, in a territorial challenge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Indeed, some bees seem to possess Superman's extraordinary power of "faster than a speeding bullet." They're just lacking a blue costume, a red cape and an "S" on their thorax.
The butterfly doing the fluttering in our garden is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange Lepitopderan that lays its eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bee doing the speeding-bullet routine is the male longhorned digger bee, Melissodes agilis. They are so territorial that they claim ALL members of the sunflower family in our garden: the blanket flowers (Gallardia), the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
They relentlessly patrol the garden and dive-bomb assorted bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and even stray leaves that land on "their" flowers. (Their eyesight is not as good as Superman's.)
Why? They're trying to save the pollen and nectar resources for the Melissodes agilis females. And trying to entice and engage the girls.
Last Sunday we watched a Gulf Frit touch down on the Tithonia. Just as it was gathering some nectar, a speeding bullet approached.
If it were a horse, it would have been Secretariat.
If it were a track star, it would have been "Lightning Bolt" Usian St. Leo Bolt.
If it were a car, it would have been a Hennessey Venom GT.
If it were a plane, it would have been a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Swoosh! As the longhorned digger bee rifled by, the startled Gulf Frit shot straight up. Straight up.
Frankly, the Gulf Frit could have "leaped a tall building in a single bound."
A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
But how can you sleep when you sense a predator in your midst?
Last night, as usual, was Boys' Night Out in our lavender patch. The male longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis), were sleeping on a lavender stem, as the females nested underground.
The males cluster or "roost" or "camp out" on the stems from around 6 at night until 7 in the morning, and it's a sight to see. A veritable bedroom community. Our lavender patch is a living room during the day and a bedroom at night.
Curiously enough, the males are very territorial in daylight hours as they compete for the females. We've seen them dive-bomb carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, butterflies, dragonflies and the males of their own species.
But even though they battle fiercely during the day, they sleep together peacefully at night.
Lately the roosting males seem to be vanishing. We're accustomed to seeing 12 to 15 on a stem. It's dwindled down to eight or nine. Where did they go? Did they find another place? A better "bed?" More room at the inn?
So at 6:30 a.m. today, we parted the lavender stems to observe the boys. Not as many as yesterday.
Wait, what's that? Could it be? It was. A praying mantis!
And the praying mantis, looking quite emaciated, was edging toward the sleeping boys.
Easy pickings. Too easy. Would it grab one of them?
It did not.
It climbed down the lavender stem, peered at the sleeping boys--hmm, breakfast?--and then moved to another lavender stem.
Close call? Maybe. Maybe not. We've heard that praying mantids prefer moving prey and these prey weren't moving.
A praying mantis climbs down a lavender stem to get a closer look at the sleeping boy bees, longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis peers at what could be prey but they're sleeping. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis "assumes the position" on another lavender stem as it waits for live prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Whew! That was close. A sleepy male longhorned digger bee gets ready to fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
By day, they fly around our yard looking for the girls.
At night, it's "Boys' Night Out."
These males, longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis), are absolutely spectacular. At night the males roost on our lavender stems, sometimes 8 to 10 on a single stem. Their "bedroom" gets quite crowded.
Melissodes are ground-nesting solitary bees. While the males sleep overnight on the flowers, each female is tucked away in her ground nest.
According to the Discoverlife.org: "With the apparent exception of Florida, agilis occurs throughout the United States, Southern Canada and Northern Mexico, and is in flight from May to November in the East."
Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw write in their book, Insects of the World, that Melissodes are found on all continents except for Australia. "The males of nearly all species have very long antennae and are colloquially known as 'longhorned bees.'"
These bees frequent plants of the sunflower family, Helianthus. In our yard, they gravitate toward the blanket flowers (Gallardia) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
We've found them "going to bed" at 6 p.m. and rising around 7 a.m. We clocked one "sleepy head" getting up at 10:30 a.m. as honey bees and bumble bees buzzed around him, foraging for nectar on the lavender.
That was on Sunday, Father's Day.
These males are longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis, sleeping on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, stirs after the warmth of the sun awakens him. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)