Posts Tagged: Mexican sunflower
If you have Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia) in your garden, you can expect a diversity of insects--and not just honey bees.
Lately we've been photographing all the insects that visit the Tithonia in our bee garden.
They include butterflies (including monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, skippers and cabbage whites) bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii and Bombus fervides, formerly known as Bombus californicus), sweat bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, praying mantids, honey bees, carpenter bees, and yes, flies (green bottle fly).
The Mexican sunflower, an annual in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, originates from Mexico and Central America. What's good about the Tithonia--besides its sizzling color and its ability to attract a diversity of insects--is that it's drought-tolerant. That's especially important as we thirsty Californians endure our worst-ever drought.
We grew our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) from seed, and it should bloom all summer. Already it's reaching NBA basketball-stature--topping seven feet in height.
We may have to set up a orchard ladder in our bee garden on our next photo shoot!
A longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, dive-bombs a bumble bee, Bombus fervides. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, takes flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) foraging on the Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A skipper takes a liking to the Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This fly is a pollinator, too! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Just call it "The Battle Over the Tithonia."
A female monarch butterfly--gender identified by butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology--fluttered into our bee garden early this morning and dropped down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Her landing was perfect. The monarch (Danaus plexippus), a species that Sharpio rightfully says "requires no description"--claimed her flower as several male long-horned sunflower bees, Melissodes agilis, began targeting her.
Talk about a friendly "welcoming party." Not!
Those Melissodes agilis aren't called "agile" Melissodes agilis for nothing.
The monarch zipped over to another Tithonia, only to be trailed by the Melissodes dive bombers.
After foraging on her third flower and failing to evade the tactical squad, the monarch apparently figured it just wasn't worth her efforts.
Off she went, escorted out of the bee garden by the bomb squad.
A male sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis, targets a monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Watch your backside! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Head to head: a monarch and a Melissodes square off. (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)
For months, I've been waiting ah, so patiently (well, not always s-o-o-o patiently) for the gulf fritillary butterfly to touch down on our Mexican sunflower, Tithonia.
A perfect match, I figured. The showy reddish-orange butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) sipping nectar from the equally orange and showy Mexican sunflower.
No such luck. Every time I'd check the yard for the special butterfly-blossom scenario, it was always landing on something else: multi-colored lantana, lavender lantana, and the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora).
And occasionally, a pomegranate tree or tomato plant.
Oh, sure, it did visit the Tithonia, but it would vanish before I could grab the camera.
However, on Sunday, following the San Francisco Giants' game, I was thinking orange. Bright orange. Baseball orange. I stepped outside, and voila!
Touchdown! The perfect match!
The butterfly lingered long enough for me to capture its image, a side view of its silver-spangled wings, as well as a bird's eye view (Please, scrub jays, don't eat my butterfly.) It then fluttered off to the passion flower vine.
The gulf flit was once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, but "it seems to have died out by the early 1970s," according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
It's been making a comeback in the Sacramento area since 2009.
Sunday was a perfect comeback day. And a perfect touchdown day!
Gulf fritillary butterfly. Agraulis vanillae, lands on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary butterfly spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A perfect match: gulf fritillary on Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)