Posts Tagged: lavender
Who doesn't love a praying mantis?
Certainly not a butterfly or a bee.
We humans, though, are fascinated by them. First, there's the problem of finding them. Often they're so camouflaged that we don't see them until they rustle the leaves and snatch a moving prey. An accidental shot of water from a sprinkler or faucet also will prompt them to emerge.
Lately we've been seeing a light brown praying mantis hiding in our fading lavender. At night it sleeps one stem over from the row of male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis. The female bees return to their nests at night, but the males sleep on stems. (Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls this "The Boys' Night Out.")
Despite its proximity to many food sources, we've never seen this particular praying mantis catch or eat anything.
Maybe this is why: A biologist named Linda who lives in Groningen, the Netherlands, wrote this on her "Keeping Insects" website:
"A praying mantis won't eat a few days before it will shed its skin (molt). This is normal. After molting it will start to eat again. When a praying mantis will not eat even though it does not need to molt, it can help to offer it a different prey species. Do not worry too much, a mantis can live for 2 weeks without any food."
Molting? Sure enough. The next time we spotted the praying mantis, we also saw his discarded skin.
Praying mantis soaking up some sun rays. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis lying in wait. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis has just moulted. Note the shedded skin above it. (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)
If you want to take photos of honey bees in flight, do so early in the morning. They don't move as fast and the lighting is to die for.
This morning we stepped out in our yard, steaming coffee in hand, and watched the honey bees foraging among the lavender blossoms. Against the backdrop of red pomegranate blossoms and spring green leaves, they crawled up and down the lavender and then took off for the next blossom.
So smoothly. So effortlessly. So tirelessly.
You don't always have to stop the action with a flash. We took this with a Nikon D700 with a 105mm macro lens. No flash. We set the aperture (f-stop) at 8, the shutter speed at 1/800th of a second, and the ISO at 800.
The blurring of the wings added to the feeling of speed.
Indeed, the honey bees seem a little more frantic now as they rush to bring back nectar, pollen, propolis and water to the hive. With the queen bee laying about 2000 eggs a day now, everyone has to pitch in.
Just call this "The Lavender Blossom Special."
Honey bee in flight, heading toward a lavender blossom. Note the varroa mite on her head.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, emphasizes that if you're planting flowers to attract bees--and you should--be sure to remember them in the fall--not just the spring and summer.
In the fall, food is scarce. In the spring and summer, food is abundant.
We're often asked for plant lists. UC Berkeley has an excellent site on urban bee gardens, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a comprehensive list of what to plant in your area.
The blueprint for what's planted in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is online (21-page PDF). You can download it and see what's planted there.
Also see California native plants that bees visit on the Laidlaw website.
Another way to come up with what to plant is to visit your local nursery. Observe where the bees are.
A visit today to the Mostly Natives Nursery, Tomales (Marin County), showed the bees all over scores of plants, including lavender (below).
Follow the bees and you'll know what to plant.
Honey Bee on Lavender
Working the Lavender