Beauty with Wings

Beauty comes in many forms. Nature has a whole pallet of colors, sizes and shapes to capture the eye and the imagination. For me this week, beauty came in on wings.

I’m seeing more green sweat bees (Augochloropsis) right now, though I can’t identify the species beyond the genus. They’re a brilliant metallic looking bee with about 140 different species. I’m working on bee identification, but it’s been a slow process.

An Andrena mining bee also favored the ox-eye daisies (see photo below). Andrena‘s are ground nesting solitary bees. In the past, I thought any bee nesting in the ground was a hornet/yellow jacket and out to sting me. Not so. Actually about 70% of our wild bees are ground nesting and most are not aggressive at all.

The bee life cycle is actually pretty interesting and is similar to the four stages of the monarch butterfly – egg, larva, pupa, adult.

Ground nesting bees emerge from their pupae in the spring, mate and then look for appropriate nesting burrows, preferring a sandy soil. They will create a small tunnel which will contain several individual nest cells which are sealed off from each other. How they are sealed off varies depending upon the type of bee. Mason bees (Osmia) seal with mud. Leaf-cutter bees (Megachile) use round pieces of leaves. Cellophane/polyester bees (Colletes) create their own cellophane-like material to seal the nest cell.

Each cell will contain a small ball of pollen and nectar upon which the bee will lay one egg. The egg will develop into a larva usually a few days after being laid. The larva feeds from the pollen/nectar ball, and after about five molts (instars), they enter a prepupal stage which could last all summer and winter before emerging as an adult bee. This is a generalization of the bee life cycle; there are always exceptions.

[The above information about bees came predominantly from The Bees In Your Backyard, Joseph S Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carrill. This book is an excellent reference filled with remarkable photos and fascinating facts about bees. I highly recommend it!]

On some of my hikes, I’ve had the good luck of capturing a few photos of damselflies. They’re colorful little insects that move rather rapidly, making photography quite a challenge. But I always admire their beauty. The photo below is of a male Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis). This little guy was sitting on the edge of a wooden planter. The board it is sitting on is about an inch wide.

Here’s a pretty little Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans) below. Bluets are a very difficult damselfly to identify down to species level. And they’re small – less than 1.5 inches long. Bluets tend to stay near the edges of water and hide in grasses to avoid being eaten by larger damselflies, dragonflies or birds. If you walk slowly by, they will move and better enable you to spot them. I’ve read that female Bluets can be blue, orange or green.

Last evening I wandered by our little pond on the off chance of seeing a damselfly and I hit the mother load! There were probably a couple dozen on the edge of the pond and several were engaged with females which were laying eggs in the water. The two damselflies in the photo below are Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile). The female was just about to deposit eggs within the plant stem just below the surface of the water. Their shadows were reflected in the water. I’m afraid I didn’t have a fast enough camera speed to capture the moving wings of the male (the blue one).

The photo below shows a female depositing eggs while other males are nearby. There were quite a few Bluets all around this area with at least three females depositing eggs.

I’ve not had much luck photographing dragonflies, which have much larger, stouter looking bodies and eyes that nearly touch. Dragonflies extend their wings at rest and make for great photographs (while damselflies fold their wings back over their bodies). The Midland Clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus) dragonfly in the photo below is a little more than 2 inches long, with green/yellow coloring. Midland Clubtails are known to be strong flyers and good hunters.

And speaking of good hunters, I encountered an American Robin which was viciously shaking something white. I thought at first it was a piece of trash, but realized later it was a white moth – probably lunch for the bird. The food cycle continues.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

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