Bombus mixtus enjoying the sage blossoms and snowberry in our front yard
Honeybee collecting nectar=Sage Honey this fall
©Tracey Byrne 2017
Did you know that almost 90% of all flowering plants rely on animals, rather than the wind, for pollination? Over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. The vast majority of animal pollinators are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and moths; of these, bees pollinate the largest number of plant species. About 1,000 species of pollinators are hummingbirds, bats and other small mammals (Pollinator Partnership, 2017).
Visit Pollinator Partnership and bee inspired with ways to support all our pollinators
Mystery bug #1 Mystery Bug #2
What's that bug?
Have you ever found a cool bug in your backyard, tried to I.D. it, and been frustrated because you could not find it in any of your field guides, in a google image search, or even in BugGuide.net?
Do not despair, as you are not alone! As you may know, insects are the most numerous animal life form on the planet, comprising about 85% of terrestrial animals. Not only that, insects come in all shapes and sizes, and do magic called metamorphosis after being nymphs or molting their hard exoskeletons as they move through instars on their way to sexual maturity.
"Arthropods (Arthropoda) are a highly-successful group of invertebrate animals that includes insects, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, mites, horseshoe crabs, scorpions, and crustaceans. In terms of species diversity, arthropods are second to none. That there are in excess of one million arthropods species that have been identified by scientists and there are estimated to be many millions that have not yet been identified. Scientists estimate there may be a staggering 30 million species of arthropods alive today, the vast majority of which are insects."
The insect world is currently divided into 32 orders. The largest order, the beetles (Coleoptera), contains more than 370,000 species. Other major orders are moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera, 150,000 species), bees, wasps, and ants (Hymenoptera, 120,000 species), flies (Diptera, 100,000 species), and bugs (Hemiptera, 80,000 species).
To make mystery bug I.D. even harder, remember that all insects go through metamorphosis-which means that most of them look completely different from adults when they are in their immature stages as larvae and instars-making it quite a puzzle to identify them, since field guides and websites often only show images of the adult stages of many insects.
For example, take mystery bug #1, found by my friend Lorene in her West Seattle garden:
after three fails (which included an image search, googling "green ladybug", and BugGuide.net), I googled "Seattle pest insects" and found a P-Patch reference document from the Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods, that told me all about the invasive Green Stinkbug, which were first reported in Seattle in 2014.
Bingo! Lorene's bug turned out to be the 5th instar stage of the Southern Green Stinkbug Nezara Viridula. She found this insect alongside lots of little tiny black bugs (2nd/3rd instar) on a Dalia leaf, never before seen in her garden.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus Philenor) life cycle stages
The thing to remember, when taking care of your backyard, is that often times immature stages of beneficial insects look very different from the adults. Be sure to be gentle when you are weeding and tidying up your garden for the winter, as many caterpillars overwinter in the grasses, leaves, shrubs, and woodpiles. These are your butterfly nurseries. If you do find a "pest" insect, such as the Green Stinkbug, please contact the Garden Hotline: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-633-0224.
We had both Red Admiral and the Spring Azure butterflies visiting; look how TINY the Spring Azure is, perched on a forget-me-not. The Vosnesenskii bumblebee is our most numerous bombus, and the tiny metallic green bee with striking black and yellow stripes is an Agapostemon, or male sweat bee, a member of the Halictidae family. They are considered solitary but often nest communally in the ground. Also, apparently not good swimmers (I rescued this little guy from the birdbath :^)
Guest Post by Sam = Organic Lesson
In the past decade, the plight of the honey bees has become a very important issue, and rightly so, as they play an essential part in the growth of crops and produce. Many do not realize that bees aren't just there to produce honey. They also play an important part in pollinating surrounding crops. One way in which we are detrimentally affecting the bee population is through the use of chemical pesticide. As tempting as it is to use such a method to eradicate pests in your backyard, it should be noted that not only is pesticide harmful to the bees, they are also harmful to you as well. If you are a gardener who wants to use a natural control method instead then consider the use of beneficial insects.
As the name implies, beneficial insects are bugs that can help eradicate common garden pests without doing any damage to your garden produce. Not all insects are bad. There are many such as the examples listed in the infographic that can be very effective at getting rid of common pests like aphids, caterpillars, and spider mites. Who knew the beautiful ladybug could be so effective at getting rid of aphid infestations in the garden? Other than the benefit of keeping things organic, using these insects can also be a great way to save money. Chemical pesticide is only going to get more expensive moving forward so why not use a method that takes advantage of the natural resource around you? If you are lucky then some of the beneficial insects could be native to the area you live in so all you have to do is to make your garden an attractive area for them to roam. One last thing to keep in mind is that there really isn't a way for pests to resist these bugs. According to the Pesticide Action Network, more and more insects and weed species are developing resistance against pesticide. With beneficial insects, however, the pests are being eaten so they really have nowhere to go.
If you are a gardener with a backyard then start taking action now. Help sustain the local population of bees in your area by sticking to a natural pest control method.
Sam Choan is a gardening enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experience on gardening and sustainability at his personal blog Organic Lesson. During his spare time, Sam grows a number of herbs in his indoor garden and finds ways to promote green living.
The Difference Between Honeybees and Bumblebees
Did you know that there are more than 4500 species of bees that live in the US and Canada, and worldwide over 20,000 species have been identified?
Many urban dwellers have not had enough experience with backyard pollinators to easily tell the difference between bees and wasps. For me, it is similar to how you can tell a cat from a dog, or robin from a spotted towhee–not only do they look different, but their movements and habits are unique.
You can often ID your backyard bugs by where you find them and what activity they are engaged in. You will find medium-sized golden-brown to black honeybees (photos right) busy flying back and forth between flowers, loading up on pollen and nectar, and zipping back to their hive. Bumblebees (photos left) are generally larger and fuzzier that the honeybee, many with black, orange, or yellow stripes. I consider bumblebees to be the “teddy-bear” of bees, and the most photogenic. Honeybees tend to be sleeker and less hairy than the bumblebees, but both carry pollen on their back legs.
Swarming honeybees are docile; they have nothing to protect–as they are merely scoping out the real estate in your neighborhood. The honeybee swarm consists of a healthy queen and upwards of about 10,000 of her workers. Call your local poison-free bee-guy to come collect them, and they will be relocated to a good home.
Of all the bees, we know the most about our domesticated non-native European honeybees, not only for their pollination efforts but also for the food, candles, and medicinal products derived from their honey, pollen, wax, propolis, and venom. Honeybees are the outliers in the bee family. They, along with bumblebees, are social insects, which means that they work together in the hive to raise their young and make honey. Most other bees are solitary, do not care for their offspring, and a whopping 70% of all bees live in the ground.
Bumblebee nests can be found in the ground, in abandoned birdhouses, or in attics. Their nests are nothing like the honeybee's neat and tidy honeycomb (top); instead, they look really primitive, and a bit cobbled together (below). The bumblebee queen hibernates over the winter, so bumblebees need gather only enough nectar and pollen to raise the brood each season. Honeybees must store enough honey and pollen to allow the workers and queen to survive the winter.
Bee or Wasp?
Bees: fuzzy, friendly, busy-but not aggressive, flight patterns are direct. Variations in size and color from golden brown to green to black, thick legs with pollen baskets, nectar gatherers; nest in ground, woodpiles, hives, attics, and walls.
Wasps and hornets: often aggressive, many carnivorous, striking yellow-black or white-black pattern that shouts CAUTION! Shiny, long thin legs (no fuzz or pollen basket-), wasp-waist, annoying at picnics, zig-zag flight pattern, paper nests found in trees or under eaves.
poster by Alex Surcica
Things have been quite exciting in our backyard, with visits from some spectacular-looking insects. First, the dragonflies-who are exciting to watch as they patrol throughout the gloaming. Next, our bees continue to draw out honeycomb, which they are loading up with pollen and nectar from our thyme, mint, yarrow, borage, and lilac. The photo of the exquisite tiny jewel-like beetles was taken by our gardener, Marisa of Chrysalis Garden Care, so beautiful! Finally, we have been enjoying watching swooping swallowtail butterflies soaring up and over our backyard several times each week.
"New" butterfly sighting: okay, go ahead and laugh, but yesterday I was charged by a "pugnacious and territorial"* butterfly as I was heading out to the alley on our garden path. It turns out that the Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta males are known to rush intruders, including humans, before flying off erratically. Who knew?
*as described by James & Nunnalle, in Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies
All photos ©T. Byrne (unless otherwise noted)
Perhaps the butterflies read Pacific Horticulture?
We were delighted to have this Lorquin's Admiral Limenitis lorquini make a visit to our backyard. It fluttered between our Stewartia and the Washington Hawthorne, apparently just basking in the sunshine. The adults sip flower nectar from plants (including California buckeye, yerba santa, and privet) and also enjoy feasting on bird droppings and dung (hmmmm, I wonder if the dairy manure compost we just brought in attracted this one?).
I do not know if any eggs were laid or if this was just a visit; regardless: it was a welcome sight and a relief from all the Cabbage Whites.
Bring on the native butterflies!
School's out for summer!
*Arthropods are the most diverse life form on the planet.
*There are over 970,000 known species-out of an estimated 4 to 5 million.
*Of the 1.9 million recognized species, over ½ are insects!!!
The other ½ of lifeforms/species include non-insect arthropods, other invertebrates, plants, fungi & lichen (and finally) vertebrates.
*It is estimated that arthropods outnumber humans by as much as 250 million to 1.
Did you know? only 1% (about 10,000 species) of known insects are considered pests.
Millipedes, centipedes, arachnids, & insects:
flies, fleas, moths, butterflies, beetles, wasps, bees, ants, thrips, lice, true bugs, termites, cockroaches, earwigs, walking sticks, leaf insects, booklice, crickets, grasshoppers, dragonflies, mayflies, mites, ticks, springtails, silverfish, spiders
Arthropods also include Crustaceans:
crabs, lobster, crayfish, shrimp, krill, barnacles, pill bugs, and woodlice
I would suggest a visit to Flickr for some extraordinary macro photography by Nicky Bay
I spent most of the 1980s and 90s in Alaska
flying airplanes, floating wild rivers, winter camping, raising a wild child, and living off the grid :^)
I've taught K-12 students from north of the Arctic Circle to the Puget Sound Ecoregion, garnering over thirty years experience as a classroom teacher, learning mentor, and private tutor.
Here in Seattle, I am a photographer/writer for Pacific Horticulture magazine and an advocate for environmental stewardship, place-based education, and outdoor play.
All photographs © T. Byrne unless otherwise noted.