Thursday, July 14, 2016

delving into pink

delving into pink
tubular bee balm flowers
fumbling bumble bee

Another thunderstorm approaching. No honeybees in sight near my neighbor's hives. But their fat, furry cousins, the bumble bees, are leisurely working the bee balm along the verge, sometimes two on one blossom. 

Their long tongues, curled up during flight, are able to extend down the tubular flowers that cluster in each pink pom pom, whereas honeybees, with their short tongues, prefer open flowers, like this bowl-shaped blossom.

The two types of bees differ in a number of ways.There is only one species of honeybee, which originated in Europe, while there are dozens of species of bumblebees. 

Honeybees live in large above-ground hives of 50,000 to 60,000 bees, where they store honey in wax combs for food all year long. Honeybees communicate by waggle dancing to show the location of nectar. A honeybees that stings will die, as her barbed stinger sticks in the skin. The queen can live three to four years, over-wintering with many of her worker daughters. An older queen may leave her hive and swarm with over half of the worker bees to start a new hive. Beekeepers try to capture these swarms and place them in a new hive.

Unlike honeybees, bumblebees live in the ground in small nests of 50 to 400 bees, producing only a small amount of a honey-like substance which they eat. They may communicate by passing pollen between workers. They can sting more than once, but only if aggravated. The workers only live a few months, while the queen lives for one year, hibernating in a hole. No wonder the bumblebees are busy!

The different species of bumblebees have different lengths of tongues, so they feed on different shaped flowers. Here one is crawling on the platform under the overhanging "lid" of an iris petal.


This bumblebee, its legs laden with pollen, is plunging into the center of a rose.

A bumblebee in flight sips nectar from a bell-shaped sage blossom.

This buffed fellow is meticulously probing each of the tiny tubes of a coneflower.

The bumblebees delving into the bee balm (Monarda fistulosa, also called wild bergamot, horsemint and Oswego tea), are inadvertently pollinating the plant. This native plant has many medicinal uses, due to the antiseptic compound thymol found in the plant's leaves and buds. It has a minty fragrance and taste, though a bit bitter. Indigenous Americans as well as later settlers used the plant for everything from seasoning meat, to treating wounds, throat infections, headaches and fever. After the Boston Tea Party, the rebellious Colonists substituted Oswego tea for British tea.

Honeybees, mostly domesticated, are threatened by mites, diseases and pesticides. Bumblebees, which are wild, are threatened by loss of habitat and also by pesticides. Fewer pollinators, fewer flowers, fewer food crops, not a fun scenario.

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