Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bumbling Around

Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Bumbling Around In The Yarden

I must lead an insect sheltered life, not being aware that we had bumblebees in our area.  For some reason, I thought they were exclusive to colder climates.  However, I was recently educated in the possibility of two bumblebees that may be foraging in our yarden.  The choices were Bombus Morrison or Bombus Sonorus.  Bombus Sonorus is currently under dispute as being under the American Bumblebee umbrella Bombus pensylvanicus or an independent subspecies.  In any case, either bumblebee species is over 50% decline during the last 10 years.

Based on the banding, we have Bombus Sonorus.

Why Haven't I Seen These Before?
Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Given the size of these bees, it is possible they were mistaken as carpenter bees (we have a lot of those), but never really noticed how fuzzy the butt was before.  Fuzzy butts are bumblebees and smooth butts are the carpenter bees. 

Since documenting the activities around the luffa gourds, more attention is being given to what is visiting these days and the Sonoran bumblebee is now on the list of luffa fauna.  Following achievement of awareness, the next question on my list is how can I attract more of these and what do they need for more stable sustenance throughout the year.

These questions are answered from understanding the life cycle of the Sonoran Bumblebee.

Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Sonoran Bumblebee Life Cycle

The bees start emerging from the burrows during spring.  Bumblebees are excellent pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants, blueberries and cranberries as they sonicate (vibrate) the flowers to expel pollen and distribute from flower to flower. You know you have sonicating bees when you have high yields of tomatoes, eggplants, cranberries and/or blueberries.

The population of bumblebees are most visible during August.  Visibility slightly tapers off through the fall months due to the males breeding and dying off in a few weeks and the worker females not living much longer.  A strong colony will produce a large number of queens to perpetuate the species in fall.

Queen Sonoran Bumblebees make nests out of old rodent holes.  The belief is the insulated hairs from the rodents make for a nice, warm and dry environment needed to raise a 50-500 cell brood. (Lucky us, we have hybrid ground/roof rats around here and may actually have made space for them when getting rid of the rats).  Queens enter diapause (hibernation) in late fall and start producing young in spring after awakening. 

Is It A Boy Or A Girl?
Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

It is possible the photos we have are of a male.  Males do not have pollen collecting hairs on their hind legs and have longer antennae (however the antennae length is relative and we have nothing for comps).  

The legs don't seem to be saddled with pollen, so could be male.  We really don't know much about these yet.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Coccinellidae pupating (lady bug, lady beetle, lady bird)


We all love the little ladybugs in our gardens.  They have voracious appetites for aphids and scale.  A lady bird or two decided our garden was a great place to lay some eggs.  I spotted my first lady bug larvae some time last week and then started seeing all the pupating lady bugs everywhere on the sweet potatoes.

This is our fifth year of gardening, and without any pesticide.  Our first year of planting sweet potatoes and along came the lady bugs.  Not sure what the draw was, specifically, but we will plant more sweet potatoes every year from here on out.

How Lady Bugs Start Out
Ladybug larvae

An adult ladybug will find a place where there is a good food source, and lay a cluster of eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae climb out of their respective eggs and don't look much like the super cute lady bugs we all know and love.  They are born hungry, eating up to 50 soft bodies daily.

At any stage, ladybugs love to eat any soft bodied insect, including aphids, scale, white flies, etc.  Mr. Man witnessed ladybugs in our garden eat a path through a group of aphids as it was walking on a leaf.  A ladybug can eat up to 5,000 soft bodied insects in its lifetime.  It may seem like a lot, but aphids multiply at an astonishing rate.

Ladybug chrysalis stages

The Chrysalis Phase

After several weeks of constant noshing, the lady bug larvae find a spot to attach and pupate.  In the sweet potatoes, there are so many on the leaf undersides it has been quite surprising.  We really had no idea how many ladybugs we had in the garden until seeing chrysalis all over the leaves.

The chrysalis phase can last around 15 days and then the adult lady bug emerges, to finish its remaining one to two year life span.

The Beetle Phase
Recently emerged from pupa

Once the pupation has completed, the ladybugs exit from the shell and start walking around.  The coloring may be light and the spots may not be fully visible until after they mature some.  If there is a good food source, these guys and gals will stick around, picking off approximately 20 soft bodies daily.

This particular lady bug we ended up with is called a Convergent Lady Bug.  The identification is easy by the two slash marks of white on top center of and white edging around the shoulder plate.  The spot patterns aren't consistent on each individual ladybug for this type of lady bug.

Winter Habits Of LadyBugs
Wintering ladybug clusters

Strange but true, lady bugs winter in clusters.  My son and I first witnessed this spectacle when hiking in the Chiracahua mountains many years ago.  It was intriguing and pretty amazing.  I wonder if we will see such a thing around our house here this winter.