Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LUMBERING BUMBLEBEE

I don't know what it is about purple coneflower that bumblebees find so attractive—but I never find one without the other. Perhaps the bloom's nectar is especially tasty or intoxicating, or the pollen especially delectable. Even though there may be a half-dozen other flower species of similar height and size in full bloom nearby, the bumblebees seem most interested in snuffling over the flower's rounded centers.
Up close, they look for all the world like shaggy beasts grazing a reddish-orange field. Which is exactly the case.
Bumblebess forage to gather both nectar and pollen. In the photo above, you can see a only few grains of pollen clinging to this particular insect's rear legs; often the legs, sides, and underparts are practically covered with the stuff, as if they'd been heavily dusted with golden flour. Bumblebees use the gathered pollen to feed their larvae young—and of course they inadvertently pollinate various plants and flowers as they forage, making them one of the most useful garden helpers around.
Because of their large size and loud buzz, bumblebees tend to frighten some folks who don't understand their gentle nature. I suppose they do look a bit fearsome, unless, like me, you equate them more to woolly-haired sheepdogs.
However the truth is, a big ol' bumblebee hummin' and bumbling its way around your plants—even those plants inches away from where you stand or sit—poses no threat whatsoever if left to its business. Yes, they can sting, and more than once since their stinger lacks a barb. But they won't…not unless you threaten or try to harm it in some way. In point of fact, a bumblebee will pretty much do everything it can to avoid any sort of contact with a human, and any fear we have towards them is largely unfounded.
This morning, though the day is arriving heavily overcast and threatening rain, the bumblebees have already made their first visits to my small patch of purple coneflower. "Busy as a bee" applies to bumblebees as well as honeybees. They may be fat, but they're not lazy.
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16 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think everyone loves the bumble bee (or humble bee as they are sometimes called here) - and your use of the word 'lumbering' is so apt - although maybe that is because of the buzz they make.

Scott said...

Beautiful image and nice natural history, Grizz. Yesterday, I noticed a bumblebee investigating the Indian-pipes that had appeared in my pine straw earlier this week; the delicate decurved flowers could barely support the bee. Your posts never fail to brighten my day; thanks!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I wish everyone DID like the bumblebee…but I've actually witnessed neighbors dashing into their back yards with cans of lethal insecticide spray to kill bumblebees working the flowers. Their reasoning was that any bee that big had to pose a real life-threatening danger to anyone within miles around. They were bent on saving humanity from THE ATTACK OF THE KILLER BUMBLEBEES!

Re, "lumbering," they don't actually seem to be moving all that slow when you're trying to photograph them; you'd swear they were dancing a jig atop the coneflower blooms as you try and keep them in focus.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Hey, I can sure imagine how a fat ol' bumblebees such as the one in my pix would put a serious strain on a fragile Indian Pipe stem.

Thank you for the nice words…glad you like the posts.

Jain said...

No matter how many times I see them, I'm always surprised at how furry they are. Have you seen Heinrich's "Bumblebee Economics"? It's been too long since I've read it but there's a neat color key in the back for North American bumblebees. I've had limited success with it but it's fun to try.

KGMom said...

Huh--I always thought bumblebees don't sting. And I have so told kids who are afraid of them. I guess I will have to revise my lack of caution.
I love the pic--great close-up of a bumblebee.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

I know what you mean about being surprised—somehow they never seem to look quite to furry when you watch them flying around. It's only when you really get a good close-up look that they begin to resemble a sheep dog with a crazy paint scheme.

I have read that book by Heinrich, though a long time ago. I can't remember whether it was the first one of his I read or the second (the first might have been "In A Patch of Fireweed") but I still have it—along with most of his other books.

Here's a site you might like for keying down bumblebees:

http://www.bumblebee.org/NorthAmerica.htm

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Trust me, I can assure you from personal experience they sting—though not without real provocation.

When I was growing up, we always knew the location of several bumblebee nests around the house and neighborhood. They would often commandeer one of my Dad's backyard squirrel boxes, for example, or settle into the straw seat stuffing of an old Packard or DeSoto rusting away in the weedy junk lot up the street.

The deal was to take a short stick, insert it into the box entry hole or through the car's rotting upholstery…then stir like mad until the first wave of bumblebees came rushing out to defend their nest, young, and queen. At this point you ran for your life, a buzzing black cloud trailing behind. If you were fast and lucky, you stayed ahead (not as easy as you think; bumblebess can fly fast when they want to!) until you either reached a safe house or similar hole to dart into and close a door behind you, or the bees tired of the chase and went back to check the damage.

At least half the time, neither worked, and the mad bumblebees caught you on the fly, so to speak, or managed to stay close enough that they flew right into your refuge—in which case you generally ran down the hall and jumped into the first handy closet. About half the times I and my pals got stung, we got stung while cowering in a dark closet. And yeah, I know—and actually knew then—it served us right. But we just chalked a few stings up to the cost of our sport.

So they can and will sting, multiple times, but you have to really work at it to make them angry. I've seen kids pinch a flower together with a bumblebee inside, put a dozen or two captured this way into a jar, then—after watching them for awhile—open the jar and let them back out…and all the gentle bumblebee does is fly off. No sting, no retaliation for such shabby treatment.

Vagabonde said...

I am behind coming to your blog but I went back and read all the posts I missed. I like your queen snake. We see a small snake in our yard once in a while but not often. Your flower pictures are excellent and so clear and crisp – I really like them. Your post on bergamot was enchanting – I had not seen the flowers but always liked the fragrance. I also like your pictures of birds and insect, like the bumble bee. Yesterday I went to a talk given at our library by a professional photographer. It was for novice photographers (which I am.) I usually place my setting on “automatic” as I am afraid of messing up. Tomorrow we’ll go to an old plantation nearby and I’ll try to play with my settings to see if I can get better pictures. By the way my current post is about Ohio, well, partly about Ohio.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Vagabonde…

Thank you for all you say re. posts and pix. I'm glad you enjoy them—that's the reason I do them.

Today's cameras set on automatic produce about as good a photo most of the time as a lot of professionals could manage 30 years ago. BUT…there are reasons, situations, where you need less or more depth of field, or a faster or slower shutter speed, to obtain the image you envision. And that's really the key—to see the finished shot in your mind beforehand and understand what controls you need to employ to get there. And really, the mechanics are just understanding your tools—anyone can do that. The real difference is—for want of a better phrase this late at night—the "artistic eye," which is part talent and part training, looking at lots of good images, understanding why they're good…and also getting in tune with that mysterious something inside yourself that makes your vision unique, gives it heart and style, lifts it out of the clutter and commonplace.

I'm not claiming I have that, BTW. But that's what ultimately makes a good photographer. And it starts by thinking—about your tools, your subject, and your vision. To "see" with your hands and mind and heart.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

beautiful picture and wonderful lesson on bumblebees. I try so hard not to be afraid of them but usually tono avail - oh well. Even seeing the picture you took made me sweaty.

Love to you
Gail
Peace and hope and "bzzzzzzzzzzzzz"
:-)

Wanda..... said...

Bumble Bees are friends here too and visit my coneflowers...I always find them on the Virginia Mountain Mint in the field too. They are accommodating...they put up with my photo taking, but sometimes I see a hindleg movement that looks as if they are shooing me away!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

You're not by yourself in fearing bumblebees—lots of folks find them, along with all wasps and bees, frightening. Knowing something is harmless and being able to plug it into your psyche are two different things entirely.

Hey, we all have our fears—sometimes several. But honestly, you really don't have to worry about a bumblebee going on the attack unless you do something to it, unlike, say, a wasp or hornet.

Glad you liked the piece anyway. Take care of yourself—and I hope you're feeling better.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I really don't think you ever need worry about a bumblebee you're trying to photograph. I've shooed them this way and that for a better shot, "herding" them as best you can herd a busy bumblebee. Never noticed any leg shaking. :-)

Hey, I'll have to see about getting some Virginia mountain mint for my yard. I have the notion that in the next year or two I'm going to expand my planting beds considerably (like all but swallowing at least the main lawn!) yet not putting in a single plant that isn't appealing to hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and bugs of a photogenic nature…or, is simply too lovely, or otherwise neat or useful, to resist. I may also ask you for some ideas, likes, dislikes, if you're willing.

George said...

Another informative post, Grizz, and one that is especially helpful to me. I am much more comfortable with the "wooly-haired sheepdogs" nomenclature. My wife thinks, however, that I have had to much pinot grigio when I tell her that I am admiring the sheepdogs foraging in the pink blossoms of the crepe myrtles.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

Hey, "sheepdog" is the first thought that comes to mind whenever I look trough a viewfinder at a bumblebee.

Re. wife's assessment of your sobriety, hand her a large tumbler of that pinot grigio, allow it to work its mellowing magic, then lead her into the garden and show her what an astute and simile-creative fellow you indeed are…then top her tumbler off and—

(Okay, you're on your own.)