Buzzz….

I keep wondering where the bees are, and finally they are starting to show up — just a few bumble bees, as well as honeybees.

Bee coming in for a pollen snack from Compass Plant flowers

Bumblebee coming in for a pollen snack from Compass Plant flowers

Bumblebee on purple prairie clover

Bumblebee working on purple prairie clover.  That’s quite a load of orange sticky goo in its pollen baskets.

Bees seem to bury their heads in a flower, and you rarely get a glimpse of their long tongue that laps up the nectar.

The tongue is that brown triangular shape between the bees legs.  The tongue is actually encased in a sheath, so that only the tip is immersed in the nectar at the bottom of the flower structure.

The tongue is that brown triangular shape between the bees legs. It is actually encased in a sheath, so that only the tip is immersed in the nectar at the bottom of the flower structure.

Since bumblebees (and other bees, ants, and bats) are nectar dippers, the tips of their tongues are specialized mops with hairy fringes that can soak up a syrup of at least 52% sugar.

From bumblebee.org

The tip of the bumblebee tongue that protrudes from the sheath is formed of fine filaments that collect and hold droplets of sugar-rich fluid.  The saturated tip of the tongue can be withdrawn into the mouth in between flower visits. (Photo from bumblebee.org)

In contrast, suction sippers like butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds prefer a less viscous nectar of around 30%, in order for the mixture to flow well up the capillary tube “tongues” they insert into flowers.  You can read more about this research here.

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Milkweed flowers provide just the right mix of sugary nectar, and are usually loaded with bees at this time of the year.  However, bee visitors are still rare this summer.

The bees still have a month or two to provision their nests and young before the weather turns cold again.  But does a short summer mean fewer bees next year?

8 thoughts on “Buzzz….

    • It’s interesting to hear what people are seeing in various parts of the country, and to know that there are still a lot of some insects in some places, if not here.

    • We are having some stellar weather right now, warm (not hot) with low humidity, the way a Minnesota summer is supposed to be. So, bees have started to appear in greater numbers, but STILL very, very few butterflies. Bee tongues and bat tongues look a lot alike, which is not surprising since they both employ the nectar dipper strategy. Fascinating to see such convergent evolutionary patterns emerge!

  1. I think the bees will do fine in a short, warm summer. The bumble bees over here are fewer this year and I think it is because of the strange spring we had with cold, wet spells wiping out the first nests that the queens set up.

    • It took them a long time to get established, but I think there might be just about as many bumblebees around now as there usually are. But our warm days are numbered at this point, so that was the basis of my concern about their survival over the winter. Is it only the queen that overwinters?

      • It is only the fertilised queen born at the end of the summer that survives to found a new nest the following spring. The nest is only used for one year, the old queen dies and the nest gets over run with insects. This is true for European species.

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