Bumble bees

Bumble bee species

It’s official. Bumble bees are in fact too cute for words. Besides their attractive factor, their benefit to the ecosystem is huge! With my recent activity in the butterfly world I’ve also been spotting a few more bees. Where there are butterflies there are flowers and where there are flowers there are bees. Many people have had bad experiences with these positive little polinators, which have made them fearful. The truth is that few species of bee are aggressive to the point of stinging, especially unwarranted. Does that mean I am encouraging everyone to run out and play with bees, of course NOT! What I am encouraging is those who are not deathly allergic, to go take a peak in a flower and watch these hard-working guys and girls in action.

Bumble bee species

What is a bumble bee anyway? Bees, wasps, and ants all fit into one group called an order, in their case it’s Hymenoptera. The “ptera” part of their name means wing and the first… think back to health class… means membrane. Both the fore and hind wings of the group are membranous wings. Now before you all start telling me about ants not having wings, the truth is that some do and the others have just lost them through evolution. Back on topic, Bumble bees are one specific family of bee called Bombidae or maybe they are just in the tribe Bombini in the Apidae. Blah blah blah. The point is… it’s really a very small group in the grand scheme of things.

In New England there are around 18 species according to some really old paper that I found (Franklin, 1912). Most bumble bees make small colonies inside of old animal tunnels or in the base of tussock grasses. There are a few, the cuckoo bumble bees, where a female will take over the nest of another species of bumble bee, using their workers to raise her young. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me.

Another bumble bee species

Carpenter bees are not bumble bees even though they kind of look similar. Carpenter bees are the ones that drill holes into your porch railing or into the eaves of your house. The easy way to tell the difference if you can see them up close is to look at the hairs on the abdomen. The abdomen is the last body segment of an insect. If you look at the abdomen of all the bumble bees in these pictures you can see that they are pretty fuzzy. Carpenter bees have shiny abdomens with only a few hairs.

Well, that’s enough about bumble bees but the next time you are out smelling the flowers I hope you’ll take an extra second to look at the bees that helping those flowers reproduce. Because with out bees there’d bee no flowers. ha ha ha.


What is that stuff?

As an amateur mycologist, that is the question that I am asked far more often than any other natural history subject. Most people know enough about natural history to at least come up with some idea. “That was a weird bird.” or “where did that crazy fly come from?” But sometimes people look down and just see something they have never come across in their whole lives and they can’t even begin to categorize it. Most of the time ‘that stuff’ falls into the fungi or at least fungi ‘relatives’.

In this case it’s a slime mold!!! I love slime molds. If I was in the U.K. I’d love Slime Moulds. So slime molds or Myxomycota or Myxozoa aren’t really fungi. They are in fact a really wacky group of single-celled organisms (closer to animals) that hang out by themselves and munch on decaying material. Then outta nowhere they get some mystical signal to move and they all join together and form these fruiting bodies, at least some do. The fruiting bodies contain spores that when mature blow away and make new little slime molds when the time is right. While the structures can be pretty complicated and unique, these mounds are called aethalia.

mature slime mold

These are the wolf’s milk slime mold also called the wolf’s teet slime mold. Sciency people often refer to them as Lycogala epidendrum. They start out pink (see the first image) and when mature turn a grayish brown color. Where does the common name come from? Well a little known fact is that a wolf’s milk is actually pink in color. The fresh slime mold has a liquidy substance inside that squeezes out looking like wolf’s milk. Although, having never milked a wolf… I’m taking their word for it.

Do slime molds sound interesting? Just wait, there will be plenty more coming up in the future!! There’s some dog vomit outside just ready for blogging too!