National Pollinator Week – June 18-24, 2018

Happy National Pollinator Week! The third week of June (this year, June 18-24, 2018) focuses nationwide attention on the critical importance of pollinators, including bees, flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles. While the plight of honeybees and monarch butterflies deservedly gets a lot of press, there are also many very rare pollinating insects whose conservation if of utmost importance. In most cases, unlike honeybees and monarchs, these rare pollinators are dependent on specific habitat for their survival. 

Carol Davit of the Missouri Prairie Foundation and Mary Nemecek of Burroughs Audubon bring you this week a daily post featuring a rare pollinator, on behalf of the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative, on which both organizations serve.

June 18, 2018

blue sage beeThe first post, for June 18, 2018, is the Blue Sage Bee, Tetraloniella cressoniana, a native bee solely dependent on the native blue sage (salvia azurea). This stunning bee may resemble a non-native honey bee at first site, but you will first hear its high pitched buzz before you actually see its more compact shape and the pollen it carries on its belly. It feeds its young  pollen only from blue sage plants.  

Originally found specifically on remnant, never-plowed prairies, it has recently been documented on prairie reconstructions and blue sage plantings several hundred yards from remnant prairies. It becomes active when blue sage blooms in August. The Blue Sage bee has been seen on the original prairies at the Missouri Prairie Foundation's Golden Prairie and Kansas City Parks and Recreation's Jerry Smith Park in Missouri, proving remnant prairie anchors the survival of this bee.  You can read more on Golden Prairie here

–Mary Nemecek

Photo by Chris Helzer

June 19, 2018

regal fritillary

The second post, June 19, 2018, features the regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia), dependent in Missouri on original, unplowed prairie remnants, which harbor violet host plants on which the butterfly'slarvae feed.

A candidate for federal listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the nationwide status of this striking large butterfly with white spots on its dorsal wings is currently being reviewed. 

As of 2015, there were 133 known sites for the species in Missouri, and 25 of these had not been surveyed in the last 20 years. According to NatureServe analysis, Missouri has one of the best chances of having prairie of sufficient quantity and quality to maintain this species in perpetuity. Efforts are also underway to propagate violet plants on which the species depends, and transplant them in prairie reconstructions to expand habitat for regals.

A number of Missouri-based biologists are currently surveying for regals to better ascertain its population, and several biologists are carrying out painstaking work to collect and propagate the seeds of prairie violets to potentially expand habitat for this beautiful species. Learn more in this Missouri Prairie Journal article on regals by Missouri Dept. of Conservation Natural History Biologist Steve Buback.

– Carol Davit

Photo of regals taken on a prairie in Pettis County, June 2018, by Bruce Schuette

June 20, 2018

bumble beeThe third post, for June 20, 2018, is the American Bumblebee (Bombus penslyvanicus). Once one of the most prevalent, widespread native bumblebees, loss of remnant prairies and pesticides have taken a toll reducing the population of this bee by 80%. 

Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, wrote “the American bumble bee is a highly imperiled animal, and every remaining colony is essential to the immediate and long-term survival of this species.” The queens emerge in June and feed on prairie flowers such as pale purple coneflowers and penstemon. As with other bumblebees, these are social nesters, nesting in small colonies to care for and tend to the nest and eggs. In the fall the new males and females will emerge and mate. Only the fertilize female will hibernate over the winter and begin the cycle again the following year. 

You can read more about the bee surveys in the Kansas City area, including the importance of original prairie, no matter how small, on native bees including the American Bumblebee here.

–Mary Nemecek

Photo by Tom Schroeder

June 21, 2018

prairie flowersThe fourth post, for June 21, 2018, is Andrena beameri, a native bee whose common name is simply "an andrenid bee." 

This bee, of which the male has never been described by science, and which most bee biologists have never even seen, can be readily found during its few-week flights in late May and early June---but only on remnant prairies in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The female is 11 to 13 mm long.

A pollen specialist, if forages only on early-blooming species of coreopsis---Coreopsis lanceolata, palmata, and grandiflora. Pictured here (the yellow flower) is one of the Coreopsis species on which it forages--but no photo of the bee itself (after many searches and consultation with a bee specialist, no photos were identified). If you are on or near a remnant prairie with Coreopsis, study the insects visiting it!

In 2014, bee biologist Mike Arduser found this species on a 3/4-acre prairie remnant within an 8-acre property in the City of Joplin owned by the Missouri Prairie Foundation. Of small remnants like these, Mike Arduser said “While a few acres of habitat may be just a corner park to us, for some bees and other insects, it’s their entire world.” Prairie remnants matter. Learn more here.

–Carol Davit

Photo by Bruce Schuette

June 22, 2018

byssus skipperThe fifth post, for June 22, 1018, is the Byssus Skipper, Problema byssus. This stunning, small butterfly requires undisturbed prairies, not just for their wildflowers as nectar sources, but also for their grasses.

While their range is widespread in the eastern United States, the Byssus Skipper is rare to locally common at best. The 99% reduction of the American prairie has taken away the spaces where this butteflies lives, breeds, and grows. 

There is one brood in June-July where the female will lay one egg per leaf on eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). The caterpillars will tie leaves together with silk to provide shelter as they feed on the leaves. 

They then overwinter as 4th instar caterpillars and will resume feeding and growing in the spring. If you want to find a Bysuss skipper, get out to an area of original prairie as they will soon have completed their flight in Missouri for this year.  

–Mary Nemecek

Photo by Brett Budach


June 23, 2018

poppy mallow

For day six of Rare Pollinator Posts, in recognition of National Pollinator Week, we feature the callirhoe bee (Melissodes intorta). If you want to see this soil-nesting bee, you have to look for it when species ofCallirhoe (wine cups, poppy mallow) are blooming, which is only a few weeks out of the year. The callirhoe bee is ranked as critically imperiled in Missouri; its global rank has not yet been assessed.

Because of the rarity of this species, finding photos of it is difficult! Visit a prairie and observe what insects are visiting poppy mallow, like this one pictured at left, and you might find the callirhoe bee, which is a Callirhoe pollen specialist. Original prairie remnants are critical to the survival of this species. You can help protect its habitat by becoming a dues-paying member of the Missouri Prairie Foundation (for as little as $3 a month!)

-- Carol Davit

June 24, 2018

Syrphid Fly

Final Post for National Pollinator Week! The species featured today isn't rare, but from a group of pollinators that are sometimes overlooked – flies!

Today we feature a Syrphid Fly, Spilomyia longicomis. This fly is classified as a 'bee mimic' and this species actually mimics a yellowjacket more than a bee. Look at the pigment in the eyes! 

Don't let the disguise fool you- it is a member of a very important group of pollinators, the Syrphid flies, also known as hover flies. They can hover motionless in the air and visit flowers at more frequent intervals than bees. These are wonderful beneficial insects, and their young feed on aphids and other plant-sucking insects. 

--Mary Nemecek; photo by Tom Schroeder