Monday, May 20, 2013

Bugger, the mozzies are back too!

They are back and they are hungry, and not just this nearly invisible  crab spider
A few weeks of warmth and the Home Bug Garden is bursting with blooms and starting to fill with green. Bugs, beetles, spiders and flies all seem to be racing to catch up with the late Spring. Alas, even the snow-melt mosquitoes have shown up.
Aedes vexans - one of my least favourite flies
I've been too busy swatting them to take a picture and they are a bit on the small side for my point-and-shoot anyway, but here's one of the more common ones from a previous year (arrow = proboscis). That week or two between the first warm days and the first brood of mosquitoes that breed in the shallow, grassy pools left by the melting snow, is always so pleasant, and ephemeral.
Monsella Double Early Tulip - rather late in May this year
 Great time for bees and the blossoms they prefer too. Especially scenic are the white rosaceous fruit trees and shrubs, the cherries, apple and saskatoon.
Bombus perplexus queen providing a service to our apple crop
The apple seems to be especially attractive to the large bumble bee queens, but not so attractive as the Golden Willow (Salix alba Vitellina), now rather dowdy with its orange twigs covered in things that look more like green baby corn cobs than flowers.
Bombus perplexus queen in Golden Willow
The earlier flowering willows are very important food sources for bumble bee queens when they first emerge from hibernation. In the early spring, the willows have little competition for pollinators, but now they must have something very special to be able to drag the bees away from the more showy flowers.
White-throated Sparrow migrating through
The birds are back too. Although the Robins have been around for weeks, other migratory song birds did not make an appearance until this week. Most will just pass through, as with the White-throated Sparrow above, but Chipping Sparrows always seem to find the Home Bug Garden a good place to raise a family.
Chipping Sparrow (male) freshly bathed after its long trip north
Well, a great place for a bath and a reasonably secure place to forage. Our one surviving cat is now allowed to waddle in the backyard without a leash, but she is too old and fat to be much of a threat and should help keep out the lean and mean neighbourhood wanders.
Chipping Sparrow Clay-coloured Sparrow probably just passing through
Ah warmth, it has been sooo long!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And the bees are back too

Bombus rufocinctus Queen at Elephant Ears

This last week has seen bumble bees (preferred to 'bumblebees' by some) on the wing in central Alberta. All flying at the moment are fall-mated queens newly emerged from hibernation and intending to found new colonies. This one is a queen of a red morph of Bombus rufocinctus nectaring at the flowers of an Elephant Ear (Bergenia cordifolia).
T2-3-4 red-orange = Red-banded Bumble Bee (B. rufocinctus)
One of the more variable and confusing of the local species, the Red-banded Bumble Bee has numerous colour morphs. Like many insects with a noxious taste (and bad taste rather than the ability to sting is thought to be more important), bumble bees that tend to look like each other are more likely to be left alone to go about the business of raising a family. This is called Müllerian mimicry. Unfortunately, bees that all want to look alike leave many a bee-afficionado scratching their head when trying to put a name on them.
Bombus moderatus Queen wishing I would go away
Names are important, especially scientific names, if we want to keep track of species. Ten years ago when the Home Bug Garden was starting to take form, we had regular visits from the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee Bombus (Bombus) terrricola. Since then that species has become very rare, perhaps gone (I think I saw a queen at the Royal Alberta Museum last week). But a new Bombus (Bombus) has come along, Bombus moderatus (aka cryptarum). I suppose that is a good thing, a White-tailed Bumble Bee (or Cryptic Bumble Bee if you prefer obscure common names) is an interesting addition to the pollinator fauna, but what's up with the Yellow-banded? 
Andrena milwaukeensis Graenicher, 1903, tanking-up at Coltsfoot. Seemingly too small and obscure for a common name, would we miss it if one spring it didn't show up?
Of course, bees too shuffle off their mortal coils - should that give us pause? Does it make sense to get all flustered about the decline of a bug, even one with a generally nice reputation and useful lifestyle like a bee? Sure plants need pollinators, but aren't there plenty of them out there? Well, seeming not so much as there used to be in places like the United Kingdom and North America
A fat cat secure in its knowledge that food will always miraculously appear
If a bee disappears will we miss its buzz? Not unless we can put a name on the buzzer. For most bees that is not such an easy thing, but hope is on the horizon, at least for bumble bees. A new citizen science project for North Americans is about to take wing: Bumble Bee Watch ( and a new field guide will soon be out:
Williams, P., L. Richardson, R.Thorp & S.R. Colla. (To be released spring 2013) A Field Guide to the Bumblebees of North America. Princeton University Press.
From sun to rain in 13 hrs: So long sunny weekend
Now, if the weather would only cooperate. It isn't only cats and people that enjoy sunny weekends. This is a critical time for the spring bees - all are starting their nests and need some sun and warmth to fly and to encourage the flowers to bloom. Alas, this is Alberta.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Bugs are Back

Banasa dimidiata (Say, 1823) reflecting on spring in Edmonton
I'm not sure what Carl Stål was thinking of when he coined the stink bug genus Banasa in 1860. In those days, scientific names often had a classical inference and there once was a classical Banasa. The Roman Emperor Augustus founded a colony in northern Africa for veterans of the Battle of Actium called Colonia Iulia Valentia Banasa ( 'The Colony Julia Valentia of Banasa'). Although long a ruin, Banasa is fairly well known for its relics, and perhaps its bugs. The word also occurs in a Rajasthani folk Song (Raste - Raste Chalti Banasa) that adorns YouTube with brightly dressed songsters. Alas, Google Translator seems ignorant of Rajasthani, so the meaning of that banasa also remains a colourful mystery.
Banasa dimidiata looking very ruddy on a cold spring morning, and not much like its emended name
Perhaps Professor Stål was not as dour as his official portrait appears and had a fondness for colourful folk songs from warmer parts of the world. On the other hand, Anasa Amyot & Serville, 1843, perhaps best known for the Squash Bug Anasa tristis (De Geer 1773), seems to have been coined in a similar vein . Perhaps the good professor was being economical in an alphabetical way, but Google could find no 'Canasa' or 'Danasa' to support that hypothesis.
A more typical colour morph of Banasa dimidiata
Thomas Say's choice of a species name for our bug is also a bit mysterious. The spelling, as printed, was 'dimiata', a word with no obvious meaning. In general, the original spelling published is the name you are stuck with, but some people like to correct what they see as the mistakes of others. The great American coleopterist John Lawrence LeConte made such an emendation in 1859 when he published the complete writings of Thomas Say. Presumably LeConte thought Say meant 'dimidiatus', a word meaning 'halved', as many forms of this stink bug are half one colour and half another, especially on the pronotum. Well, perhaps, but I think I will go with 'prevailing use' as opposed to original spelling in this case as Richard Hoffman (2005) suggests. This multi-coloured bug is confusing enough without quibbling about its name.


Richard L. Hoffman. 2005. The Virginia Species of Banasa, Three Decades Later (Heteroptera: Pentatomidae). Banisteria 25: 41-44.

Katherine Kamminga, D. Ames Herbert, Jr., Sean Malone, Thomas P. Kuhar (all Virginia Tech) & Jeremy Greene (Clemson University). Field Guide to Stink Bugs of Agricultural Importance in the Upper Southern Region and Mid-Atlantic States.

LeConte, J. L. 1859. The Complete Writings of Thomas Say on the Entomology of North America. Two volumes Bailliere Brothers, New York 412 and 814 pp. 

D. B. Thomas & T. R. Yonke. 1981. A Review of the Nearctic Species of the Genus Banasa Stål (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 54: 233-248.

This spring's first tulip