Sunday, March 22, 2009

Honeybee video shows pollination up close

While my primary interest is in bees native to the Americas, a video of honeybees shows nectar and pollen collection in breathtaking close ups.

Bees: tales from the hive (This program gives close-up views of honeybees in action - on flowers and inside their hive. The action photography is unparalleled. If you have any interest in honeybees this is a must-see.

Footage of bees' flower visits, with nectar and pollen collection, are breathtaking. The efforts of other creatures to enter the hive, and the bees' response, are vividly shown. Additional coverage inside the hive includes egg-laying, larval growth, and rivalry among would-be queens. Views of a mating flight are pristine.

The narration is American, and the photography is German. The location is somewhere in Europe. This is hardly noticeable in the first few minutes. But when the bee swarm enters a village, and the streetcar comes to a stop, you'll know this is not North America. The woodland sequence is more subtly European.

Seeing this you'll understand why honeybees have fascinated humans for millennia.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Participatory science and computer mapping

The past two years have seen several web sites where volunteers can record observations about plants, migratory animals, etc.

The grandmother and best example of such sites from an educational viewpoint is Journey North. From February through June, weekly emails advise students and teachers about the migration progress of selected species. My favorite is monarch butterflies, but other prefer hummingbirds, robins, or other species. Unfortunately, their use of external sites to find lat lon is clunky.

Photo by C. B.

(Speaking of monarchs, the pioneer and paradigm for single species sites is Monarch Watch.)

There's a nice use of Google maps on Beespotter. When you enter a sighting (and upload a photo), part of the data entry process brings up a Google maps applet. Normally you would enter a street address. If you know your lat lon you can enter that to Google. (Since many people will make repeat observations at a few sites, it would be a logical to be able to keep a list of favorite locations.)

The Great Sunflower Project is actually a bee observation project. The assumption is you will grow sunflowers in a single site, so you register a single location by street address (lat lon is optional.) Then you may record multiple observations at that site.

Finally, a plant-focused phenology site. Project Budburst assumes you will register a small number of locations, and later report consolidated observations for each site. They require you to get lat lon from an external site.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Doug Tallamy in Michigan on March 8, 2009

Ecologist Doug Tallamy gave the keynote at the 22nd Michigan Wildflower Conference on March 8, 2009. It was exciting to hear him. His book is one of the most import books of the decade.

Here's an excerpt of a review by Nancy Cutbirth Small (with her permission):

Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens (Timber Press) ... focuses on using native plants to sustain the herbivorous insects that transfer the sun’s energy from plants to birds and other creatures. …

Chapter 12 “What Should I Plant?” is especially helpful, for it ranks and discusses the 20 genera of woody plants most valuable to Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Lepidopterans and their caterpillars form an important part of young birds’ diets. The number of species supported by each genus is amazing: Oaks, which head the list, support 517 species of moths and butterflies as well as walkingsticks and katydids, “hundreds of species of gall wasps,” bess beetles, and large stag beetle species. Hickories, though halfway down the list, nevertheless support 200 Lepidoptera species alone.

Tallamy illustrates his book with his own beautiful and dramatic photographs of insects--feeding, mating, protecting themselves, guarding their eggs or nymphs, being parasitized. The last major section of the book is devoted to a “portrait gallery” of herbivorous insects (and some of their arthropod predators), with short discussions of each. Strange, imposing, elegant, beautiful—and sometimes all of these—the insects shown here and elsewhere in the book help make the author’s passionate argument for saving these creatures on which so much depends.

Readers are certain to find Tallamy’s book revealing and inspiring.