A Natural History Break From The Pandemic
Stories From Our BackyardsPosted on: October 15th, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #27
This week, we take a break from the heavy essays and the issues and enjoy a bit of natural history about some of our wild neighbors. If we take the time to look closely and ponder, our backyards at Lindsay and at home can be places of wonder and discovery. Here are two short stories that I hope you enjoy.
Bees, Pollen, and Honey
Back in BPT (Before the Pandemic Times) our Lindsay honeybees were looking for a new queen. Our friendly beekeepers came to perform some maintenance to the hive when we detected that it was smelling a bit ripe. They found maggots in the bottom—probably from a sneaky fly that entered the hive—but also discovered that our bees had no queen. With spring in full swing, our bees were slated to get a new queen and become a thriving hive again. But what about the native bees? How many species are there in our state? Do they also have hives? Do they collect nectar and pollen and produce honey? Our friends from UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden can tell you lots of stories about our 1,600 different species of California bees.
The European honeybees (a non-native species to the Americas) live in well-organized hives, as we know. Most California bees are solitary and do not produce honey. They can range from as big as an inch long, like some carpenter bees, to tiny jewel-like metallic-colored sweat bees. Most visit flowers for the nectar (energy drinks) and for the pollen, which they collect to feed their broods.
Bees play a hugely important role in the pollination of our crops and wildflowers and act as environmental indicators of quality. Their biggest threats are the loss of habitats (we can provide small habitats in our backyards), the overuse of pesticides in our gardens and fields, the introduction of invasive plants and other species, mites, and other bee-specific diseases, and climate change.
One Million Flies Can’t Be Wrong…But Some Were Fooled!
It is a well-known fact among pet owners that flies are attracted to poop. Within seconds of your puppy making a deposit outdoors, flies will find it and explore it as a possible substrate to lay their eggs — and have a snack too. Flies are also attracted to rotting things like flesh or fruit. Many species are very attracted to certain types of decomposing matter. So what happens when a very unusual fungus cheats and makes flies come to it to help it disperse its spores? This is the story of Clathrus ruber, an amazing fungus of the family Phallaceae. It is fairly common around the world, but not often seen. They are commonly known as latticed or basket stinkhorns, and boy, do they really stink. The powerful smell of rotten meat immediately attracts flies, who enter the fungus’s basket-like red ball. Once inside, the flies walk and taste the putrid-smelling black slimy exudates that contain the spores that the fungus needs to be dispersed. Originally from the European peninsula, the fungus is now spread all over the world. It loves mulch and garden waste, where its rhizomorphs (or mycelial cords, similar to the roots of plants) feed on decomposing wood and leaves. This particular specimen, which is about the size of a tennis ball, emerged from the mulch in front of Hello the Raven’s enclosure.
Stay safe and curious!
Carlos L. de la Rosa