Bumblebees – Pollinators at Work

Bees shouldn’t be so nice and fuzzy.
– Cynthia Copeland Lewis –

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My new Macro lens has been working as hard as the insects in the yard! Particularly busy are the Bumblebees. These are wild, native bees that form small colonies underground. They are very efficient pollinators in our part of the world.  In the fall all but the fertilized queens will die.

Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.
– Mary Kay Ash –

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This is another type of Bumblebee,  not nearly as colorful as the one with the orange band on its rump!

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I’m looking forward to looking for more bugs now that I can take portraits of them! Apparently our Province has about 20,000 species of insects – I wonder how many I will find in my backyard! However many there are, there is an interesting ebb and flow of populations which I can see in the insect damage done to some trees and plants.

What kind of insects are the pollinators in your yard? Do you plant anything special that they like?

Ladybugs – Macro Lens for Micro Photography

I learned a lot about lenses recently. I went to a camera store and told the salesman I wanted a lens that would let me take better pictures of Ladybugs. Apparently he gets lots of requests like that, because he said he had just the lens I wanted. Did you know that you have to have a Macro (meaning very large in scale) lens to take pictures of Micro (meaning very small in scale) things? Seems counter intuitive.

The salesman put one on a camera, and showed me how to use it. I played around with it for a while, pretending that the words on a magazine cover were ladybugs.

I wasn’t ready to buy one yet though, because I was shopping, not buying. To me these are two different activities. But The Car Guy was with me, and to him, shopping and buying are one and the same thing. So he said to the salesman, “We’ll take it.” He didn’t even ask the price. He didn’t go to another store to compare prices. He just bought it. We were in and out of the store so fast that the parking meter had barely begun to count down the time. The Car Guy is exciting to shop with!

We took the lens home, and I went outside looking for Ladybugs.

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Photo 1: This is a picture of a ladybug taken with the old lens – an 18 to 55 zoom lens. Let’s call this ladybug Larry. Ladybugs can be male or female, and it is pretty hard to tell one gender from another.

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Photo 2: This is a picture of a ladybug with the new  60mm 2.8 macro lens. Let’s call her Lucy. See how much bigger Lucy appears than Larry? I should mention here that neither Larry nor Lucy caused the damage you see on the leaves. That was from the hail storm.

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Photo 3: This is Larry, the ladybug in Photo 1, after I cropped the photo.

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Photo 4: Here is Lucy, the ladybug from Photo 2, after I have cropped the photo. See how much clearer the resolution is than Photo 3?

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Photo 5: A side view of another Ladybug, Linda. This photo was cropped as well. Linda is hoovering things off the top of this surface, I think. They are very beneficial bugs to have in the garden!

It is very hard to take these really close up pictures. The Ladybugs get quite skittish when a big black lens starts closing in on them and it tends to make them head for the under side of the leaf they are sitting on. Rest assured, though, that no Ladybugs were actually harmed in the making of these photos! Scared a bit, maybe, but not harmed.

How brave a ladybug must be!
Each drop of rain is big as she.
Can you imagine what you’d do,
If raindrops fell as big as you?
– Aileen Fisher –

Which bug is the superpower of the bug world where you live?

Mosquito be Gone – Trying out a Few Products

3-mosquito1Apparently some people give off a smell that masks the odour that attracts mosquitoes. Some people  build up a tolerance to mosquito bites and hardly notice they have been bitten. (This would describe my spousal unit.) Some people attract mosquitoes within 15 seconds of stepping outdoors, and the bites they get swell up to itchy red blotches the size of quarters that bother them for a week or two. That would be me.

Mosquito season is just getting into full swing this year, and I am already getting tired of itchy spots. It is clear that I am allergic to these  bites. Yesterday I visited my pharmacist, and she suggested two things. The first is a test run of an antihistamine, in this case Desloratadine. The second is an after bite cream – Hydrocortisone.

Of course, the first lines of defense are repellents, and adequate cover up clothing. The mosquitoes that attack me laugh at both of these things. If there is a square centimeter of unprotected skin, a mosquito will find it. And normal repellents? Not very effective on me for very long.

Friends suggested I try some botanical repellents.  So, today I tried out a new mosquito program. I started out with an anti-histamine. Then I lathered my exposed skin with a hand lotion made with grapefruit and lemon.  I headed out into the bug war zone… Within seconds the first wave had arrived – and they headed right for my husband. They left me alone. Clearly citrus based products were making me invisible to mosquitoes!

Later that morning the lotion must have worn off, because I got my first bite. I was far from home (and my grapefruit/lemon hand lotion), so I tried my nephews bottle of  Off! Botanicals. That worked for a while, but I didn’t like the smell as much. Towards the end of the day, and far from my grapefruit/lemon hand lotion and the Off! Botanical, I tried my daughters Off! Deep Woods. This was reasonably effective, but a bit greasy feeling. By now I had a couple of bites, so I  tried the Hydrocortisone Cream, which was very fast acting and effective. Later that night, I put some more cream on. For some reason it didn’t work at all. The next morning I realized why. My little tube of hydrocortisone was missing, but a very similar looking tube of toothpaste was sitting in its place…

Many studies have been conducted to determine repellent effectiveness. Some of them were very scientific, like the one done by The New England Journal of Medicine. They studied 7 products in a controlled laboratory.  Some studies were less scientific, like the one related at Bug Off! They tested 9 products and lots of beer. And one study, mine, was haphazard at best, but made me feel like I was going to get through mosquito season more comfortably than last year.

3-waspJust when I thought I might be able to get through this summers mosquito season, I disturbed a wasp. It took exception to my presence and stung me. That was two days ago. The area around the bite is now an angry red welt about two inches in diameter. It certainly puts mosquito bites into perspective…

Fly Proof Your House

I have two coats of paint to apply to the walls today in order to see some progress on a renovation that was started in January. This renovation is a continuation of last years project, which took  two and a half months. And this was a continuation of a project the year before, which took most of the summer.

There were two goals to doing this work. From my husbands perspective, we were going to make this house less drafty, and therefore reduce fuel consumption. Note, I said reduce consumption, not reduce cost. From my perspective, we were going to banish house flies from ever entering the house again.

House flies might seem like a minor inconvenience, but when 30 or 40 of them are buzzing around  the room every day, sitting on my supper, and batting themselves silly inside lamp shades at night, they are a real pain.

The first year, The Car Guy bought several cases of sealer, and went around the outside of the house filling every crack and cranny he could find. There was no appreciable difference in the fly population, but it likely helped the draft situation. The next year, we started addressing the problem from the inside, and started with the family room. We removed all the tongue and groove pine wall boards, vapor barrier and insulation. When we identified the places where flies and mice were obviously entering, we filled the holes. Then, we reinstalled the insulation, vapor barrier, and drywall. (And caulked the windows, put down new flooring, replaced the old bar cabinets, etc, etc.)

We were so pleased with the result of this project, that this year we are doing the same thing to the dining room, living room, front entry, stairs, and hallway. We didn’t find any places where the “mickey’s” are coming in, but found a few more crevices that were being used by the flies. Fly be Gone – and now they are. It is wonderful.

There are a few of lifes little unanswered questions in this story. We don’t have any more flies coming into the house, but we also have very few flies outside, either. Is it because they don’t hang around houses that they can’t get into? Or is it because fly populations swell and crash for some reason? Will we ever be completely finished any reno project before we start another one?  How many years from now will the next owner of this house tear of the baseboards in the living room and say, “Oh look, this wall was once painted Autumn Leaf!”?