Will Peterman

Will Peterman

Today’s post is a short adventure in photo identification.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to survey about sixty acres of orchard in the Wenatchee Valley for native bees.  (I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the valley slopes, but this was my first substantial survey on the valley floor.)  I haven’t really processed all that I learned: I’ll probably write a longer post when I do.

The short version is that I didn’t find anything.  If the orchardist didn’t have rented honeybees (which he did), there would be no crop at all this year.  That was not what I expected, and so I was motivated to photograph anything that looked even slightly out of the ordinary.

One of the things that caught my eye was a layer of dead bees surrounding an irrigation drip.  I don’t know what killed them: there were half a dozen similar drips, all of which were clearly attractive to the bees, but only the one was dangerous.  I noted it, recorded it so I could refer it to the orchardist for further investigation, and moved on.

Water Strider

Stop the presses: the Bug of the Week is actually a bug!

More specifically, it’s a water strider, in the family Gerridae.  If I had to guess, it’s in the genus Aquarius, but I don’t know water striders all that well.  (Since the absolute best that I can hope for is ID to genus, I can’t help thinking that I should have written “Generically, it might be Aquarius…” but that doesn’t really convey what I want it to.  The English language is a crazy, crazy beast.)

The most distinctive feature of the Gerridae is their ability to move across the surface of a body of water.  They’re very lightweight, and they’ve evolved the ability to spread their weight across such a wide area of water that they are completely supported by its surface tension.  Like all bugs (Hemiptera), their mouthparts are adapted for piercing and drinking, so if you think of a water strider as a self-propelled drinking straw that walks on water, you’ve got the gist of it.  

As usual, though, there are enough interesting things going on to warrant a closer look.

I’ve noticed a number of new user accounts, all from questionable IPs and with names that are suggestive of random generation.  None of them have posted any comments, sent any messages, or (as far as I can tell) visited more than once, and then often for only a few seconds.  Occam’s Razor suggests that there are spammers out there who can get past the default settings on my (admittedly low end) captcha system, so Occam’s Ban Hammer says goodbye.  (I have learned not to trust automatically generated accounts.)

In the future, I’m going to delete suspicious user accounts under two conditions: if they post comments that strike me as obvious spam, or if they sit for more than two weeks after account creation without saying anything at all.  Of course, that does run the risk that I’ll deem an account suspicious when it really isn’t.  If that turns out to be you, I apologize in advance.

If you’re new here and planning to stick around, say hello!

This week we return to the local mining bees.  After I wrote about the ones living in my alley, Evan Sugden told me about a similar aggregation right off the Burke-Gilman Trail, just west of UW campus.  That was interesting, so I went to check it out before the Friday afternoon showing of More than Honey (which is an excellent film, by the way.)

By the time I got there, things were settling down for the day, and there were only a few bees flying.  Even so, I was able to catch a nice bit of drama: a cuckoo bee (that is, a kleptoparasite, probably Nomada spp.) picked the wrong nest to raid, and was rudely evicted by its resident female.  The light was starting to fade, but I was still able to get a decent shot:

I have a few prints up in the Clarridge Gallery at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue.  It’s a joint show with my friend Ron Hammond (who has done some really creative work with albumen prints made from old glass negatives) and Richard McGehee.

My contribution is a series of large canvas prints of native bees.  Those of you who have seen my fine art prints know that I’ve been working on techniques to bring a touch of the fantastic to documentary photography.  I’ve done bee prints before, but this is the first time since the Fountains series that the technique and subject matter have really come together as well as I could have hoped.  I think it’s my best work so far.

(The last image is a print of the photograph that ran in the Seattle Times.  It's also the image that I sent to the UW and the Xerces Society to establish that there was an established population north of Lake Washington, and that a recovery might be underway.)

We’re having a reception at 6 PM on April 23, followed by a talk at 7.  The title of the talk is “Six Legged Bigfoot: the Rediscovery of the Western Bumblebee.”  It is the story of our most prominent native pollinator, its fall from the brink of domestication to the realm of rumored sightings and blurry photographs, and the effort to understand its possible recovery.

All prints are for sale.  All proceeds will support our effort to collect DNA samples from surviving populations of Western bumblebees.


Clarridge Gallery, 12700 SE 32nd St, Bellevue, WA 98005 (across I-90 from Factoria)


April 23, 6 PM (reception) and 7 PM (presentation)

Come one, come all!

On to the Bug of the Week.

One of these days, I'll actually post one of the Hemiptera (that is, a bug) as the Bug of the Week, just to prove that I know what one is.  Today, I'm going to demonstrate my embrace of the vernacular by adding a couple of legs.

This week’s bee is short and sweet: it’s an Andrena, a mining bee, and a relative of the bees nesting in the alley behind my house.

It’s doing something very unusual.

I mostly write about native bees, but I also work with honeybees.  I don’t keep my own hives – I travel too much, and under Seattle law, I’d have to build my apiary on the roof – but I stay in practice by working with the beekeepers-in-training at the UW greenhouse.  Since their blog is on the quiet side right now (hint, hint, y’all,) I’ll talk about UW bee events from time to time.

Which came first, the flower or the bee?

Despite the setup, that is not a trick question.  It has an answer, and as is often the case where insects are concerned, the answer is best expressed with a beetle.  Or, in this case, two beetles.

When I first started studying pollination, I assumed that I would just be studying bees.  For the most part, that’s how it worked out, but I also assumed that there would only be bees to study. That turned out to be wrong.

Sure, I knew about the odd moth-pollinated orchid or bat-pollinated cactus, and I knew that the adults of many insect species live on nectar, and so provide opportunities for incidental pollination.  Still, I thought that the only real pollen specialists – that is, species that can digest pollen, that have specific adaptations for carrying and living with pollen, that show up for pollen even if the flower doesn’t have any nectar – are bees.

Then I saw this thing.

Early Miners

In the Spring, a young bee’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

This week’s bees are the six-legged Lotharios that are swarming around a rock wall near my house.  They are about as young as bees can get: as far as I can tell, they started hatching out this morning.  So far, only the males have emerged, and they are waiting with great enthusiasm for some company.

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