This Spring, in southern California, graduate students will comb the desert looking for the first emergence of adult Xylocopa orpifex or Mountain Carpenter Bees. Scientists in the Midwest will have note books in hand recording the first time they see orchard bees (Osmia sp.) foraging at the edge of corn fields in the spring.
These observations are recorded for science in a process known as “phenology” -from the Greek word “phainos” meaning to show or appear. We like to think of phenology as keeping a journal from year to year about the appearance of bees in our gardens then looking back over the years to see if there are any trends. The phenology of many natural processes - the emergence of bees included - is influenced by temperature, making them potentially sensitive to climate change.
For most of our native solitary bees, an adult female or “queen bee” emerges from the ground on cue with the blooming of the plants she needs to provision the nest cells for her offspring. This female bee will spend all of her time above ground building and provisioning a nest filled with brood chambers. In each brood chamber, she will lay a single egg. Most solitary bees are only active as adults for 2-5 weeks. They spend the other 45-50 weeks of the year in their nest in the ground or cavity.
If you have the chance to observe her during her 2 – 5 weeks above ground – let us know by doing a 15 minute bee observation and sending in your data! Together, we can populate nature’s notebook and have a solid year-to-year record of bee phenology.
To read more about phenology, go to Your Garden Show’s web site for this excellent article on the importance and beauty of phenology. http://blog.yourgardenshow.com/blog/finding-patterns-in-nature-2/
And, to learn more about native bees along with a great way to keep a notebook of what you or your friends and family observe in nature, consider the “Garden Variety Native Bees of North America” Perpetual Bee Calendar offered by Celeste Ets-Hokin. You can see an example of this stunning photographed calendar/journal here: http://members.printable.com/californialithographers/bee_calendar/
And, get ready to keep an eye out. We want your bee observations this year!