And bees …

I had great fun observing all sorts of new plants and wildlife on my trip and discovered that even the bumblebees are different in North America! Apparently there are 50 species in the US, while New Zealand is home to 4, all of which were introduced from Britain.

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Most likely Bombus californicus, which is found in western North America. This one was at work in a Seattle garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Possibly Bombus sitkensis, a ‘hairy’ bumblebee found from Alaska to California and as far east as Wyoming. Pictured at Icy Strait Point, near Hoonah, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As you’ll see if you look at this 2-page North America bumblebee identification chart, you really have to study the insects to be sure of the name.

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And here’s a different one again, I think! Could it be Bombus melanopygus? Pictured in a park in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If any readers are able to help with ID, I’d love to hear more.

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At work on orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orange hawkweed may look pretty but the US government lists it as an ‘invasive’ plant for Alaska and says: “A favourite flower of unwary gardeners and wildflower enthusiasts. Found along roads, riparian areas and beaches. Moves into forb [wildflower] meadows where it spreads aggressively. Forms dense mats, crowding out native plants.”

Now we’re on to the smaller bees, I’m not even going to attempt to name them!

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An orange globe mallow flower attracts a bee at the Painted Hills in eastern Oregon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orange globe mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) is a recognised wildflower of the Pacific northwest of the US. Read more here. And read a little about the wildflowers of the John Day Fossil Beds here.

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In the same area I saw this bee diving headfirst into the flower to do its job. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’m tentatively identifying the flower above as Linaria dalmatica as the foliage looks about the same. Linaria are, as you may have guessed from the flower, related to the snapdragon. Both this and Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs plant, toadflax) are considered weeds in Oregon and started life as garden escapees.

The ‘mossy balls’ I spotted on briar-type rose bushes in Washington state had me scratching my head until I could spend some time with Google. Known as mossy rose galls, they are made by the plant as result of ‘injury’ by one of two wasps. The centre of the gall then becomes a nest for the wasp larvae. Apparently, the galls don’t affect the health of the rose bush. Read more here.

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Mossy rose galls on a rose bush in Port Townsend, Washington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A Fourth of July visit to the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in western Oregon brought about a casual meeting with retired scientist Ron Spendal who ‘as a hobby’ is working with Montana State University to learn more about the grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia).

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Ron Spendal checks one of his nesting stations. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The spindle-waisted wasps, which up until 3 years ago weren’t known to be in Oregon, are ‘pretty docile’ as they make solitary nests so don’t have a hive to defend. Their name comes from what they do – carry long strands of dry grass to stuff into small holes and create a nest. Ron’s stations are testing how deep females will go to nest – it’s further than previously thought – and observing the nesting cycle. Females lay about 30 eggs in a lifetime and paralyse drumming katydids, bringing them back for their young to feed on.

Ron says the wasps are pollinators but ‘inadvertently’ as they dip into flowers for an energy-boosting sip or two of nectar. “Bees have feathered hairs designed to collect pollen while wasps have straight hair that just a little bit sticks to.”

Great to see citizen science in action!

This video shows a nest being built (3:50).

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