The First Flight

blog post by guest contributor Melina Lozano Duran

The first flight. Have you heard of this expression before, do you know what that means?

It all comes from the fact that some insect species have several generations that come out

Bombus impatiens on Stone Mountain Daisy, Helianthus porterii. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

at different seasons but as a global consensus the season where native bees remerge from their nest after Winter is Spring.  Spring isn’t the only conventional temperate season where flowers are supposed to bloom and animal species start reproducing. In the insect

world, specifically in native bee world, Fall and Winter are crucial seasons for the natural world of plants and insects to have a successful Spring.  

Most native bee species in Georgia are active all year round visible to the human eye in Spring, Summer and Fall. Winter is still a very active season for bees but you do not get to

Carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica robbing nectar. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran.

see the action! A solitary native bee’s life span is less than a year from egg to adult- what is known as a complete metamorphosis. You only get to see the adult stage, which usually lasts a few weeks. For example, in the Family Andrenidae, many species go through pupation and adult maturation inside their nests during late Summer through Winter and emerge in Spring. Georgia is home to approximately 89 Andrena (mining bees) species of the 465 species in the United States, a very significant number. Look out for medium sized bees like Apis mellifera (honeybee) with fussy faces and dark bodies like Andrena Barbara (mining bee). Other bee families have what is called multivoltinism- meaning they have two to three generations per year.

 

In today’s anthropogenic-modified world we have to account for other factors when it comes to knowing flight seasons and the bee species that will come out based on their nesting, foraging and social behaviors. The lack of foraging resources from a previous year will yield more or less individuals per species and impact their reproductive success. Temperature changes will also modify when bees come out of their nest, but this also impacts flowering times for plant species; Even flooding events can cause a bee to come out later or not come out at all! You might be thinking, well, there is nothing I can do about that! However, one thing we all can do is help ecosystems recover. For example, your

A brilliant green native Agapostemon bee species. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

garden has a micro-ecosystem. If you plant all native plant species from Georgia, and avoid applying any pesticide, you are already contributing to the conservation of native bees and other insect pollinators.

In the Metro Atlanta area, expect to see species of the Halictidae- commonly known as sweat bees and Apidae Family- long-tongue bees coming out for the first flight. Species like Xylocopa sp (carpenter), Bombus sp (bumble), Apis sp. (honeybee). All long tongue bees are the first ones to start foraging on available floral sources. Panurginus sp, which can be rare but is definitely a species that comes out in April after a long Fall and Winter nesting.   Another very important characteristic of most native bees in the United States is that most are generalists, meaning they forage on several plant genuses and do not have a one-on-one relationship with a specific plant species or a sole plant genus. When living in a urban environment like Atlanta, we must remember people have introduced several non-native plants like Chiomanthus praecox (Japanese allspice) and bees actually forage on it, especially when native plants are scarce. Another good example of Spring bloom is Erythronium americanum (yellow adder’s tongue). It’s a known associate of several bees in the families Andrenidae (mining bees), Halictidae (sweat bees) and Megachilidae (leaf cutter bees).

Erythronium americanum, Trout Lily.

Sources:

Bees of Georgia, http://native-bees-of-georgia.ggc.edu/. Stewart, N and Schlueter, M. 2017

Michener, D.C, The Bees of the World, Baltimore Maryland. The John Hopkins University Press 2000, 2007.