Q&A with Leif Richardson, co-author of Bumble Bees of North America

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We’ve recently published a comprehensive identification guide to bumble bees of North America. One of the authors of that guide sat down with Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden to talk about misunderstandings when it comes to bumbles–how are they related to other social bees? do they make honey? what does aposematic mean?, and more. Enjoy this preview and then read the complete interview here.

At the end of the interview, there is an opportunity to enter and win a copy of the book, too. So make sure you scroll to the bottom.

 

Q. First, can we briefly place bees, and bumblebees, in the order of things?

A. Bees are in the insect order called Hymenoptera, which also includes ants, wasps, sawflies and a few miscellaneous taxa. The closest relatives of bees are wasps, and they diverged from them many millions of years ago.

Q. Yes, I read in the book that bees evolved from wasps 100 million years ago—though frankly, I can’t tell the two apart. Are there things I can be looking for?

A. What many people consider a bee is the furry thing that looks like a honeybee, but most people don’t know that there are many species of bees that closely resemble wasps.

In general, bees are more hairy than wasps, and the hairs are branched—all bees have branched hairs at least somewhere on their body. They can sometimes look very feathery under the microscope, just like a bird feather….The feathery hairs insulate, and also aid in the collection of pollen—or so is the theory.

In most bees, the females collect pollen to feed to their offspring, so they have a pollen-carrying structure. We call that a scopa—which is usually a morphological characteristic of the exoskeleton combined with hairs. If you think of what a honeybee’s leg looks like, you have that big, wide area on the hind leg—this is the scopa of a honeybee. It’s a concave area and then it has long hairs that arch over it, so the bee can pack pollen in there.

In other bees, the scopa may be on the underside of the abdomen or on the thorax, and some bees even carry pollen internally.

You won’t always be able to tell bees and wasps apart, but look for the pollen-carrying structures, and generally more hair on bees than on wasps.

Q. How many kinds of bees in North America? And how many are bumblebees by comparison?

A. There are only 46 species of bumblebees, which are in the genus Bombus, on the continent–but nearly 4,000 species of bees total, including the bumblebees, in the United States.

Most of the bees are not what you know as a bee—most of them are solitary in their lifestyle, and not social [like the familiar honeybees]. So the males and females mate, and then the females go off and lay their eggs in a nest, and provision it with pollen and nectar and seal it up and they’re done.

That’s as opposed to rearing their offspring, and then successive generations of a worker caste coming and later reproductive individuals, too, all in the same colony in the same year—that would be a social bee.

Continue reading this Q&A at A Way to Garden: http://awaytogarden.com/bumblebee-101-leif-richardson-win-new-field-guide/

Time for Gardening

Calling green thumb gardeners and novices alike—sprouting season is finally here. After the winter thaw, it is time to break out the trowels, shears, and your favorite nature guides. Princeton brings you five comprehensive titles to accompany this year’s gardening season. From bees and other bugs to all things botanical, we invite you to peruse this collection for yourself.

k7713As we find ourselves tilling our garden beds and anxiously awaiting the first sprouts, inevitably our hard work will be swarmed upon by those infamous invaders: garden pests. But which insects are bad bugs and which ones are good? How can you identify the insect that is eating your green peppers or tomatoes? Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs by Whitney Cranshaw is the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the common insects and mites affecting yard and garden plants in North America.  In a manner no previous book has come close to achieving, through full-color photos and concise, clear, scientifically accurate text, it describes the vast majority of species associated with shade trees and shrubs, turfgrass, flowers or ornamental plants, vegetables, and fruits– 1,420 or them, including crickets, katydids, fruit flies, mealybugs, moths, maggots, borers, aphids, ants, bees and many, many more. For particularly abundant bugs adept at damaging garden plants, management tips are also included.

k10219For more on your garden’s fuzzier tenants, check out Princeton’s new guide, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide by Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson, and Sheila R. Colla. Learn how to identify bumble bees and how to attract them to your yard with this landmark publication. Gardeners will delight to discover chapters on “Attracting Bumble Bees” and “Bumble Bee Forage.” The authors describe how to insure your garden is full of the food sources, nest sites, and overwintering sites that bumble bees need, while a region by region listing of bumble bee foraging plants allows gardeners to easily plan bumble bee-friendly landscapes. Interested in learning more about bumble bees? Start reading the Introduction to Bumble Bees of North America here.

k9668This next book provides an in-depth look at spring-blooming wildflowers of the Northeast, from old favorites to lesser-known species. The exquisitely illustrated Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History by Carol Gracie features more than 500 full-color photos in a stunning large-sized format and delves deep into the life histories, lore, and cultural uses of more than 35 plant species. The rich narrative covers topics such as the naming of wildflowers; the reasons for taxonomic changes; pollination of flowers and dispersal of seeds; uses by Native Americans; related species in other parts of the world; herbivores, plant pathogens, and pests; medicinal uses; and wildflower references in history, literature, and art.

Are you ditching the garden gloves this season? Fear not—for nature lovers of all kinds, we bring you Trees of Western North America and Trees of Eastern North America by Richard Spellenberg, Christopher J. Earle & Gil Nelson.  Covering 630 and 825 species respectively, these are the most comprehensive, best illustrated, and easiest-to-use books of their kind. The easy-to-read descriptions present details of size, shape, growth habit, bark, leaves, flowers, fruit, flowering and fruiting times, habitat, and range. With superior descriptions, thousands of meticulous color paintings by David More, range maps that provide a thumbnail view of distribution for each native species, and an introduction to tree identification, forest ecology, and plant classification and structure, these books are a must have for anyone interested in learning more about the trees all around them. You can see what Trees of Eastern North America is like by checking out a sample entry here.

Capture

With the gardening season upon us, It’s helpful to be well informed before hitting the flower beds. We invite you to explore these titles on insects, flowers and trees from Princeton University Press to make the most of your gardening and time outdoors.