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Anita’s Blog – All A-buzz for a BioBlitz



I love BioBlitzes because I think they appeal to my childhood love of a good scavenger hunt. There just aren’t any adult scavenger hunts to be found – but that’s an idea for another day – or a future chapter field trip.


The Pollinator BioBlitz that starts Friday is really fun and accommodating because it goes on for a good stretch of time – Friday, October 6 through midnight Sunday, October 22. If you’re going on field trips during the Annual Texas Master Naturalist Conference, October 12-15 – take advantage of new locations and try to remember to take pollinator photos!


Check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Pollinator BioBlitz link so you know it includes plants and critters: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/TXPWD/bulletins/370fcd9


One of the fun things TPWD personnel do is to think up great ways to help make this challenge almost like a good old fashioned scavenger hunt. They offer “Daily Challenges” to help us with inspiration. Check that out here:


I had some inspiration from my moth sheet the other morning. I always have a dozen or so bees visiting the black light and moth sheet before dawn. I’ve kind of thought that just wasn’t quite right, like I was interrupting their circadian rhythm, so I finally photographed and identified the bees via www.iNaturalist.org.


Ptiloglossa mexicana bees photographed on a moth sheet. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The bees are Ptiloglossa mexicana. I hadn’t been able to find much information about this species other than they are nocturnal bees, so I took a different tack and asked Google: are Ptiloglossa mexicana pollinators?


The first reference to pop up was a recent article entitled “Meet the Cast of Pollinator Week,” by xerces.org staffer, Kailee Slusser. I checked it out and thought, wow, she’s already written my blog post for me, so I’ll share the link here:


The bee is described as large, hairy, loud and golden. I can attest to large and loud.


Ptiloglossa mexicana nearly as large as a Field Cricket. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Ptiloglossa mexicana in relation to size of Western Honey Bee. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Wikipedia says that Ptiloglossa is a small genus of bees in the Colletidae family. It is one of the most common nocturnal groups of colletids. P. mexicana is one of three species that occur in the Southwestern United States. There are more than 50 species in South and Central America.

They are temporally specialized (relating to time) crepuscular pollinators. The simple answer is, yes, they pollinate at night. However, the long definition for crepuscular, from Wikipedia, is more interesting, so I’ll share it here:


In zoology, a crepuscular animal is one that is active primarily during the twilight period, being matutinal, vespertine/vespertinal or both. This is distinguished from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, where an animal is active during the hours of daylight and of darkness, respectively. Some crepuscular animals may also be active by moonlight or during an overcast day. Matutinal animals are active only before sunrise, and vespertine only after sunset.”


The “Meet the Cast . . . ,” article cited above, states the bees are active near dusk and dawn, and have enlarged ocelli to help them fly in darkness. Ocelli are three small eyes set between the two largest eyes on a bee.”


Another site, https://www.wildbeestexas.com/ptiloglossa categorizes P. mexicana as feather-tongued bees and says these loud and large fliers are buzz pollinators that often target nightshade-family plants. My moth sheet is currently propped up near a large sacred datura, Datura wrightii, a nightshade. The bees also frequent other plants like passionflowers and pea-family plants. I have a lot of Passiflora foetida.


Flies also are pollinators. Sacred Datura bloom. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)


Honey Bee and Sacred Datura. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

"Three on a Match?" Three Ptiloglossa mexicana bees on Passiflora foetida flower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Buzz pollination: “Solitary bees are able to grab onto the flower and move their flight muscles rapidly, causing the flower and anthers to vibrate, dislodging pollen. Pollination involving vibrations is called buzz pollination. Honeybees cannot perform buzz pollination. About nine percent of the flowers of the world are primarily pollinated using buzz pollination, including nightshade family plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and ground cherries.” Blueberries and cranberries are pollinated by buzz pollination, too. – Source: Wikipedia.


Don’t let too much information bog you down. Just go out and shoot with a happy heart, check out the Daily Challenges and creep up on the insects so you can get a good shot.


Smart phones are great for taking photos of plants, blooms and bugs. Keep the camera about six inches from the subject, take the shot and crop it in the camera to enlarge it. Using the phone’s telephoto range makes for pixelated photos; try not to use that mode.


Creep up on butterflies and other insects from the back, not the front or side. Start taking the photo as soon as you see an insect, then get a bit closer, take another shot and continue that until you get as close as you can and a good shot or the subject gets annoyed and flies away. Again, crop/enlarge using the phone’s edit options. Here is an example of editing in the phone.



Photo taken with Smart phone camera prior to editing. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Same photo as above, cropped in camera editing program, showing something that has been pollinated -- Climbing Milkweed seed pods. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The TPWD site offers some more comprehensive photo tips at this link:



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