Bees in the Butterfly Garden

Anne Odell Butterfly Garden – Fahnestock State Park –

In a recent venture to The Hubbard Lodge in Fahnestock State Park, I explored a butterfly garden flourishing with beautiful native flowering plants. The garden was alive with tired butterflies sporting tattered wings, queen bumblebees fattening up for a long winter hibernation, and a diversity of solitary bees finishing up their nests.  This garden named the Ann Odell Butterfly Garden was created in 2003 in memory of Ann Odell, an art teacher and gardener.  The winding paths in this tranquil place is a fitting tribute to her memory, inviting those who enter to explore and discover all things wild and beautiful.  Indeed, this garden is much more than a butterfly garden.


Gazebo near the Entrance to the Ann Odell Butterfly garden




Asters and goldenrods








The most notable feature of this autumn garden is the purple New England asters that stand tall in the garden.  This is a flower that demands the attention of  the bumblebees.   It is evident that these flowers provide ample nectar and pollen that will nourish the final brood of bees, composed strictly of queens and drones.  The summer workers and old queens can be identified by their tattered wings from a summer of  long work hours.  The newly emerged queens with shiny wings will fatten up on nectar in preparation for a long season of hibernation.  Beyond the bumblebees is an assortment of  smaller bees like the green sweat bee and the even smaller metallic green sweat bees.


Bumble bee on New England aster


Green sweat bee on New England aster


Metallic green sweat bee on black-eyed susan









Leaf cutter bees  seem to have a favorite flower that draws their attention.  On this day, this particular species was interested in the remaining blooms of black eyed susans.  Leaf cutter bees collect pollen on the hairs of their abdomen.

Carder bee on black eyed susan.

Leaf cutter bee on black-eyed susan

A few species of leaf cutter bees were busy at work though not always pollinating flowers.  I found one particular species busy cutting a circular section of leaf that she will carry back to her nest to use to partition her brood cells.  In contrast, mason bees use mud to partition their brood cells.  Leaf cutter bees belong to the 30% of bees that build their nests in wooden holes and take to artificial nest boxes.  Note that her abdomen hairs are covered in pollen.


Leaf cutter bee cutting a leaf for nest. Notice the other holes in the leaves created by this bee.

New England Asters are just one of a variety of asters that are common in the Northeast.  Many varieties of asters can be found growing in the forest or in meadows.  This is a mining bee found in the genus Andrena.  Interestingly, we see members of this genus appear early in the spring  while other species appear in the autumn.  All species in this genus are solitary bees and true to their name nest in underground chambers.


A fall variety of andrena sp. (mining bee) on aster.

Collecting pollen is a messy job for fuzzy bees.  Every now and then you just need to take a rest and get the pollen in the right spot.  Bee have developed creative ways to carry pollen:  some will pack pollen into pollen sacs (bumblebees) on their hind legs, others have scopea, fuzzy hind legs, (long horned bees) where the pollen is collected, some store the pollen internally (yellow-faced bee) and others collect the pollen on their abdomens (leaf cutter bees).


A solitary sweat bee (Halictus sp.) cleaning herself of pollen.

Joe-pye-weed and goldenrod are abundant flowers during the fall and a great source of nectar and pollen.


A bumble bee on joe-pye weed

In the spirit of a butterfly garden I share a final photo of a fritillary butterfly with tattered and worn wings.  Autumn marks the end of the road for most of our pollinator friends and with the first frost all the activity will stop, but life is resilient and has developed techniques and strategies to survive the winter: the queen bumble bee will hibernate, the solitary bees young will overwinter in some stage of larval development, some butterflies will overwinter as eggs, a few like the mourning cloak will lie dormant in the protective bark of a tree and one, the Monarch will migrate to Mexico.


A fritillary with tattered wings.

1 reply »

  1. Reblogged this on Nature Times and commented:
    It may be some time before we get to see bees and butterflies again, but when spring comes, we know that our friends at Fahnstock State Park will be ready to welcome them back with open arms and bouquets of native flowers. Check out this vibrant post from Native Beeology!