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Honey Bee Swarms

JULY 7 | BY IRVINE NATURALIST VALERIE BARBARE

When I took my trail group of students to Irvine’s meadow to sweep for insects, we found crickets, grasshoppers and leaf hoppers. It’s pretty typical that we find these insects, but what happened next didn’t seem so typical; a swarm of honey bees flew through our group! Several students and a volunteer were quickly surrounded by countless honey bees. We told the students to hold still. They did, but they were noticeably scared. The swarm moved on as quickly as it came.

Naturally, the students asked why the honey bees were swarming and if it was normal. Honey bee swarms are normal, and they typically occur from May toJuly. One main reason honey bees swarm is because when there are too many worker bees in a colony, they don’t have contact with the queen anymore. They need a new queen since it’s she that releases chemical scents that help unify the colony and lays eggs.

So, a new queen arises (thanks to being fed some royal jelly as a larva) and the old queen joins part of the colony to go make a new one. This is when bees swarm because the worker bees surround the queen while other bees look for a new cavity to live in. The honey bees are usually pretty calm during this time and aren’t really interested in going after people to sting them. Once they find a new home, they go right in and return to performing their roles.

Understandably, being caught up in a honey bee swarm can feel pretty frightening if you don’t know what’s going on. A honey bee swarm is just a time of transition for a colony, not a sign of an attack. If you see a swarm, step back and enjoy the amazing sight. If you find yourself a part of a swarm, hold still until they pass. Once they’ve moved through, they’ll get back to work, enabling us to have beautiful flowers, fruits, vegetables, honey, and more!

Beat the Heat

JUNE 7 | BY IRVINE NATURALIST STEVE MICKLETZ

When I ask kids what their favorite part of summer is, one of the more popular responses is “SWIMMING!” This, of course, is a great way to have fun in the sun while staying cooled and refreshed in the summer. But what do the animals do as the weather heats up?

Some animals are just waking up from their winter rest. Promethea moths, for example, may spend 9 moths as a pupa in their cocoon before emerging in early June as a beautiful, winged adult! Other animals, like the spotted salamander, will head underground on wooded hillsides for shelter in the summer swelter. They’ll stay in underground burrows until their vernal pool breeding grounds return in the winter.

What am I looking forward to? I can’t wait to head out with our 13-15 year old summer campers for Mountains 2 Sea camp. We’ll explore the Appalachians and waterfalls and finish the week where most folks flock in the summer – Maryland’s ocean beaches! What a great way to beat the heat!

May Babies   

MAY 7 | BY IRVINE NATURALIST LAURA SODER

Now that the warm weather of spring and summer has finally arrived, many of us are becoming more active and enjoying the outdoors. The same goes for our wildlife friends—birds, squirrels, rabbits and many other native animals are busy building nests and raising their young. Sometimes we are lucky enough to witness this miracle of life in our own backyards, since many of these animals call the same areas as us home. Occasionally people stumble upon young animals that seem to be misplaced or in distress, and may be worried that they need our help.

If you find a baby bird or bunny, there are some things you should consider before getting involved. First, check to see if the young animal is injured—is it visibly bleeding, weak, or did you see another animal attack it? If so, you can call your local wildlife rehabilitor to receive further instruction on how to help. If the animal does not look injured, check to see if the baby bird has feathers, or if the small mammal has its eyes open. If you’ve found a mammal (rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, etc) and it seems to be healthy, look around to see if you can locate a nest or den—the baby may have just have strayed and is exploring its environment. Most likely the mother will return soon and care for the baby. If you stay out of sight, keep any pets away and watch for a few hours, she should return or the baby should head back into the safety of its nest. This is a part of the growing-up process for many small animals.

If you’ve found a young bird outside of its nest, check first to see if it has feathers. Young birds go through the process of “fledging”, when they are testing out their wings and hop around on the ground until they can fully fly. Once again, this is normal and is no cause for alarm as long as you keep any pets away from it. The parents will continue to feed and care for the fledgling until it is fully grown. If the baby bird does not have feathers, it is a nestling and may have fallen from its tree. Try to locate the nest, and if you can, place the baby bird back into its nest. Watch for a while from a distance and see if the parents return. If you see them visiting, the baby is okay. If you cannot locate a nest, or if the nest has been dislodged, you could make a substitute for the baby using a small box or basket lined with dry grass or pine needles. Place the baby inside and try to put it in the tree closest to where you found the bird. If you notice the parents return, then all is well.

If you’ve gone through all the steps suggested above, and you feel the baby animal is at risk or you’ve noticed that the parents have not returned, you can contact your local wildlife rehabilitator. There are several available to the Baltimore area—but keep in mind that this is a very busy time of year for them, and there is no better caregiver for that animal than its own parents. Sometimes it can be hard not to interfere as baby animals have a way of tugging at our heartstrings, but it’s important to remember that sometimes we must let nature take its course.

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