To bee or not to bee

To bee or not to bee – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Recently there have been two scientific studies which have highlighted how smart bees really are at learning. One of these studies trained bees to pull on a string which gave them access to a sucrose treat. The second study wanted to see if bees could perform a very unnatural task that required manipulation of a tool to get a reward. The bees were shown that the proper location of a yellow ball was inside a drawn circle. The bee then had to figure out how to relocate a misplaced ball back into the circle to gain a reward. Once the bee had learned these tasks they improved significantly each time, taking less time to complete the task. Not only did bees learn these tasks, other bees which were placed as observers could then complete the task themselves on the first try, hence learning the skill from watching a trained bee. This learning could be transferred through many successions of new trainers and new observers. These studies show that bees can learn new and complex tasks which were previously thought to be unique to vertebrates such as mammals and birds and also transfer those skills throughout their colony which may help them adapt in the presence of changing evolutionary pressures (click here to see a video highlighting these studies).

Bark-mimicking grasshopper

Bark-mimicking Grasshopper – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This sizable insect is commonly known as a bark-mimicking grasshopper (Coryphistes ruricola) and even its eyes look like they are actually made of wood. They are common in Australia and depending on location and surrounding environment, appear in various colors from grays to browns. Collectively they are an interesting view of natural selection at work. This grasshopper which was photographed in Western Australia was in an area where there weren’t many trees at all, but blended in very well with the sand it was sitting on. If I was a bird I would certainly think twice about whether I was about to eat a grasshopper or a piece of fallen tree branch.

For other insects please click here.

Flower Friday – Echinacea

Echinacea with a Bee - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Echinacea with a Bee – Photograph by Laura Lecce

These lovely, pink, cheerful flowers are just one type of Echinacea, in which there are 9 different species. I took these photographs in the Spring of last year and on this particular day the bees were in out in overwhelming numbers. This made for some easy macro photography of these busy bees because all I had to do was point my camera at a flower and click. Echinacea may sound familiar as it is a herb said to have numerous health benefits such as cold prevention, boosting the immune system, anti-inflammatory effects, mental health improvement and many more. However, even though there are some studies which may show it is has beneficial effects, there are others which say that these effects are yet unfounded. Regardless of whether Echinacea is good for us, it is definitely beneficial to your garden to grow such happy looking flowers which encourage the bees to come and visit.

Echinacea flowers make the bees happy – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Friday – A Flower and a Fly

A Flower and a Fly - Photograph by Laura Lecce
A Flower and a Fly – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Today I present to you this fly……on a flower. This fly is called a green bottle fly because of the shiny metallic green color of its body. Flies such as these have very important uses in both forensic science and medicine. They are often the first flies to arrive at a human or animal carcass, and this is where they can begin their lifecycle – A female will lay about 200 eggs which hatch and become larvae in 1-3 days, fully developed larvae in 3-10 days, and pupal development takes 6-14 days after which an adult fly emerges. Forensic investigators can use this knowledge to approximate the length of time a deceased has been dead.

These flies (or more correctly, the maggots) are used by doctors to treat wounds which are unresponsive to conventional treatments. They eat away the dead tissue and bacteria, and also secrete antimicrobial enzymes which together prevents infection and allows healthy tissue to grow successfully. Given the increasing resistance of bacteria to known antibiotics, this may just become the medicine of the future. Sorry to give such a literal example of making your skin crawl….

Happy weekend everyone!

Red-Banded Leafhopper

Leafhopper - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Leafhopper – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Gary I found one!!! Australia definitely doesn’t have such boldly colored leafhoppers, they are mostly a boring green color, making them very hard to spot amongst the leaves. In contrast, this red-banded leafhopper I found in Central Park is incredibly colorful, and doesn’t blend in at all. Native to North and Central America, this insect is so teeny tiny, it makes some ants look big! I wouldn’t have even known what I was looking at if it wasn’t for a post by Gary on his blog called krikitarts showcasing this spectacular insect (click here for post), with a fantastic photo as well. As soon as I spotted it, I was so excited to see one for myself. It was incredibly hard to photograph as the breeze kept moving the leaf, and the little critter wouldn’t stay still at all, and he’s so tiny I kept losing him, so this is as good a photo as I could get. This colorful insect certainly brightened up my overcast and dreary Sunday afternoon.

A lucky Lady

A Lucky Lady - Photograph by Laura Lecce
A Lucky Lady – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Life is supposedly based on a simple equation… Work hard and you will be successful. This may be somewhat true, but I believe that a whole heap of luck is also involved. There are many things you can do in life to increase your chances at being lucky – optimism, open mindedness and determination will go far in helping you live the life you consider successful, which of course, is very different for all of us. So today I offer you this lady beetle, which is considered a sign of good luck by many cultures. My grandmother strongly believes in luck, and would tape four-leaf clovers to all of the framed photos she had around the house. When I was a young child I would go hunting in the garden to find shiny red, yellow or orange lady beetles. After returning from the garden with one in my hand, my grandmother used to recite a nursery rhyme in Italian as she was tracing circles around the lady beetle on my palm. I no longer remember the words of the rhyme, but it was telling the lady beetle to fly away and find me a husband. As it turns out, a month after my husband and I started dating he went to Italy with his parents for 2 months. On his return he gifted me a necklace with a beautiful lady beetle charm attached, and 5 years on we were married. So, sometimes in life working hard doesn’t mean anything at all, you just need a little luck and a lady beetle.

The Magic of a Hoverfly

Hoverfly - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Hoverfly – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This weekend I met a magical hoverfly. Why magical? Because this is by far the most magical and festive photograph I have ever taken. As soon as I saw the result, I imagined this fly to be a character out of Alice in Wonderland. Those giant round eyes and delicate transparent wings are perfect compliments to the whimsical pattern of his yellow behind – hovering above a background of delicate pinks and greens, punctuated with bright yellow stars which complete this beautiful world. A snapshot of the most perfect moment in time and space.