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No Need To Fear The Carpenter Bees!

Spring has sprung at the Cincinnati Zoo, and so have the Carpenter Bees! However, the Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Winton Ray, has some comforting news for you. It’s time to stop fearing the bee. At least the Eastern Carpenter Bee!

The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylacopa viginica) is the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on Zoo grounds at this time of year. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate nest tunnels in wood. They only nest in the wood, they do not eat it. And while nesting bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage associated with them is sometimes caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

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Carpenter Bees are among the first insects observed in spring. The Carpenter Bees Zoo guests are generally encountering are males. Male Carpenter Bees can be easily distinguished from females by the white or gold patch between their eyes. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything will be investigated. It’s these investigative flights that bring them into close proximity with you, the innocent bystander zoo guests. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression even though they’re essentially harmless. Male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees or wasps cannot sting. Let me repeat that: they cannot sting! The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ). Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do. They spend most of their time visiting flowers or in their underground nest tunnels.

In a few weeks the Carpenter Bees we’re seeing will be gone but in the tunnels they’ve created their offspring will live on. In late summer young Carpenter Bees will emerge to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter hibernation. They’ll generally hibernate in the same tunnels their ancestors survived previous winters in. Carpenter Bees on Zoo grounds are going about their lives the way they have for countless millennia, they’re just doing it at the Zoo instead of in an Eastern forest.

So, good news for your next Zoo visit! Carpenter Bees pose essentially no danger to us. You’re actually more likely to be injured trying to swat or flee from Carpenter Bees than by the bees themselves. Next time you see a Carpenter Bee, you can let your friends know, there’s really nothing to fear!

 

April 25, 2015   1 Comment

Celebrate National Arbor Day by Planting a Tree through Taking Root

Growing up, my favorite place to escape was among the weeping branches of a willow that stood in the far corner of our yard. I spent hours climbing that tree, watching the ants march up and down its wrinkled bark and making crowns of its leafy branches. Still now when I return to my childhood home for a visit, I always stop by to say hello to my old friend.

In our everyday lives, we generally pay little attention to the trees that grow beside us, providing the oxygen we breathe, cleaning the water we drink and shading the homes in which we live. And when we think about deforestation and the need to protect and plant trees, we usually picture far away tropical jungles. But right here in Cincinnati, we live in the middle of what used to be one of the world’s great forests, the Eastern woodlands.

Miami Whitewater Forest

Miami Whitewater Forest

When Ohio became a state in 1803, more than 95% of its land was covered with forest teeming with wildlife including black bears, wolves and bison. As settlers moved in, they cut down forests to farm. Less than 10% of Ohio remained forested by the early 1900s. Gradually, people became concerned about protecting the environment and forests began to reclaim some of the land. Today, more than 30% of Ohio is forested and wildlife populations are the healthiest they’ve been in the last century. Many species, such as the deer and turkey, have recovered fully, while others are well along the path to success, including the river otter and bald eagle.

With exotic insects like the emerald ash borer sweeping through the region killing trees, invasive plants like bush honeysuckle choking out native species and ongoing destruction and fragmentation of woodlands, there is still much recovery work to be done, and the Taking Root campaign is asking us all to get involved.

Taking Root logo

Chaired by our one of our own horticulturists, Scott Beuerlein, Taking Root is a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the Green Partnership for a Greater Cincinnati and the Green Umbrella along with many other great organizations. Founded in 2013, the campaign’s goal is to plant 2 million trees by 2020 – that’s one tree for every person in the tri-state region.

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

 

More than 83,945 trees have been planted and registered with Taking Root so far.

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

You can help get the numbers up by planting trees in your yard or joining a tree planting event – check the website for a calendar of events.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Take the Tree Planting Challenge! It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Plant and register a tree on the Taking Root website, or donate to the Taking Root Tree Fund.

2) Make a video of yourself challenging friends, family, or colleagues to do the same. Check out Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s video.

3) Post your video on Facebook or other social media and link it to the Taking Root Facebook page.

You can also nominate a special tree in the tri-state region to be listed on the Zoo’s website as a Tree of Merit. Here at the Zoo, we have a particularly special red oak, Quercus rubra, that was likely here before the Zoo was even established. At more than 130 years old, it is quite impressive. It grows in the central lawn area between Swan Lake and the Reptile House. Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and marvel at this beautiful elder. Imagine all that has changed around it during its lifetime!

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

April 24, 2015   No Comments

Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife at the EcOhio Farm

This Earth Day, let’s celebrate and give thanks for one of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems – the wetland. Lands that are wet for at least part of the year such as marshes, swamps and bogs, wetlands support a diversity of wildlife and are important to the health of our environment. They are nature’s nursery, providing food and shelter for young animals, and are important rest stops for migratory birds as well. Wetlands help control flooding and purify our water, and also provide us with recreational opportunities such as fishing and bird-watching.

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ohio has lost 90% of its original wetlands. The Zoo has taken on an ambitious wetlands restoration project to bring back some of what Ohio has lost. In 1995, a 529-acre farm in Mason, Ohio, now called the EcOhio Farm, was willed to the Zoo with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Over the past few years, the Zoo has worked to restore 25 of the farm’s acres from soybean and corn fields to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife.

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Led by Brian Jorg, Manager of the Native Plant Program at the Zoo, restoration began in 2012 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program. Removing drainage tiles that had been installed by farmers allowed the groundwater to rise naturally. Since then, Brian and a dedicated team of volunteers have planted more than 200 native plant species, including spirea, long-leaf pond plants, and thousands of trees. Many of the native plants were propagated from seeds in Quonset huts built on the site.

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

This spring, the next phase of habitat restoration involves cultivating natural grasslands and forested fencerows along the property borders to protect the watershed. Volunteers are adding hundreds of oaks to fencerows and forested areas, as well as adding prairie plants, including milkweed, to the open grasslands.

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Once you return the habitat, nature will take over and do the rest. Already, the wetland has attracted 125 native bird species, including bobolinks, killdeer, sandhill cranes and even bald eagles, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Plenty of other wildlife from frogs and toads to snakes are also moving in and taking advantage of the new habitat.

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Interested in getting involved with the EcOhio wetland project? Contact Brian Jorg at brian.jorg@cincinnatizoo.org. Please include any special abilities, such as planting/gardening, birding, carpentry (able to construct bird boxes), etc.

April 22, 2015   1 Comment