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Category Archives: Insects

“Drops of Honey” …February Feature

Who can resist a heavenly chocolate experience on Valentine’s Day? Sweeten it up with Honey! Recipe below.

Understanding the Anatomy of a Honeybee

On October 19, 1909, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology received a manuscript from Mr. R. E. Snodgrass, an agent and expert of the Bureau. It was entitled “The Anatomy of the Honeybee.” This exhaustive 150-page document was described as “embodying the results of detailed studies made by Mr. Snodgrass and should prove of value as bringing to the beekeeper reliable information concerning an insect of such great importance, and also as furnishing a sound basis in devising new and improved practical manipulations.” The brilliant work of Mr. Snodgrass is considered a valuable piece of work which has now been quoted and used continuously for over 100 years. 

In 1956, the work of Robert Snodgrass was published into book form. With over 350 pages, it is a classic work that is acclaimed as much for the author’s remarkably detailed line drawings of the various body parts and organs of his subject as his authoritative knowledge of entomology. Over the years,  it was suggested that his book should be in the library of every student of the honeybee and bee behavior. 

For the sake of brevity, and in the words of Mr. Snodgrass, here is a summary of the primary functions of the honeybee:

“It possesses mouth organs for taking up raw food, an alimentary canal to digest it, salivary glands to furnish a digestive liquid, a contractile heart to keep the blood in circulation, a respiratory system to furnish fresh oxygen and carry off waste gases, excretory organs for eliminating waste substances from the blood, a nervous system to regulate and control all the other parts, and, finally, organs to produce the reproductive elements from which new individuals are formed to take the places of those that die.”

And, just to think, this is the masterfully created tiny machine that gives us honey!

Now, let’s take a closer look at how this happens.

“Drops of Honey” …FebruaryClipart - New HeartFeature

Honey dripping from spatula with honeybees around

What is honey and how is it made?

Scientifically speaking, honey is a complex carbohydrate composed of approximately 80 percent monosaccharides, or simple sugars, mostly fructose (levulose) and glucose (dextrose) in varying ratios depending on the nectar source. The remaining content, approximately 16-18 percent, is water. Fructose is slightly sweeter than glucose and, when it occurs in larger quantities than the glucose, can lead to rapid crystallization of the honey, 

Over twenty-five other disaccharides have been identified in honey along with oligosaccharides, including erlose, theanderose and panos. These are not naturally present in nectar but are formed during the honey ripening process.

One of the most important attributes of any honey is its water content. The average water content of most good-quality honeys is 17-18 percent. This happens because bees make it that way.

Yeast is also present in all honeys as a result of being in the environment in general. Proteins make up about twenty-five percent of honey composition with at least 19 different ones present. The proteins are mainly enzymes added by the bees during the ripening process. Invertase, the most significant enzyme is what sets honey apart from other sweeteners. 

Honey contains a few amino acids. The most important, of which, is proline. Some proline is derived from the plant source, and some added by the bees. Proline is the measure of honeys ripeness and is an important standard for judging quality and flavor profile. 

Gluconic acid is the most prominent acid found in honey. It adds flavor enhancing properties.

Honey contains a wide variety of minerals including potassium and trace elements. Worth noting, darker honeys are stronger in flavor due to their higher mineral content. Important also, is that these elements make it possible to identify different types of varietal honey. 

Finally, honey also contains over six hundred volatile organic compounds (VOC) or plant-based essential oils. Many originate from the plant and some are added by the bee. 

*Volatile organic compounds evaporate from honey when the honey is heated, therefore, heating honey compromises its delicate flavors.

In summary, let’s close with a few simple answers to the question, ‘what is honey’. 

*Honey is the essence of flowers. 

*Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by industrious bees. 

*Honey is the result of a colony of bees working together to collect flower nectar and transform it into a high-energy source for the hive. 

*Honey is an organic, natural sugar alternative with no additives.

The A, Bee Cs of Honey Making

Honey production is a carefully orchestrated series of chemical processes including digestion, regurgitation, enzyme activity and evaporation. It is exclusively the creation of the female worker bees. Nectar, a sugary liquid, is extracted from flowers using a bee’s long tube-like tongue called a proboscis then stored in its stomach or “crop”. While sloshing around in the crop, the nectar mixes with the enzyme invertase which begins the transformation of its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. 

When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb. 

Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid – nothing like the honey you use at home. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings to speed up the process of evaporation. 

When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Honey Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Honey Icing and/or Honey Whipped Cream

From Junk Bug to Green Lacewing

Diane, a frequent visitor to Raincatchers Garden, saw a little bit of debris on a leaf. To her surprise it began to move purposefully. She learned that the debris was called a junk bug. It covers itself with the bodies of insects it has preyed upon. This creates a convincing camouflage that fools birds and the ants that tend aphids. Aphids are a frequent snack.

Junk Bug with a purpose!

The junk bug is a larva that becomes a green lacewing, a beautiful insect with delicately veined gossamer wings.Per Diane, “I almost missed it till it started moving, and this is my very first one to ever see, or even hear of.”

Thanks, Diane, for your close observation. It’s great to know we have an insect ally to help us keep the aphids in check.

P.S. The eggs on a stalk shown in the picture above are also part of the lifecycle of this beneficial insect.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

PIctures by Diane, a friend of The Raincatcher’s Garden

Crane Flies

Have you noticed the plethora of winged insects with really long legs of late?  While admiring our blooming Texas Mountain Laurel, crane flies were spotted resting on the grape-soda scented flowers.  After taking way too many pictures, it was time to learn about them. We are seeing an abundance of them due to the wet weather and the fact that it’s early spring, the time they usually appear.  

There are over 14,000 species of Crane Flies.  “Mosquito Hawk” is the common name, which is a misnomer all the way around. It is not a mosquito, it’s a fly, and hawk nope, – not a predator, and it doesn’t hunt down mosquitoes either, but is often food for other birds and wildlife.  

They have beautiful stained glass-like wings as seen in this up close photo

These beneficial insects contribute to the ecosystem by feeding on decomposing matter in moist areas in the larval stage, which is 95% of their life span. The crane fly’s lifecycle is about a year, but adults only live for about 10-15 days. They do not bite, are attracted to light, and the sole purpose as adults is to mate and for the female to lay eggs near water.

Enjoy the brief time that crane flies occupy our airspace.  They are interesting to watch, helpful to our environment, and fun to photograph. 

Starla Willis  


Dragonfly obelisk

Upended by the weather?

Dragonflies regulate body temperature in bright sunlight by doing a handstand. Entomologists refer to this upright dragonfly pose as the obelisk posture.

Thank you to the blog Portraits of Wildflowers.

Ann Lamb

Reminder that tickets went on sale this morning for the Pumpkins on Parade, Sweet Potatoes for Adornment event on October 22nd. Click here.

Picture by Steven Schwartzman of Portraits of Wildflowers.

Hanging Out At the Mall

      There are always problems with anthropomorphizing non-humans. Just think of those cute cat and dog “shaming” videos where animals are just being true to their nature but we humans attach reasons and feelings behind their behavior.  Still sometimes, even insects seem to display some “human” characteristics.

I thought about this a few years ago in autumn when I was picking the last of the okra.   Though an occasional brown paper wasp was often seen in the garden, suddenly, as I was disturbing the plants, I was surrounded by more than one wasp.  As they did not seem particularly aggressive, I kept on picking.  However, when the same thing happened the next day, I began to look more closely at the okra plants.  There to my horror were two clusters of about seven or more wasps on the underside of two leaves.  After getting over my shock, I began to observe their behavior.


Every once in a while a new wasp would fly into the group.  The other wasps would rush to the “newcomer” and start feeling its body with their antennae.  At first I wondered whether the original group was trying to kill the newcomer, but realized that perhaps this was their way of communicating.  What was going on?

A quick Google search revealed that the behavior was common.  Stephen Bambara and Michael Waldvogel, Extension Entomologists with North Carolina Cooperative Extension say: “… paper wasps show types of swarming behavior during the cool and cold times of the year when there are no nests and no young larvae to protect.  During the fall, this behavior is connected with mating and is the wasp version of “boy meets girl.”  Male wasps look for the best place to “hang out” and attract females.  On these warm days during the fall, the future queens become active and fly about.  Dozens or hundreds might be seen around the upper stories of a building, transmission tower or other tall structures.” Were the male wasps that I was observing just acting like teenage boys and “hanging out at the mall,” waiting to find some cute girls?

Unfortunately for the male wasp, that is where the comparison to its human counterpart ends. At some time after mating, the males die and the impregnated females seek shelter for the winter.

Carolyn Bush



A “Herd” of Aphids

A school of fish, a mob of crows, a gaggle of geese,   A “herd” of aphids?  Well, if you are from an ant species called “dairying ants” or “sugar ants,” you might call groups of your aphid charges just that.

Above: A Herd of Aphids

Above: A Herd of Aphids

As many gardeners know, aphids can be a common problem on plants, especially during the heat of the summer.  These soft bodied insects suck plant sap, wither foliage, and cause a generalized lack of vigor in plants.  Aphids come in many colors (yellow, white, green) depending on the type of aphid and the plant that they are feeding on.  One of the most interesting facts about aphids is that some are said to be “born pregnant.”     Though many aphids mate and lay eggs to reproduce, some aphids are capable of a true  “virgin birth.”  These parthenogenetic generations are produced by unfertilized females.

Aphids not only suck plant sap which eventually withers the foliage, but they can spread diseases from plant to plant.  When feeding on a plant, aphids excrete a sugar substance from their anus.  This substance, called honeydew, is very sticky.  It can also form the substrate for a black mold which blocks out the light from a leaf, thus leading to the further decline of the plant.

Above: Honeydew Close Up

Above: Yellow Aphids Close Up

In the garden, ants and aphids are often seen together on infected plants.  In my experience, beans, peas, and okra seem to be some of aphids’ favorite plants and harvesting produce from these plants is often a challenge from biting ants.  These ants are drawn to the honeydew, which is a perfect food for the ants.  To increase their supply of honeydew, the ants tend aphids like cows.  These sugar/dairying ants “milk” aphids by stroking the aphids with their antennae until they release a drop of sweet honeydew liquid. They even keep their “charges” from straying by chewing off the aphids’ wings.  In the fall, the ants carry aphid eggs into their nests, to be carried back out in the spring and set on the plants.

If you are having problems with aphids and ants in your garden, there are several environmentally safe methods of aphid control.  One of the best methods is to spray the plants with a hard stream of water.  This will kill some of the soft-bodied insects (it decapitates them) and the water will wash many others off the plant.  This method is said to be 80% effective, even better than some chemical controls.

Another environmentally safe control method is to be patient and “let nature take its course.”  Within a very short period of time, where you see aphids, you will also see lady bugs (lady beetles) laying their bright orange eggs on the leaves of infected plants.  The lady bug larva, which looks like a miniature spined alligator, is a voracious consumer of aphids.  Studies have shown that each larva can eat up to 40 aphids in a single hour.  This has earned the larva the name of “aphid wolf.”  Other important beneficial insect predators include soldier bugs, damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, spiders, assassin bugs, syrphid flies, gall midges, and lacewings.

Above: Ladybug to the Rescue!

Above: Ladybug to the Rescue!

So if you are having problems with aphids and sugar ants, before you get out the chemicals, try some of these low impact methods of aphid control.  Not only will you be able to get aphid damage down to an “acceptable” level, but your biting sugar ant problem will decrease also.


Pictures by Starla

Friend or Foe?

Being a master gardener means –sharing   gardening wisdom—sometimes thats easy:”No you really should not order grass seed from the Sunday supplement magazine.”

But other times  its not so easy.  And that brings up the question of the moment:  “Is this bug good or bad”  Or worse,  “friend or foe”?

Ladybug, The Gardener's Friend, Known for Eating Aphids

Ladybug, The Gardener’s Friend, Known for Eating Aphids


First ask your questioner “what makes a bug ‘good?”  Of course–they eat “bad” bugs–everyone knows that.  But this is the thing  insects are most often specialized  in is their eating.  You, for example, might have a great wish to eat ice cream–but if there is no ice cream–carrot sticks or even–chocolate cake–might do.  Most insects are not like that.  They eat what they have, over a very long time period,   been designed to eat.

So, that means if you want the so-called good bugs in you garden–what do you also need in your garden??  Oh no–its bad bugs!!!  Yes its true  and its the only way.  You really must rethink the whole situation.

Red Wasp, a Beneficial Insect, Not a Foe

Red Wasp, a Beneficial Insect, Not a Foe


Balance is what the garden needs. That isn’t something that happens overnight or even stays that way once its achieved.  Remember playing on a seesaw?  It took awhile to get the perfect balance–and then someone jumped  off!!  Thats how it can seem.

But with healthy soil,  a diversity of plants, as many native as possible, and reasonable maintenance  you will have some amazing experiences of natures ability to make  what first seem like problems into beauty.  Oh yes–watching ladybug larvae eating aphids –well its beautiful in its on way.  The wasps that eat some monarch larvae also eat those caterpillars that love the broccoli.


So, When you are asked “friend or foe?”  Well ask you questioner to pull up a chair–it may take awhile.


Pictures by Starla


Honey Selections for Tasting and Cooking

Hello Honey! Like a fine wine…..

the color and flavor of every nectar reflects

a particular time and place



Tupelo The Gold Standard of Honey

Tupelo, the Gold Standard of Honey

Tupelo Honey:

Bright citrus and summer berries, buttery undertones

Savannah Bee Company describes Tupelo as the “gold standard” of honeys, like a “slow moving river of sunshine.” L.L. Lanier and Son’s Tupelo Honey Co. has harvested honey from the tupelo-gum tree since 1898 in swamps along the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers of northwest Florida. Bees are placed on elevated platforms along the river’s edge, free to search out the fragrant nectar in April and May. As the white Tupelo bloom begins, beekeepers clean the combs of other honey to be sure to collect the just new crop. Then the new crop of honey is removed after bloom, to keep the honey pure. Tupelo honey is a light golden amber color with a slight greenish cast. Because of its unusually high fructose content, tupelo honey will not granulate. (A granulated honey indicates an impure Tupelo honey.) Be careful when purchasing Tupelo honey, as it can be mixed with Gall berry, which blooms right after the Tupelo tree, or cut with wildflower honey. Fun fact: Tupelo Honey by the band Van Morrison was a song and album released in 1971.

 L.L. Lanier & Son’s, Wewahitchka, Florida


Sourwood, Angelic!

Sourwood honey:

Most honey is made by bees. But sourwood is made by bees and angels.”

Sourwood honey requires just the right timing: the sourwood trees bloom late in June through August and must have enough sunshine and rain to produce enough flowers to yield a honey crop. If the understory trees don’t receive enough rain, the producer cannot make honey that year. Like fine wines, this honey from southern Appalachia is only available during those perfect “vintage” years. Sourwood honey is so rare that a good crop sometimes only surfaces once every decade. Like Tupelo honey, the beekeepers are careful to restrict the bees’ nectar gathering to the sourwood blossoms. If the honey has even a small percentage of other varietals, it cannot be sold as sourwood. Sourwood honey won the 2005 World Honey Tasting Competition for its flavors of molasses, maple, and mocha. The color ranges from pure white to light amber with a slightly grey or purple tint. Sourwood trees are also called “Lilly of the Valley Trees” because of the similar look of the blossoms.

Savannah Bee Co. Savannah, Georgia



Orange Blossom, Sweet Citrus

Orange blossom honey:

Candy-sweet explosion of citrus flavor

Orange Blossom honey comes from sunny southern Florida and is one of the earliest honeys harvested in the year. The orange blossoms are a classic flower for bridal bouquets because they symbolize purity and have a lovely fragrance. Use this floral and fruity honey for Baklava or to drizzle over French toast. Orange Blossom is also perfect as a dip for figs, strawberries, and melon.

Wildflower honey:

Inspired by a field of Texas wildflowers

Unlike a varietal honey drawn from a specific nectar plant, Wildflower honey depends on the whimsy of bees let loose in fields of flowers. The bright golden honey is rich and luscious: a taste of Texas in a jar. Enjoy Wildflower honey on a classic peanut butter and honey sandwich or twirled on a steamy latte.

Warne Bee Farm, Anna TX 972-924-3928



Huajillo, Smoky and Spicy

Texas Huajillo Honey:

Smoky with a tease of dried chilies

Texas Huajillo honey springs from the brush country of Southwestern Texas and Northern Mexico along the Rio Grande River. Bees feast on the fragrant white blooms of native Guajillo Acacia berlandieri in March and early April. (Guajillo is also known as Huajillo, Berlandier Acadia, and various Catclaws.) The large, multi-trunked shrub can be pruned to a small specimen tree for use on patios or around pools. Guajillo has an open airy form, fern-like lacy foliage, and prefers full sun. Walker Honey Farms Huajillo honey is harvested in Frio County, Texas, southwest of San Antonio.

Walker Honey Farm, Rogers, TX



Buckwheat, Malty and Earthy

Buckwheat honey:

Malty and earthy

Buckwheat honey is unusual for its deep brown color, thick rich texture, and a taste that reminds one of mild molasses. Honeybees are drawn to the irresistible fragrance of the profuse white buckwheat flowers, a plant related to rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat honey is the perfect sweetener for Jewish Honey Cake or gingerbread, delicious on sweet potatoes and a distinctive topping for pancakes. Local honey producers rely on beekeeper friends in states like North Dakota and New York to provide honey from this northern crop. or Weeks Honey Farm

More reading: National Honey Board


Pictures by Starla and Linda


Why spend April 15 with a calculator, a pile of receipts, and a deadline? The Demonstration Garden was buzzing on tax day with more than 30 guests enjoying a packed morning learning all about bees and honey.



Jewish Honey Cake, a traditional favorite for the Jewish New Year, and coffee helped take the chill off the brisk morning. In his talk, beekeeper David McCarty encouraged guests to purchase local honey. David noted that honey tastes of the nectar from particular flowers visited by bees, and honey from the same hive can have dramatically different flavors. Commercially produced grocery store honey is often so processed that all pollen is destroyed, he said, and may even contain fillers like corn syrup and fructose. (In the worst cases, generic honey may be little more than corn syrup.)

Honey cake was delicious with hot coffee.

David harvests honey, of course, but his passion is the small insects that make it. He works to rescue bees from exterminators and to keep hives healthy. David shares information with other North Texan bee enthusiasts on the Facebook open group, CrossTimbers Beekeepers. (

Honey Lunch Lecture with bee frame

Joe Field gardener (and beekeeper) Tim helped guests try different honeys with popsicle sticks. It’s hard to pick a favorite when testing Tupelo honey from Florida swamps, Sourwood from southern Appalachia, Orange Blossom from southern Florida, Wildflower from Texas fields, Huajillo from the brush country in Southwestern Texas, and Buckwheat from New York and North Dakota.

Linda dazzled guests with an appetizer tray of Brie, Manchego, and Point Reyes Blue Cheese from Scardello, an artisan cheese store at 3511 Oak Lawn, She sprinkled the cheese slices and honeycomb with Spanish Marcona Almonds, then drizzled the tray with honey from Master Gardener Jan Ramsey’s Tranquility Hill Ranch.

Cheese Tray Drizzled With Honey

Cheese Tray Drizzled With Honey


The table featured plates with tiny bees around the rim, bee-friendly bouquets of sunflowers, gold chargers, hand-lettered menus, and neutral tablecloths with a bee-themed runner. A place card with Elizabeth’s calligraphy tied to a honey dipper marked each guest’s place.


Oh, did we mention lunch?

The menu, of course, featured items with a honey twist: turkey and grape salad with honey-Dijon dressing, pasta handkerchiefs with tart cherry, sage (and honey) sauce, honey beer bread, honey-roasted carrots, and honey lemon tea. A dessert sampler tempted guests with a square of honey pecan tart, honey vanilla ice cream, and a French lemon tart topped with an abundance of whipped cream, a mint leaf, and fresh blueberry.

Information from the national Honey Board, a list of bee-friendly flowers, and in-depth information and sources for each honey were given to each guest.

As we planned the event, we were amazed at the intricate and amazing world of bees and honey. We learned the difference between varietal (one source of nectar) and local honey (Texas Wildflower). One thing led to another, and soon we were ordering honey from across the South, visiting our local beekeeper at the farmers market, and purchasing honey on college visitation trips.

Lisa purchased the Huajillo and Buckwheat honey from Walker Honey Farm, which has a retail store about 10 miles from I-35 in Rogers, Texas, near Belton and Temple. She also found a good selection of local honey at Ruibal’s Rosemeade Market in Carrollton, the HEB grocery stores in Georgetown and Temple, and the farmers market behind the famous Monument Cafe in Georgetown (a must stop if only for the homemade lemonade). Elizabeth made multiple trips to the farmers market on Campbell Road (near UTD) to purchase local honey and dippers from Warne Bee Farm in Anna, Texas.

Linda explored cookbooks, magazines, and internet sources including L.L. Lanier,, which has harvested Tupelo honey since 1898 in swamps along the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers in Florida. She also found the Savannah Bee Co. of Savannah, Georgia, which sells the rare and wonderful Sourwood honey.

Next time you’re at Bruce Miller Nursery on Belt Line Road in Richardson, check out Fain’s Honey from Llano, Texas. Lisa says Fain’s is a family favorite and something she and her family always pick up at Cooper’s Bar-B-Que in Llano after a big platter of brisket and ribs. Turns out there’s a honey of a family connection: Lisa’s dad, after all, was Fain Gibbons.


Pictures by Starla

Recipes and more buzz about honey coming up in the next few days! Keep posted!


Ladybug, Ladybug

Seed catalogs are filling our mailboxes and  thoughts begin to yearn for spring.   A little information about ladybugs may help you  forget these cold, gloomy winter days:

Certainly one of the most beloved of all insects is the ladybug, or more correctly, lady beetle.  And a new citizen science web project may be just the thing for adults and kids with an interest in lady beetles or cameras or both. The Lost Ladybug project started because of concerns about dwindling Ladybug _smnumbers of one kind of lady beetle, the nine-spotted lady beetle, in New York state.  It appears to have evolved into a bigger project where people from any part of the country can participate.  Find a lady beetle?

Photograph it and document the site, time and date of picture.  Then upload the information and contribute to science! What a great way to have fun and do something worthwhile.  In addition to recording your observation, visitors can view and print posters of different kinds of lady beetles, read interesting lady beetle facts and (teachers) can download lady beetle lesson plans.  Scientists will benefit from the photographic record, which should allow more up-to-date range records for common and rare species.

Perhaps most important, over time the project may allow scientists to document changes in range or distribution or abundance of different species.  The scientists are especially interested in rare lady beetles in out of the way locations, like state parks or little trodden trails.  But any site will do.  The thing is, you never know what’s going to happen when thousands of people are looking and clicking.

For anyone who thought a lady beetle is just a lady beetle, think again.  There are over 450 different species of lady beetles in North America, over 5,000 worldwide.  They come in all sizes and color patterns, feeding mostly on aphids and scale insects–two important pests for farmers and gardeners. Lady beetles are true beetles in the Order Coleoptera, not “bugs” in the Order Hemiptera.  Beetles have chewing mouth parts, go through a complete metamorphosis, and have the first pair of wings hardened to protect the body and the hind wings.  Bugs have sucking mouth parts, go through gradual metamorphosis, and have the first pair of wing partly hard and part transparent.

Nevertheless, despite the science, the name ladybug is likely to persist.  After all, Lady beetle, Lady beetle… Fly away home! …it just doesn’t have the same ring.

Photo and Writing by Mike Merchant, first printed on the blog Insects in the City.

If you are interested in learning more about insects and receiving occasional articles from Dr. Merchant on the latest insect pest or interesting insect facts  sign up for his blog, Insects in the City.  He is as good a writer as he is an entomology teacher.


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