Tag Archives: kerio valley

Weeds and Wildflowers = More Avocados!

One of my favourite plants (after cacao that produces chocolate!) is the avocado. They are one of the most delicious and nutritious fruits around…

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Avocado trees are one of the many different crops that depend on wild insects pollinators. I recently spent some time in the Kerio Valley looking at the insects visiting the avocado flowers.

Here are what the avocado flowers look like:

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator...

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator…

The pollinators of avocado on this small farm in northwestern Kenya were mainly different kinds of flies and honeybees.

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

After pollinating visits by several different flies, the avocado flower is pollinated and a young fruit begins to form.

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

They develop over several months into the wonderful fruits that we so enjoy:

Developing avocado fruit - they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Developing avocado fruit – they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Honeybees were also visiting the avocado flowers and pollinating them too:

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

One of the key things we’ve learned about pollinators is that they depend on a wide range of plants for their own survival.

While crops are only in flower for a short period of time, bees and flies need to eat from a wide range of different wildflowers. Without these plants, the bees, flies and other pollinators would not be able to survive. This would result in far fewer avocados and poor or low yields on the crops that depend on pollinators. Some of the plants that the bees and flies depend on at this site are considered weeds. These weeds, including the infamous ‘Black-Jack’ (Bidens pilosa) are actually an important resource for wild insects pollinators.

Honeybee sips nectar from a 'Black-Jack' flower

Honeybee sips nectar from a ‘Black-Jack’ flower

Weeds can be an important resource for bees...

Weeds can be an important resource for bees…

Weeds and wildflowers growing around the farm are essential in order to support healthy wild insect pollinators.

At this small farm near Iten, there were lots of different flowers growing along the edges of the farm, including this lovely, scrambling yellow-flowered creeper in the Daisy Family (Asteraceae). Several of the avocado pollinators could be found visiting the flowering creeper later in the day after they had been pollinating the avocado flowers.

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

This is why it is important to have diversity in the farming landscape, like here in Kenya’s beautiful Kerio Valley.

More wildflowers and weeds around the farm support more pollinators that produce higher yields!

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Please think of the pollinators when you next enjoy an avocado!

Kerio Valley Bees (and a fly)

Hello – just spent a lovely day looking at bees in the Kerio Valley (one of my favourite parts of the world!). An extension of the Great Rift Valley in northwestern Kenya, the Kerio Valley is a beautiful and diverse landscape that is especially rich in bees.

The Kerio Valley is also home to a large number of small-scale farmers who rely on subsistence agriculture to support their families. Many of the crops grown in the region are dependent on pollinators and it is an area where I have been looking at pollinator diversity and the interface of agriculture and biodiversity for some years.

View from Iten looking down into the Kerio Valley

View from Iten looking down into the Kerio Valley

 

Here are a few of the bees that I encountered while walking around the farms on the floor of the valley near Biretwo.

Early in the morning the Morning Glories (Ipomoea) were in full bloom and peering into one of their deep dark hearts I found a Macrogalea bee hiding in the bottom of the floral tube.

Macrogalea bee in an Ipomoea flower

Macrogalea bee in an Ipomoea flower

The bee seemed to be struggling and as it emerged into the sunlight I could see why: it was overloaded with the flowers’ sticky pollen and could barely move!

Macrogalea_Ipomoea-LR12

 

Overloaded with pollen!

Overloaded with pollen!

 

Nearby there were some yellow flowers blooming and they were being thoroughly ‘worked’ by a small bee in the Leafcutter Bee family (Megachilidae). Each bee landed on the flower and then circled it in an anti-clockwise direction while packing pollen into the special ‘scopa’ (pollen carrying region) on the underside of its’ abdomen.

Combing pollen from its' face!

Combing pollen from its’ face!

 

Not to be outdone were the Amegilla bees who zipped about between the flowers. Here is one sizing some some Gynandropsis:

Amegilla bee in action

Amegilla bee in action

 

Some smaller bees were also working the Gynandropsis flowers. They clung to the anthers while simultaneously trying to pull off the pollen:

Collecting Gynandropsis pollen

Collecting Gynandropsis pollen

 

Sunning itself demurely on a leaf was a beautiful bee known as Crocisaspidia:

Handsome Crocisaspidia bee

Handsome Crocisaspidia bee

One of the most common bees visiting the flowers were the Seladonia, who are tiny but beautiful metallic bees that often look like they are made from gold:

Seladonia bee hard at work.

Seladonia bee hard at work.

 

Among all the different bees were some interesting flies, including this lovely Hoverfly (Syrphidae) that is an exquisite mimic of a wild bee.

Do I look like a bee?

Do I look like a bee?

More from the wonderful world of insects soon!

 

Stalk-Eyed Flies (and best wishes for 2012)

Dear All – many greetings from the hot, remote desert in Northern Kenya…

Lots to catch up on here but firstly I would like to thank everyone for reading this blog and sending in your kind comments.

A few days ago I visited the Kerio Valley in northwestern Kenya. It was a hot, sunny day so I decided to stop and rest in the shade of some giant fig trees by a stream…

A cool stream flows through the Kerio Valley

A cool stream flows through the Kerio Valley

As I was sitting by the stream I noticed some of the rocks were covered with what appeared to be insects…

Who are these mysterious bugs gathered on the rocks?

Who are these mysterious bugs gathered on the rocks?

Hmmm... What are all those little red knobs?

Hmmm... What are all those little red knobs?

I took a closer look and was blown away by what I found – one of the most bizarre and wonderful insects in the world – the Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and wonderful - The Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and wonderful - The Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Yes, those are the flies EYES on the ends of stalks. This bizarre and wonderful arrangement is thought to be the result of sexual selection. Basically female flies chose males based on the width of their eyes. The wider the eyes, the sexier the fly seems. As a result, this amazing structure has come to be.

I watched the Stalk-Eyed Flies gathering on the rocks and leaves by the stream. There was a lot of jostling and showing off by the males…

"My eyes are bigger than yours..."

"My eyes are bigger than yours..."

One of the Stalk-Eyed Flies eyed me as I was photographing it and rubbed it’s front legs together… (you can guess what happened next!)

Hmmm... you look tasty!

Hmmm... you look tasty!

It landed on my knee and started licking the sweat off me! You can see it’s amazing mouthparts extended in the photograph below:

Oooh - that tickles!

Oooh - that tickles!

It was joined a few minutes later by a larger fly (that did more than tickle) so I had to shoo them away…

A larger fly on my knee...

A larger fly on my knee...

The fly returned to its perch on a leaf and posed obligingly for more photos…

Bizarre and beautiful Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and beautiful Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Best wishes to all for the New Year and more from the wonderful world of bugs in 2012!

Male bees on patrol…

Male bees keeping watch on their patch of bush….

 

Dear All, Hello – have just been travelling through Western Kenya working on pollinators at various sites with groups of farmers. Its been amazing and I look forward to sharing some of the discoveries and photographs with you all over the next few days.

 

Yesterday I spent the day looking at insects in some mango farms in the Kerio Valley. During the hottest part of the day we decided to take a break and shelter in the shade while eating our lunch of (you guessed it!) mangoes.

 

As I settled down to the mango feast I noticed a loud buzzing sound drawing closer. Then a flash of yellow and black whirred by. A few seconds later it returned. At first I though, hmmm, this is someone after a piece of my mango. However, it kept circling the bush and showed no interest in the fruit.

 

 As I watched it closely, I realised that it was a male carpenter bee patrolling its territory. Looking out over the dappled bush I realised that there were literally hundreds of male bees doing the same thing – endlessly circling some prime spot in the hope of a female wandering by…

 

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Every ten seconds or so it returned to hover in a sunspot in front of me.

 

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It kept this up for the entire half-hour break that we took for lunch. Four hours later as I prepared to call it a day, the same male bees were still at it, endlessly circling their little patches of bush in the hopes of wooing a lady carpenter bees’ heart…

 

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