Waste watermelon on the edge of picnic grounds serves as a sugar buffet for honeybees and yellow jackets. Photo: T. Butzler, Penn State
Normally, most of these flying insects get their sugar fix by visiting flowers and forging on the plant’s nectar (yellow jackets get their early season sugar fix from their young). In late spring and throughout the summer, there is plenty to choose from. Compare that to what is available in mid to late fall. What do you see? Not much. The Japanese knotweed is a prolific flower producer but has finished blooming along the waterways.
There are about 130 species of goldenrod in the northeastern US. We have plenty of that around but they don’t all bloom at once. Some bloom earlier and are already finished while a few species will flower well into the fall. The only other late season wildflower that will provide some food source is aster. But it is hard to come by large, expansive fields of aster in central Pennsylvania. So where can all these insects find enough sugar to get them to the end of their season?
They are resourceful little critters and will find sugar in many places. One place is rotting or damaged fruit. Numerous landscapes have ornamental trees that produce fruit in the fall. Crabapple is a great example as many gardeners love this early flowering tree and have the added bonus of colorful fruit in the fall. The sugar is out in the open as the fruit drops and is crushed or starts to decay. The other readily available sugar source is centered on human activity. Sugary snacks are readily available at picnics, trash cans, and dumpsters in soda cans and uneaten fruit. It is wise to be a bit wary around these late season food sources as some of these insects might sting if they feel their new food source is being threatened. Don’t worry, the cooler temperatures in the late fall will bring this activity to a standstill.
Bees feeding on the sugars of damaged kousa dogwood fruit. Photo: T. Butzler, Penn State
Honeybees collecting pollen and nectar from fall flowering goldenrod. Photo: T. Butzler, Penn State