The garden that bears her name in the UC Davis Arboretum is Nature at its Best, especially this time of year.
It's better known as the Storer Garden, but a plaque spells out the entire name, "Dr. Ruth Risdon Storer Garden."
It was dedicated to her on her 92nd birthday, on Feb. 25, 1980.
Who was she?
- The first woman physician on the UC Davis campus
- The first woman pediatrician practicing in Yolo County
- A dedicated member of the Friends of the Arboretum
- An alumnus of the University of California
- The wife of Tracy Irwin Storer, a UC alumnus and founding chair of the UC Davis Department of Zoology. Storer Hall is named for him.
- A philanthropist: she and her husband founded the Storer Endowment in Life Sciences.
The plaque also points out that she was "well known for her own beautiful garden and generously sharing their beauty and her knowledge."
Today is Friday of National Pollinator Week. At noon, we headed over to the Storer Garden on Garrod Drive. A graceful and generous lavender butterfly bush--reminiscent of Dr. Storer--was accepting all visitors: six-legged Western tiger swallowtails, monarchs, painted ladies, cabbage whites, honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and assorted two-legged visitors. No reservations needed.
The showy Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) fluttered, floated, sailed and soared. Her brilliant colors--yellow and black with a splash of blue--lit up the garden. No sun needed--not with the glorious colors of the Western tiger swallowtail around.
If any insect should be the "cover girl" during National Pollinator Week, it ought to be the honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Specifically, it should be the worker bee, although the queen bee and drones (males) have their place, too.
But it's the worker bee, the forager, that basically works herself to death. She's out gathering nectar, pollen, propolis and water for her colony. She never calls in sick. She never punches a time card. She never protests. As soon as the temperature hits around 55 degrees, she leaves the warmth of the hive to go to work.
She might not return. She may run into pesticides, pests or predators (think spiders, praying mantids, wasps, birds and the like). She may wind up spending the night on a lavender blossom when it's too cold or too dark to return to the hive. She may have to fly five miles on ragged wings and in ragged weather carrying a load heavier than she is.
Once inside, she shares her bounty with the colony. She dances to let her sisters know where she found it. This isn't America's Got Talent--these dances are not for money or fame, but for purpose. "Hey, I just found a large quantity of lavender about two miles away. It's great quality. Let's go get more."
Her weapon is her stinger, but she uses that only in defense of the hive, or when something crushes her (like a human being that accidentally steps on her). She can't be compared to an assault weapon such as an AR-15 that can shoot 25 rounds in 2.5 seconds. One sting and she dies. One barbed sting and it's all over for her.
And she's beautiful, whether she's golden, light brown or gray-black.
The Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, graced its June cover with a honey bee. It's of a forager heading toward a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The background: I captured the image several years ago in my pollinator garden in Vacaville, as I watched, awestruck, as the worker bees turned the tower of jewels into a buzzing tower of bees. Oh, sure, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, syrphids, butterflies and hummingbirds were working the blossoms, too, but it was this determined worker bee that caught my eye.
She probably died several weeks after that flight photo. Honey bees live only four to six weeks during the busy season. The queen bee, an egg-laying machine that can pump out 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaced her.
For a moment, though, as the bee headed for the tower of jewels, time stopped. The worker bee did not.
Happy National Pollinator Week!
Bees--and other pollinators--gravitate toward the enticing aroma of the milkweed, too.
The milkweed is widely known as the larval host plant of the monarch butterflies--and a nectar source for the adults--but they have to share.
The broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden draws everything from honey bees to leafcutter bees to carpenter bees.
It's almost like "Take a number." And it's especially noticeable during National Pollinator Week, a week set aside to celebrate the pollinators and to do what we can to protect them.
Recent visitors to the milkweed have included:
- A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a green-eyed blond
- A female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, solid black
- Honey bee, Apis mellifera
- Male leafcutter bee, Megachile sp.
And, of course, the monarchs (Danaus plexippus)!
Umm, does California have a state insect? The Monarch? The Western Tiger Swallowtail? The Red Admiral? Wait, isn't this National Pollinator Week? Should I know what the state insect is?
Yes, it is National Pollinator Week. And yes, it's a good time to appreciate the state's designated insect--not just for "Insect of the Week" or "Insect of the Year" but for what it is--a fascinating but quite obscure butterfly that's rarely spotlighted.
That's why we were delighted to see the California dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) get some well-deserved attention when Capital Public Radio (CPR) headed off to Auburn last Friday to see the butterfly's major breeding ground. It's at a well hidden, publicly inaccessible site on Placer Land Trust.
The butterfly is also known as the California doghead butterfly and the flying pansy, referring to the male's black and yellow coloring. The female is mostly solid yellow.
Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a volunteer tour guide for the Placer Land Trust butterfly site for the past three years, is quoted in Bob Moffitt's CPR piece on "Placer County — A Popular Hideout For Rarely Seen Dogface Butterfly,” published last Sunday. Access http://www.capradio.org/articles/2016/06/19/placer-county-popular-hideout-for-rarely-seen-dogface-butterfly/
The butterfly is there because its larval host plant--false indigo (Amorpha californica)--is there. Justin Wages, land manager of the Placer Land Trust, which owns or manages 8,000 acres, says the plant is difficult to grow outside this habitat.
It was also a surprise to see so many dogface butterflies in the space of two hours last Friday. "It's a very good year when I see three dogface butterflies in a single year," Kareofelas said. "They're elusive and hard to see. Last Friday we saw about 10 females and 50 or 75 males."
Kareofelas knows butterflies and he knows the dogface butterfly. To say he's made major contributions to the understanding of the state insect would be an understatement. At his home in Davis, he's reared--and photographed--a dogface butterfly from egg to adult. He's grown the false indigo. His photographs of the female and male appear on a poster that he and entomologist Fran Keller created at the Bohart Museum. His images also appear in a 35-page children's book, "The Story of the Dogface Butterfly," written by Keller with illustrations by then UC Davis student Laine Bauer. Both the poster and the book are available for sale at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on the UC Davis campus. Net proceeds benefit the insect museum's education, outreach and research programs.
The book tells the untold story of the California dogface butterfly, and how schoolchildren became involved in convincing the State Legislature to select the colorful butterfly as the state insect. Bauer's illustrations depict the life cycle of this butterfly. As part of their research, Keller, Kareofelas and Bauer visited the Placer Land Trust habitat of the butterfly. And Kareofelas reared that elusive butterfly.
As for the book, “There are also ecology, life cycle, taxonomy and conservation issues presented that are relevant to grades K-6 that can be used in classroom curriculum,” Keller earlier told us. It also includes a glossary.
The butterfly, so named because of a poodle-like silhouette on the wings of the male, was adopted as the official California insect on July 28, 1972, but entomologists had selected it as the state insect as early as 1929. Their choice appears in the California Blue Book, published by the State Legislature in 1929. (Read more on how the butterfly became the state insect under the Ronald Reagan administration.)
It's the first day of summer and the beginning of National Pollinator Week.
What could be better?
This: Spotting a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) sail through the pollinator garden and touch down on a butterfly bush (Buddleia). When the striking yellow and black butterfly lands softly and begins to forage on the lavender butterfly bush, it's like a Picasso come to life.
"National Pollinator Week is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them," say officials at the National Pollinator Partnership, which originated the idea of National Pollinator Week and now manages the observance. "During National Pollinator Week, we highlight and share the importance of pollinators including bees, birds, butterflies and bats."
Background: The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the designated week nine years ago. Now it's not only a national celebration but an international one. And well it should be, as we all remember to "protect our pollinators."
Check out the many logged-in activities on the Pollinator Partnership website. Among them: an open house on Friday, June 24 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis. Part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, the half-acre garden was installed in the fall of 2009 and is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
The haven open house is free and open to the public. Activities include:
- Learn to observe and identify bees
- Catch and observe bees up close
- See honey bees at work
- Learn about low-water plans that help bees
- Buy native bee houses to support the haven
- Enjoy honey tasting and sales
The haven is open to the public from dawn to dusk. The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum that circles much of the campus is open to the public 24 hours a day. There is no admission.
And that Western tiger swallowtail? You might see it now in the arboretum and haven. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, writes about it on his website: "The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse."
Among its favorite nectar plants: the aptly named butterfly bush.