We're receiving lots of inquiries about sleepovers ever since we began posting images of male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis, sleeping on our lavender.
Boys' Night Out!
While the females sleep in their underground nests, the males cluster on stems. No, they don't have pillow fights or nightcaps but they do wiggle around a lot until they get comfortable.
Now the boys have moved from their favorite spot on the lavender (vertical sleepover) to the guara (horizontal sleepover). We suspect this may be due to several reasons: (1) The presence of three praying mantids in the lavender (2) the lavender is fading while the guara is flourishing and (3) the guara offers a definite height advantage, which may deter a few predators (but not birds).
Nevertheless, the boys start arriving for their nightly sleepover around 5 p.m. and don't budge until around 7 p.m., sometimes as late as 9 or 10.
One reader asked some interesting questions.
"There is a nightly cluster of boys on an aster stem in my front yard and I wanted to find out more about them. In particular, do they/can they/will they sting?"
No, boys don't sting--just the girls. As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, explains: "Boy bees cannot sting. They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
Says Thorp: "Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest. Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
Of course, not all slumbering bees in this area are Melissodes agilis, as Thorp points out. Some may be other species of the genus Melissodes and some may belong to the closely related Svastra obliqua.
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Says Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
We've noticed that, too. We've also noticed that the early morning risers--the carpenter bees, bumble bees, honey bees and syrphid flies--work around the slumbering Melissodes agilis. All that buzzing must sound like the human version of a chainsaw. "Will ya shaddup, already? Can't you see we're trying to sleep?"
Once the boys awaken, though, watch out! They'll dive-bomb the pollinators or any critter working or resting on "their" flowers. They're very territorial and determined to save the food source for the females of their species. The butterflies, including the Western tiger swallowtail, anise swallowtail, Gulf Fritillary and cabbage whites, don't linger when the boys target them.
And speaking of California bees, we're eagerly awaiting the arrival of the book, California Blooms and Bees: an Identification Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. It's co-authored by research entomologist/professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley; Thorp (who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley); and their UC Berkeley affiliates, photographer/entomologist Rollin Coville and floral/herbarium curator Barbara Ertter.
More than 1600 species of undomesticated bees call California their home. The authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent.
Meanwhile, you'll want to check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and his exciting research.
Bumble bees and spiders don't mix, you say?
Well, they will at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 26. The family-centered event, free and open to the public, takes place in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Actually the theme is about spiders: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?" There you'll see black widow spiders, jumping spiders, cellar spiders and the like. But you don't have to "like" them as you do posts on Facebook!
You can also learn about bumble bees. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will be one of the tour guides. Thorp co-authored the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide, which is available in the Bohart gift shop. He can autograph your book and answer questions about how to attract bees to your garden.
Thorp was recently interviewed by Tom Oder of the Mother Nature Network on how to garden for bumble bees. So was Steve Buchmann, an adjunct professor in entomology and ecology at the University of Arizona.
Thorp told Mother Nature Network that some bumble bees are in very serious decline, and others are doing quite well.
So, how do you attract them to your garden? Buchmann was quoted as saying: “Gardening for bumblebees is similar to gardening for other bees and pollinators." To entice bumblebees to visit your garden, “plant mints, Salvia, Monarda, plants in the sunflower family and clovers."
Read Oder's article for more information.
And keep your eyes open for the soon-to-be-published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, and two others with UC Berkeley connections: photographer/entomologist Rollin Coville and floral curator Barbara Ertter.
As for Saturday, July 26 there won't be a vote on whether you like bumble bees or spiders better, nor will you be asked to sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Baby Bumble Bee." It promises, though, to be fun and educational. Plus, you can enjoy the live "petting zoo," featuring 24-year-old Rosie the tarantula, assorted walking sticks, and the colorful Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Yes, they hiss.
The gift shop is also popular. You can browse through the books, jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect-themed candy, butterfly houses, and insect-collecting kits.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It's closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. For more information, email education and outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone her at (530) 752-0493.
There's something about seeing a butterfly that makes your eyes light up, your smile widen, and your feet feel like skipping.
So when I was over at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville last Tuesday, I rejoiced at seeing a magnificent anise swallowtail, Papilo zelicaon, fluttering around the lantana flower beds near the entrance.
The butterfly flashed its brilliant yellow and black colors in the morning sun as it glided around the flower bed, touching down occasionally for a sip of nectar.
Such a beautiful, awe-inspiring, glorious creature.
So I did what comes naturally—I pulled the camera out of my bag—somewhat like pulling the rabbit out of a hat because you never know what kind of magic may--or may not--happen. Assuming my best "non-predator posture," I slowly trailed it from blossom to blossom, dropping down to capture its image.
It was then that I noticed a woman sitting on a nearby bench, smiling, as she watched the photographer follow the butterfly.
“I love butterflies," she said. "I collect butterflies—jewelry. I would never collect the real thing. They're too beautiful.”
“Me, either,” I said. “I try not to disturb them—I just photograph them.”
Half an hour later, I returned to the area only to observe a stricken look on the woman's face.
“You have the last photo of that beautiful butterfly," she said. "A bird ate it."
And right in front of the managed health care facility.
The event, which runs through Sunday, celebrates "the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths," according to its website. Scientists and citizen scientists are encouraged to document their findings. It's now a worldwide event.
A few nuggets from the website:
"Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
- Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
- Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
- Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
- Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them."
Then there are, of course, the pests such as the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. This moth slips in at night to honey bee colonies and lays its eggs. The bees struggle to remove the larvae. Beekeepers struggle with control of the tell-tale evidence--damaged combs.
The honey bee bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee (Dadant Publication), says the wax moth female "produces less than 300 eggs during her life span of 3 to 30 days, but a few lay as many as 2000 eggs. Mated females fly to beehives one to three hours after dark, enter, and lay eggs until they leave shortly before daylight."
Sneaky little critters!
The Hive and the Honey Bee authors relate that "the presence of the wax moth larvae usually signals a major problem such as queenlessness, an infectious disease, poisoning and starvation."
Greater wax moths are probably not what the organizers of National Moth Week, founded by two naturalists in East Brunswick, N.J., had in mind when they launched this special week! (Unless, of course, they were anglers; the larvae make good fish bait!)
Neither will J. K. Rowling, author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series of books.
They hate spiders. In fact, by all accounts, they have arachnophobia, an intense fear of spiders that affects some 3.5 to 6.1 percent of the U.S. population.
No wonder the Bohart Museum of Entomology has themed its open house on Saturday, July 26: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?"
The event, free and open to the public, takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Many locally found spiders, including the black widow, jumping spider and cellar spiders--alive and specimens--will be exhibited. Want to know what the spider is that's dangling from your zinnias or crouched on a sedum or hiding in your woodpile? The Bohart Museum officials will tell you all about them.
Spiders are found throughout the world, except in Antarctica (where Timberlake and Rowling have probably pondered as suitable living quarters.)
A special attraction at the Bohart Museum will be Rosie, a 24-year-old tarantula reared by entomologist/Bohart volunteer Jeff Smith of Sacramento. Visitors are invited to hold it and photograph it.
Children and/or family activities are also planned, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart.
Yang said some folks are "creeped out" by spiders while others are eager to see them. The open house will be an informational activity about them, but other insects will be there as well. In addition to its nearly eight million insects founds throughout the world, the Bohart houses live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks, which visitors enjoy holding and photographing. A new addition is a Peruvian walking stick with red wings, yellow eyes and a velvety body.
This week is also National Moth Week.
The museum's gift shop, open throughout the year (credit-card purchases are accepted), includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
Bohart officials schedule weekend open houses throughout the academic year. The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information is available from Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or by telephoning (530) 752-0493.