Let's hear it from the insects, namely the woolly bear caterpillars that populate the cliffs of Bodega Bay.
They may know.
A UC Davis ecologist and his lab who study woolly bear caterpillars, the immature form of the Ranchman's Tiger Moth, Platyprepia virginalis, think that the "bears" will again predict the winner, as they have for the past three decades.
The woolly bears feed primarily on lupine along the cliffs of Bodega Bay, says professor Richard "Rick" Karban of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Sometimes the population booms; other times, it's a bust. When the population thrives, a Democrat heads to the White House. When the population dives, the Republicans take over.
The UC Davis scientists, known for their expertise in plant-insect interactions, are now making national headlines with their political predictions.
“The pollsters and talking heads seem unable to size up this election cycle,” said Karban. “Paul the Octopus had a pretty good run predicting soccer matches in 2012 so perhaps the woolly bears have earned as much credibility at forecasting this presidential election.”
“The woollies aren't seemingly as decided as they have been in years past - I don't know what they are really predicting,” said graduate student Eric LoPresti. “They seem to be leaning Republican but the point is between the range that we've seen in the past for each party.”
Washington Post reporter Karin Bruilliard picked it up and ran with it on April 26 in a piece titled, “These Fuzzy Little Caterpillars Are Better at Predicting Elections Than Most Pundits.”
This year, however, the pollster findings are unclear, they agreed. “Given their wildly erroneous predictions thus far for both primaries, trusting their predictions for the general election seems ill-advised,” LoPresti wrote. “The woolly bears, on the other hand, have a 100% accurate prediction record over the past 30 years. In years of low abundance, a Republican is elected, and in years of high abundance, a Democrat.”
“A superficial examination suggests that 2016 will be a Republican year – woolly bear abundance is not particularly high,” LoPresti noted. “However, looking a little closer, it may not be. The number of woolly bears per lupine bush in 2016 (0.53) is higher than the average Republican year by 152% and is 36% above the highest Republican year ever recorded (1988). However, it is only 27% of an average Democratic year and still only 36% of the lowest Democratic year (2008). This result is without presidential precedent in the last 30 years.”
So, which party, which political animal (elephant or the donkey), will occupy the White House come Jan. 1, 2017? What do the bears indicate?
“We suspect that the Republicans have the edge,” the UC Davis scientists surmised. “However, a valid hypothesis would be a third-party winner, such as a right-leaning independent (a logical placeholder in between Democrats and Republicans). Perhaps Donald Trump will take particular interest in our data. Alternately, a contested Republican convention could produce a fractured party and the old Republican woolly bear average would not accurately represent the mean caterpillar abundances seen by this new party.”
Responding to the April 25 blog, someone noticed the resemblance of the hair of a presidential candidate to the hair of the woolly bear caterpillar.
The UC Davis scientists study the caterpillars at the Bodega Marine Reserve above the Bodega Marine Laboratory. The reserve, which surrounds the Bodega Marine Laboratory, is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System and is administered by UC Davis.
“Platyprepia virginalis caterpillars are dietary generalists and feed on multiple host species within a single day,” Karban says.
In research, Diet Mixing Enhances the Performance of a Generalist Caterpillar, Platyprepia virginalis, published in February 2010 in the journal Ecological Entomology, “We found that relative growth rates and rates of survival were higher when they fed on mixed diets compared to lupine only,” Karban said. These results were consistent with hypotheses that mixed diets provided balanced nutrition, diluted toxins, and/or allowed recovery from parasitoids, although our data did not allow us to separate these non-exclusive explanations.”
The caterpillar's taste for plants containing alkaloids may help it survive parasitoids, Karban said.
Just think about the bees.
The 141st annual Dixon May Fair, California's oldest fair, is "Buzzing with Excitement," and that's the theme of the fair, which opens Thursday, May 5 for a four-day run.
Fairgoers will make a beeline for Madden Hall, the main thematic attraction. A glass bee observation hive from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis will entice visitors to find the queen, worker bees and drones. In addition, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her fellow Laidlaw facility apiarists are providing beekeeping equipment, informative posters, decorated bee boxes made by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, and interactive displays, including a pollination poster ("Can you guess if I'm a pollinator?"). The El Niño Bee Lab will answer questions from fairgoers on Thursday and Friday.
Garry Haddon, beekeeping project leader of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, will showcase his honey as well as decorated bee boxes crafted by his 4-H'ers.
Chief administrative officer Patricia Conklin expects fairgoers to learn a lot about the importance of bees. Meanwhile, the final touches are underway.
In the Interior Living building, superintendent Debee LaMont is surrounded by a display of tasty desserts made with honey, and the proverbial bear ready to partake. Or just take.
Indeed, there's much to see and do at the fair, located at 655 S. First St. It's meant to inform, educate and entertain. Hours are neither "bankers' hours" nor "bee time." It's "people time":
- Thursday, May 5 from 4 to 11 p.m.
- Friday, May 6 from noon to 11 p.m.
- Saturday, May 7 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Sunday, May 8 from noon to 11 p.m.
The biggest bargain is Thrifty Thursday Day with everyone five years and older admitted for $5. (Children under five receive free admission.) Check out the website at http://dixonmayfair.com for more information on prices and activities.
Meanwhile, it's good to see the focus on bees!
When the monarchs return to southern California and central Mexico to overwinter, the residents rejoice.
When the bumble bees emerge from their nests in the spring, we, too, rejoice.
They are like the swallows of Capistrano and the monarchs of Pacific Grove.
So, on Friday, April 29, a native bumble bee, the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) buzzed into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the verbena.
It skipped the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii), the California golden poppy, the honeysuckle, the catmint, the lantana, the butterfly bush and other flowers in bloom and singled out the verbena, species native to the Americas and Asia.
In some countries, verbena is considered a healthy alternative to what ails you. However, modern-day researchers claim there's no scientific evidence that it can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. It has long been associated with "divine and other supernatural forces," according to Wikipedia.
Says Wikipedia: "In the William Faulkner short story An Odor of Verbena, verbena is used symbolically and described as "the only scent that can be smelled above the scent of horses and courage," similar to the symbolic use of honeysuckle in The Sound and the Fury.
We're not sure what drew the bumble bee last Friday to the verbena (no horses or courage around here!), but it seems we're experiencing a dearth of bumble bees this year.
According to bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardneers and Naturalists, there are six species of bumble bees that occur in Sacramento: Bombus crotchii; B. californicus, B. sonorus, B. melanopygus, B. vandykei, and B. vosnesenskii. "Of these, B. sonorus, used to be quite common but has essentially disappeared from the Sacramento Valley at least in recent years. We are not sure why this one has gone missing. Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-aced bumble bee is the most common species of this area, and of the entire state."
"The Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis doesn't quite reach Sacramento County," Thorp says. "Its historic range is primarily in the Coast Ranges from Monterey County north and the Sierra from Tuolumne County north. It penetrates into the Delta region, Contra Costa County (Pittsburgh and Antioch) and comes as close to Sacramento as Colfax and Nevada City in the Sierra region."
This "B" gets an "A" for good grooming.
We recently watched a honey bee land on the edge of a planter. "Hmm," we thought. "Why is she landing there? She should be foraging on the flowers in the pollinator garden."
We soon found out. After positioning herself on the planter, she proceeded to clean her tongue. With her legs. That's what bees do. She was removing the pollen and other particles on her proboscis so she could continue functioning well.
Meanwhile, back at the hive, her sisters were engaging in the usual: doing all the housekeeping, storing pollen, making honey, guarding the colony, tending the young, serving as undertakers, and other jobs. Their mother, the queen, was busily laying eggs. She can lay as many as 2000 eggs a day during peak season. The colony needs the replacements. Worker bees usually live only four to six weeks.
What about the males (drones)? They do no work in the hive. Their only job is to mate with a virgin queen. And then they die. (Or as Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, quips: "They die with a smile on their face."
And the worker bee cleaning her tongue on the edge of the planter? Soon, grooming is over and it's back to work. The colony needs her.
Honey bees aren't all that attracted to commercial roses, but this one was.
Honey bees are still attracted to it. So are assorted lady beetles, aphids, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, and occasionally we see a green bottle fly. Hey, flies are pollinators, too! And green bottle flies do look rather stunning on yellow roses when the light is just right.
This is our "Yellow Rose of Texas," bringing back memories of our Texas-born mother.
This year's Rose Weekend, sponsored by the UC Davis-based California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH), part of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1 at the Foundation Plant Services (FPS), 455 Hopkins Road, off Hutchison Drive, west of the central campus.
Admission is free. The event is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. You can stop and smell the roses, buy your favorite roses (five-gallon plants for $25 each, with proceeds benefitting CCUH), tour the FPS eight-acre collection of roses, talk to the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners, and listen to two professionals who love roses and love talking about them. Rose breeder Jim Sproul speaks at 10 a.m. Saturday on "Breeding Novel Rose Varieties," followed at 11 by Jacques Ferare of Star Roses discussing "The Status of the Rose Market in the United States."
FPS tours are from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. each day. The UC Master Gardeners will be offering tips and advice for your roses from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Free mini-roses, while supplies last, will be given to visitors. See schedule and directions on the CCUH website as compiled by executive director David Fujino and manager Kate Lincoln.
Many folks attend the Rose Weekend to purchase roses for their mothers, as Mother's Day is coming up (and coming up roses) on Sunday, May 8.
For more information about this educational event and fund-raiser, contact Kate Lincoln of CCUH at (530) 752-6642 or email her at email@example.com.