Ah, pillow fights, popcorn, and marathon movies on TV, you ask?
No. "Boys' Night Out" is when the longhorned male bees in our pollinator garden in Vacaville engage in sleepovers on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and other blossoms.
At night, the girls sleep inside their nests, and the boys cluster on flowers.
Lately, we've been admiring a trio of boys--Melissodes (possibly M. robustior, as identified by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis)--bunking down on a Tithonia. Every day, around sunset, they head over to the same flower, arrange themselves in comfortable sleeping positions (hey, quit kicking me), and it's nighty-night! When the sun rises, they vacate the bedroom. Sometimes it's earlier than planned, no thanks to buzzing bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees foraging around them and disturbing their beauty sleep. The nerve!
Other species of male longhorned bees--including Melissodes agilis and Svastra obliqua--sleep on flowers at night as well.
"Most frequently, the boy bee overnight clusters are single-species clusters," says Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, with UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994, continues to "bee involved" in research, writings, bee identification and public outreach. He teaches annually at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
In a previous Bug Squad blog, Thorp responded to a reader's inquiry about "stings" from the clustering bees. "Boy bees cannot sting," he pointed out. "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."
"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," Thorp answered. "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."
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?"
Said 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."
Longhorned bees are among the more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California. In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent. Meanwhile, check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and the exciting research underway.
There's a new bear in town.
Stuiffed toy animals resembling tardigrades, aka "water bears," are all the rage at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's year-around gift shop at the University of California, Davis.
The bright blue plush toys are just as cuddly, fluffy and pudgy--if not more so--than the traditional teddy bear.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wrote about the tardigrades in her newsletter several years ago.
The water bear "has to be one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known," she wrote. The microscopic and nearly indestructible tardigrade can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if it's frozen for 30 years, it can still reproduce. See video on EurekAlert.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and to date there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world. "Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss," Kimsey related. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
"This collection is the result of years of collecting, mounting, imaging, and identifying by former collection manager Bob Schuster and emeritus professor Al Grigarick and their collaborators," she noted.
What's the water bear look like? It has a barrel-shaped body, eight pudgy legs, and the adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length.
German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses, Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea." They've even been found in the interior of Antarctica.
They mostly feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades," Kimsey says. They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
Why is the water bear so indestructible? In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
Bottom line: the real "water bear" is definitely less destructible than its huggable, plush counterpart in the Bohart gift shop.
(Editor's note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology will host an open house, themed "Extreme Insects: Fire and Ice," from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is free and family friendly. More information is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. UC Davis student and Bohart associate Emma Cluff, pictured, is helping coordinate the event.)
Have you ever seen an ambrosia beetle, a red turpentine beetle, an ice cricket, a brine fly or a sand wasp?
You will if you attend the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on “Extreme Insects: Fire and Ice,” on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 19.
The public event, to take place from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, is free and family friendly. It will emphasize "fire and insects."
“There are a number of species that are specifically attracted by smoke to damaged trees,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “Wildland fire fighters hate them because some of the beetles fly at them, crawling into their turnouts and biting them. Fire insects include jewel beetles, some horntail wasps and a few others."
In addition to fire insects, Kimsey said that the Bohart open house will cover other insects adapted to extremes:
- Ice: ice crickets and ice flies, both native to California
- Extreme acid: midges that live only in highly acidic mine run-off
- Hot water: midges found in hot springs just below the boiling point
- Salt: the brine flies of Mono Lake.
- Desert: sand wasps
Regarding the beetles that attack the firefighters, these are “The flatheaded borers (Buprestidae) and they will actually nip the firefighters as they land,” said chemical ecologist Steve Seybold with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and a lecturer/researcher with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Insects that like ethanol/burned phloem include the red turpentine beetle, the ambrosia beetles, the "sour cambium" beetles, and some of the larger woodborers, Seybold said. “These are the 'undertakers' of the trees, if you will. Certain bark and ambrosia beetles specialize in colonizing burned tissue that gives off ethanol as a sign of fermentation. These insects wait until things have cooled off a bit before they bore into the trees."
"Often when you visit a burned area," Seybold said, "you'll see piles of white dust coming out of the trees that have blackened bark. This dust is made by ambrosia beetles--and other larger woodborers--that can make use of the carbon that is still present in these moribund trees. Ambrosia beetles 'consume' this carbon indirectly by farming fungi in their galleries. The fungus serves as a conduit for the nutrients in the wood. Some of the larger woodboring insects have other adaptations like specialized enzymes that degrade cellulose or hemicellulose."
Seybold called attention to an article titled “Attraction of Melanophila Beetles by Fire and Smoke,” authored by noted beetle expert E. Gorton Linsley (1910-2000) and published in April of 1943 in Scientific Notes, the Journal of Economic Entomology. Linsley, who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1938, wrote that thousands of cigarette smokers at the UC Berkeley football games were complaining of beetles swarming into the stadium and biting their hands and necks.
The smoke on "still days sometimes hangs like a haze over the stadium during a big game," wrote Linsley, identifying the beetles as Melanophilaconsputa Lec. and M. acuminata (family Buprestidae). M. consputa is commonly called “the charcoal beetle.”
Linsley also reported receiving "complaints from sawmill operators, fire fighters and smelter plant workers regarding annoyance by buprestid beetles of the genus Melanophila. These beetles appear to be greatly stimulated by heat and attracted by smoke. They normally breed in fire-scarred pines and under ordinary conditions, they are rarely encountered in nature. However, on hot days during the dry season, especially in late summer and fall, they sometimes fly in unbelievable numbers to forest fires, burning refuse dumps, refineries, smelter plants, etc.”
Wildfires continue to rage in California. As of Aug. 13, the 5,255 California wildfires this year have burned 958,812 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center. To date, the still-active Mendocine Complex fire, the largest wildfire in California history, has charred more than 344,000 acres.
The Bohart Museum open house also will include a family craft activity involving extreme insects. The museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens and is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It also houses a live "petting zoo" of Madagasar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids, and a year-around gift shop, stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com.
They brought home five gold or first-place awards: three silver or second-place awards; and two bronze or third-place awards. “That was quite a haul!” commented an ACE member on Facebook.
- Diane Nelson, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, two golds
- Kathy Keatley Garvey, Department of Entomology and Nematology, one gold and one silver
- Jim Downing, California Agriculture journal, gold
- David Slipher, College of Biological Sciences, gold
- Steve Elliott, Western IPM Center, two silvers and a bronze
- Gregory Watry, College of Biological Sciences, bronze
Nelson wrote about pig personalities and polar bears. Slipher's topic was pigeons. (See other topics in the awards news story)
And me--bugs. The news story that won the gold (by yours truly) involved a visit to the Bohart Museum of Entomology by children of California migratory workers.
The piece, “Why These Youngsters Want to Become Entomologists” (https://bit.ly/2sYwhye) covered the children's tour of the insect museum, which houses some eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids), and a year around-gift shop. The students engaged the director, Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, in a press conference. They asked the "who, what, when, where and how come" questions like pros. It was delightful to see them so well prepared and perceptive.
The Bug Squad blog that won silver (https://bit.ly/2BrePU5) involved a late-season monarch caterpillar that we found Oct. 27, 2017 on one of our milkweeds in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. It formed a chrysalis on Nov. 4.
On Day 19, Nov. 22 (the day before Thanksgiving), it happened. The monarch eclosed. A big, strong and healthy girl.
What to do...no way could she fly three hours in the rain and cold from Vacaville to an overwintering site in Santa Cruz. And with predators abounding, survival looked bleak.
From the Bug Squad blog:
"It just so happened that a friend and pollinator advocate, Rita LeRoy, the self-described 'farm keeper' at the Vallejo City Unified School District's Loma Vista Farm, was heading to Santa Cruz on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to show her out-of-town relatives the overwintering migratory butterfly sanctuary at the Natural Bridges State Beach Park. That's about a 100-mile trip from Vallejo.
"Could Ms. Monarch hitch a ride?
"She could. And she did."
Rita is a Monarch Mom (she rears and releases monarchs) and is active in the Bay Area-Based Pollinator Posse. She teaches Vallejo City Unified School District youngsters about farming, cooking and gardening. And that includes gardening for butterflies.
So Ms. Vacaville Monarch hitched a ride with Rita and her family.
"She flew so fast that we didn't get a picture of her flying away," Rita related. "She was anxious to join her new friends."
A happy ending.
And hopefully, Ms. Vacaville Monarch provided the butterfly world with another generation.
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
and the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.
It was an itsy bitsy spider.
But it wasn't climbing up a water spout.
It was lurking, waiting for prey, on our Mexican sunflower.
This particular crab spider was quite visible--white on orange. Sometimes they're so camouflaged that you have to look twice to see them. We remember the perfectly camouflaged crab spider on a gold coin flower (Asteriscus maritimus). (See below).
Crab spiders belong to the family Thomisidae, which includes about 175 genera and more than 2100 species. Wikipedia tells us that "The common name crab spider is often applied to species in this family, but is also applied loosely to many other species of spiders. Among the Thomisidae, 'crab spider' refers most often to the familiar species of 'flower crab spiders,' though not all members of the family are limited to ambush hunting in flowers."