Hurray for the red, white and blue!
One more day until we celebrate the birth of our country, Independence Day, and the patriotic colors will be out in force.
Insects, also, can be red, white and blue.
Take the red flameskimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata). The male is firecracker red, as bright as the stripes on our American flag.
Take the Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) butterfly. It's as blue as the starry background on our flag.
Take the white cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae). it's a white as the stars on our flag. Okay, it's a pest, but its colors are appropriate on July 4.
Just think, when the members of the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, there were all those red, white and blue insects flying around.
We mark the holiday with fireworks, family reunions, parades, barbecues, carnivals, picnics, concerts, baseball games, and the like, but if we look closely, the insects are there, too!
The excitement began when Martin Guerena, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist with the City of Davis, encountered a native bee nesting site Wednesday in front of the U.S. Bank, corner of 3rd and F streets, Davis.
Some passersby figured they were wasps and were asking bank officials to exterminate them.
Guerena contacted UC Davis officials and learned that these particular bees were sunflower bees, Svastra obliqua expurgata, nesting underground. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified them, and Katharina Ullmann, who last year received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now a crop pollination specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, circled the site with yellow caution tape today and posted an educational sign.
"This is a sunflower bee nesting site," Ullmann wrote. "These gentle bees are native and ground nesting. The females of this species are solitary bees, but like to nest near each other and often use the same nest entrance. Their nesting tunnels lead to individual chambers below the ground. Each chamber is filled with pollen, a single egg, and then closed off. These eggs will hatch, develop underground, and emerge next summer to build their nests. This sunflower bee is one of 1600 species of native bees found in California."
The sign included a "name tag" with the common name, scientific name, favorite food (pollen and nectar), favorite place to be (3rd St., Davis), favorite colors (yellow, red and orange) and favorite saying (YOLO, You Only Live Once).
Ullmann added: "Three things you can do to help this bee: (1) protect nests, (2) plant flowers and (3) use fewer insecticides.
Sunflower bees are also nesting nearby--near the Pizza Guys restaurant and the 7-Eleven parking lot. UC Davis entomology graduate student Margaret "Rei"Scampavia identified the bees as from the same genus, and also noted the presence of cuckoo bees.
Thorp says the female cuckoo bee, Triepeolus concavus, lays her eggs in the ground nests of other bees, including the sunflower bee, Svastra. Cuckoo bees are kleptoparasites, meaning that they steal the food stores provisioned by the host bee. Cuckoos lack pollen-collecting structures (scopa). So when the cuckoo bee eggs hatch, the larva will consume the pollen ball collected by the hosts, and kill and eat the host larvae. Like human kleptomanias, they've found a way to make it in this world at the expense of others.
Ullmann, who studied with pollination ecologist Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wants to protect the sunflower bees and figures an informational sign will help.
Frankly, it's quite appropriate that the sunflowers bees are nesting near the bank. They're making their own deposits--pollen!
Beekeepers don't like their "girls" foraging in California buckeye (Aesculus californica)
It's poisonous to bees.
"The signs of poisoning can be as severe as dying adult bees and brood, only dying brood, brood that barely makes it and emerges misshapen, brood that emerges undersized, and probably bees that don't live normal lifespans, but we haven't proven that," says Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who, although retired, continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus.
Is it the pollen or the nectar that's poisonous?
Possibly it's only the pollen that contains the toxin, "but some pollen always ends up in the nectar and honey," Mussen says.
"It is all a matter of dilution. When many different plants are producing pollen and nectar at the same time as the buckeye, sometimes the bees escape undamaged. However, beekeepers have long known that on dry years the buckeye is the best producer of both pollen and nectar, so the bees go for it.
What to do? Bees can fly some five miles from the hive to collect nectar and pollen. It isn't always possible for beekeepers to move their bees out of areas with buckeye, "especially on dry years--we've had more than enough of those," Mussen says.
"Otherwise, they feed the bees with substitute, pollen traps might help a bit but most beekeepers don't have them, they feed sugar syrup, and if they can do it, they take the buckeye-pollen combs out. If the combs are left in, the buckeye pollen gets stored. It gets covered up when fresh pollens start coming in, and things seem to straighten out."
"Then long comes another pollen and nectar dearth and the bees dig into the stores. It is not uncommon to have the bees 'buckeyed' twice in one year," Mussen says.
"California buckeye was discovered in the early 1800s in California and described by Edouard Spach in 1834 (Little 1979, Hickman 1993)," writes Frank Callahan of Central Point, Ore. writing for the Native Plant Society of Oregon.
"All parts of California buckeye are toxic to humans and livestock," Callahan points out. "Poisoning is from glycosidal compounds that are present in all plant parts. Humans have been poisoned by honey made from the flowers (USDA Forest Service 1974). The flowers are toxic to European honeybees (Apis mellifera); however, native pollinators relish the collection of nectar without side effects. The adult pale swallowtail butterfly (Papilio eurymedon) appears particularly fond of this plant."
Yes, we've seen butterflies nectaring on the buckeye. Never seen a buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) nectaring on a California buckeye, though!
It's sort of like "The Beauty and the Beast."
Or "The Pollinator and the Pest."
A gorgeous Western Tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), seeking nectar from a butterfly bush, touched down and began to feed.
It didn't take long for the butterfly to spot a stink bug crawling on top of the blossom. This blossom's not big enough for both of us.
The shield-shaped bug quickly scrambled out of its way.
Stink Bug: 0
Naturalist Greg Karofelas of Davis, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has not only seen them, he has photographed them. See his truly spectacular photo below.
The mites look like a cross between pomegranate kernels and salmon eggs. They are hitchhikers!
It's a good case of phoresy, or the symbiotic relationship in which one organism transports another organism of a different species.
Scenario: Say a damselfly is laying her eggs in a fish pond or the wetlands. Say some mites are waiting for her. They seek free meals and a free ride to the next pond to find mates and reproduce.
The damselfly dips down. They jump up.
What a load!
We wrote about these mites in a Bug Squad blog on July 25, 2013.
As for the image of the water mites that Greg Kareofelas captured, he suspects they may be Arrenurus mitoensis.
All we can say is "Wow!" Great image, Greg!