We first met Sheridan Miller, 11, of Mill Valley when she visited the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, to give $733 to bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, now of Washington State University.
Young Sheridan, concerned about the plight of the bees, began raising money for bee research at age 10. This included selling jars of honey, baked goods featuring honey, beeswax candles, olive oil, soap and a self-penned booklet about the plight of honey bees.
At the time, Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, was the interim chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (later to become the Department of Entomology and Nematology).
“It's very thoughtful and generous of a little girl to think of the plight of the honey bees and to raise funds for research,” Kimsey said. “We are overwhelmed.”
Said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976 and now retired: “I really appreciate the fact that so many members of the general public have become concerned about the plight of honey bees. I am particularly impressed by individuals such as Sheridan who have devoted so much time and effort in really trying to improve the health and longevity of the honey bees.”
Then in October 2009 at the opening of the department's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that supports the Laidlaw bees and serves as an educational resource, the officials honored Sheridan and her family. Sheridan's name is engraved on donor plaque in the garden.
Fast forward to today. Sheridan is now a high school senior and yes, she's still raising funds for Cobey's bee research. She has raised more than $5000. See WSU article.
In the WSU article, Sheridan's father, Craig, a Bay Area lawyer, is quoted as saying: “Sue has been generous with her time and her gratitude toward Sheridan, She has instilled confidence in Sheridan and an incredible sense of pride. I guess an organization could simply send a thank-you note for a donation. Sue, on the other hand, sent friendship, knowledge, encouragement–and even bees!”
Sheridan Miller's enthusiasm for bees now extends to her becoming a beekeeper. Beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton, a former volunteer at the Laidlaw facility and a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, has worked with Sheridan for the past four years. He set up her hives and is teaching her how to care for and manage bees.
And, Cobey and Fishback continue to answer Sheridan's questions. Meanwhile, Fishback also shares his bee expertise with students in area classrooms.
Cobey and her fellow WSU researchers are working to build a better bee. Their research includes importing germplasm (honey bee semen) from Europe and crossing it with domestic breeding stocks to create healthier stock.
Sheridan hasn't decided on what college to attend or her major, but Cobey and Fishback hope that maybe it has something to do with bees.
"Sheridan is amazing," said Cobey, who traveled to Mill Valley a couple of years ago to participate in one of Sheridan's bee research fundraisers and "to talk bees."
If you're interested in helping Sherican help the bees, access the Go Fund Me account.
Sheridan is the human equivalent of a worker bee.
Monarch butterflies aren't the only insects that like milkweed.
Honey bees, lady beetles and aphids, do, too.
We found all three insects, plus a monarch butterfly, on our scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) today (Labor Day). Most of the insects were oleander aphids, which attract lady beetles. aka ladybugs.
Asclepias curassavica, also known as tropical milkweed, and Mexican butterfly weed, is native to South America but is frequently planted throughout the United States to attract monarchs. In the United States, you'll find it not only in California and Florida, but in Hawaii, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas, among others states. The colorful plant is known by some as "redhead," due to its brilliant red (and yellow) flowers.
Unfortunately, some of the "yellow" is a pest that needs to be eradicated. See the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) guideline on aphids.
Whether you call them "praying" mantis or "preying" mantis, one thing is for sure: they are difficult to find.
Tucked away in vegetation and as quiet as "the proverbial mouse" (except praying mantids are more quiet than the "proverbial" mice), they are an eye exercise in "Find me!"
As autumn approaches, our little bee garden is nearing the end of its life. The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lavender are fading rapidly. However, honey bees and other pollinators continue to forage, and the mantids are still hungry. The female mantids, mothers to be, need more high-quality food. Ootheca!
We're all accustomed to seeing praying mantids grab their struggling prey with their spiked forelegs and munch away. Usually that movement alerts us to their whereabouts.
But have you ever just searched for mantids in their habitat? See if you can find them in these photos.
Find the praying mantis!
If you've ever seen honey bees foraging on primrose, you may have seen something unusual.
What's with the pollen hanging below their hind legs as they buzz from primrose to primrose?
There's a reason for that.
Distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nemalogy alerted us to the reason.
"Note the stringy mass (mess) of pollen hanging below the hind legs of the bee," Thorp points out. "Honey bees have great difficulty in collecting (actually packing into their corbiculae) pollen from any large flowered species of Oenothera. The pollen grains are very large, more than 100 microns, and tied together with viscin threads to form a webby mass. This is ideal for transfer by hawkmoths where stringy masses get attached to their undersides as they probe for nectar."
"Oenothera pollen," Thorp says, "can be collected by some native bees where the scopae are modified to contain sparse simple hairs where the webby pollen can be easily stored. But the corbiculae of honey bees are not well suited to handle this webby stuff, since it will not pass neatly through the 'pollen mill' of the honey bee hind leg."
He recalls seeing the same situation when honey bees were working his desert evening primroses.
And speaking of honey bees, it's National Honey Bee Day on Saturday, Aug. 22.
Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wrote a piece on a UC ANR blog published this week. He initially published it in the June 2013 edition of the UC IPM Retail Nursery & Garden Center IPM News but it's quite timely.
"The actual cause of honey bee decline is still uncertain," Mussen says. "What is known is a number of factors are probably involved. Honey bees are their most robust and able to best contend with stresses when well fed. In addition to water, honey bees require nectar sources for carbohydrates and a varied mix of pollens to provide proteins, lipids, vitamins, minerals, sterols, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Drought, flooding, and conversion of former foraging grounds into large agricultural monocultures, highways, airports, developments, and so forth have led to honey bee malnutrition in many locations."
"In the last 20 years beekeepers have been encountering a series of previously exotic pests that invade the hive and kill bees, such as the varroa mite; new honey bee diseases, including Nosemaceranae; and many viruses."
"Pesticides can also be involved in bee decline, especially when applied to plants when they are in bloom and bees are foraging," Mussen points out. "Many insecticides are highly toxic to bees including virtually all organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids. If not killed in the field, foraging bees can collect residue-contaminated pollens and bring them back to the hive for immediate consumption or long-term storage. There are serious concerns over the chronic, sublethal effects of these residues on the physiology of immature and adult bees."
"A newer class of insecticides, the neonicotinoids, which include imidacloprid, clothianidin, and dinotefuran, also pose hazards for honey bees. These products are systemic materials that move through the plant and are included in the nectar and pollen of flowers when they bloom. Although the neonicotinoid residues may not kill bees immediately, they may have sublethal effects, such as suppressing immune and detoxification systems, causing bees to be more sensitive to other stresses."
If you want to know more about neonics, be sure to attend the UC Davis neonics conference on "Truth or Myth: Neonicotinoids and Their Impact on Pollinators: What Is the Science-Based Research?” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9 in the UC Davis Conference Center. UC Davis researchers and state officials will address the crowd, announced conference coordinator Dave Fujino, director of the UC Davis-based California Center for Urban Horticulture. You can register on the CCUH website.
Honey bees sometimes get into little battles with one another.
Here's a case of a tiff over a Tithonia.
Two honey bees wanted the same Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). They each tried to claim the same blossom, bounced one another off, returned, and then battled again.
This particular blossom seemed especially inviting to them, while all around them were other Tithonias.
Sisters from the same hive? Competitors?
It's difficult to say. But at the end, there was only one winner.
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