Doom or gloom? Boom or bloom?
Today is Earth Day, and millions of folks around the world stopped--at least for a moment--to pay tribute to the 46th annual observance. They planted trees, weeded their gardens, greeted pollinators, or just thought about environmental issues.
Every Earth Day, we pay special attention to the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The biannual, native to the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, is a favorite in pollinator gardens, including ours. Seven feet tall and graced with pinkish blossoms splashed with blue pollen, it lives up to its name...tower of jewels.
Then it morphs into a tower of bees. Hello, honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees and carpenter bees.
As they dive in, will they not only survive but thrive? If we each do our part, we can help the pollinators thrive.
Happy Earth Day!
If you've ever wanted to learn how to tell the difference between a honey bee and a drone fly, head over to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, during the 102nd annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 16. The overall theme of Picnic Day is "Cultivating Your Authenticity." The Bohart Museum's theme: "Real Insects and Their Mimics."
The Bohart, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is ready for your questions. They'll be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The drone fly (Eristalis tenax) or European hover fly, is about the same size as a honey bee (Apis mellifera) and has similar coloring. They both visit flowers and sip nectar. But the drone fly has what appears to be an "H" on its back. The "H" does not stand for honey bee--but don't tell the fly that!
What is a drone fly? In its immature (larva) stage, it's known as a rat-tailed maggot. It lives in drainage ditches, manure piles and puddled, polluted water. The honey bee larva does not live in drainage ditches, manure piles, and puddled, polluted water.
But what a great mimic the adult drone fly is--so great that's it's commonly mistaken for a honey bee. One of the most memorable cases of misidentification occurred on the cover of Bees of the World, by Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw. Someone--not them--selected a fly for the cover. Major metropolitan newspapers, nature magazines, stock photo agencies and bee fundraisers have all made the same mistake. Here's a honey bee. Nope, that would "bee" a fly.
A quick way to tell the difference between a honey bee and a drone fly:
Honey Bee: Four
Drone Fly: Two
Honey Bee: Elbowed antennae
Drone fly: Short, stubby antennae
Honey Bee: Moves pointedly to a flower; it does not hover
Drone Fly: Hovers and moves erratically
Honey Bee: Workers (and queens) can sting
Drone Fly: Does not sting. Does not bite.
Bottom line: Don't apply the "Duck Test" to honey bees and drones ("If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck").
"If it looks like a bee, buzzes like a bee, and visits flowers like a bee, well, you know, it may not be a bee; it may be a fly."
If you want to learn more about native bees, mark your calendar for Saturday, April 23.
That's when the Davis Science Collective, a group of STEM graduate students at UC Davis who like to get together and do science outreach in their spare time, will host an event from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Mary L. Stephens Branch of the Yolo County Public Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis.
It's appropriately called “Native Bee Day,” and it's free and open to the public.
UC Davis graduate student Shahla Farzan says a variety of activities and live demonstrations will be offered, including:
- Pollen display
- Live mason bees and carpenter bees
- Bees vs. flies vs. wasps: What's the difference?
- How does pollination work?
- Bees of the world, courtesy of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis.
“It's more of an interactive event geared toward families, so we won't be having any formal talks,” Farzan said. “Instead, we're planning a variety of demonstrations and hands-on activities. For instance, we'll have an activity station where kids can learn how pollination works. First, the kids will cover their fingers in chalk dust (i.e. pollen) and collect plastic beads from inside tissue paper flowers (representing a nectar reward). As they collect 'nectar,' they'll transfer 'pollen' onto the flowers.”
Entomology graduate student Tricia Bohls of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be there to explain the differences between honey bees and native bees. Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis, will showcase carpenter bees at the live native bee table. Also exhibited will be blue orchard bees, affectionately known as BOBs.
For more information, access the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/985443778172006/
The cherry laurel, Prunus caroliniana, a member of the rose family, draws honey bees as if there's no tomorrow. Native to the southeastern United States, it can double as a 15-to-36-feet-tall hedge, screening neighbors from neighbors, as well as providing ample food for birds when the tiny black cherrylike fruit develops.
But the bees...the bees...if you've ever seen bees work the spring blossoms, gathering the cream-colored pollen and the nectar to take back to their colonies, you know how frenetic they can be.
Back at the hive, the nectar turns into cherry-laurel honey....hmmm.
Speaking of honey, the so-called "nectar of the gods," how much honey does an average California colony produce?
California Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, whose career spanned 38 years, was recently asked that question. When he joined the faculty at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--that was during the 1976-77 drought--he was told that the average honey production per hive was around 29 to 35 pounds. Today the figure often quoted is 60 pounds.
But that depends.
"Later I learned that the 'average' honey production--years with "normal" rain--is not average across all our beekeepers," Mussen related. "The queen and bulk bee producers in northern California have never made much of any honey, especially after yellow starthistle fell victim to the USDA biocontrol program.
"The San Joaquin Valley beekeepers were more likely to approach the state average. They could obtain some honey from the crops they were pollinating and some from the wildflowers, especially in the hills surrounding the valley. It was the Southern California beekeepers who made up the difference. Production of 100-plus pounds could be common."
What about honey production today, in the throes of the California drought? "For the last few years, we have been having 1976-77-type crops," Mussen said. "The northern beekeepers basically have no honey unless they take their colonies out of state. The San Joaquin Valley beekeepers probably are averaging around 30 pounds or so, and the southern beekeepers would be lucky to be getting around 60."
The few years when California experienced high rain and floods--back in the 1980s and 1990s--beekeepers throughout the state reported an average of 90-plus pounds per colony. "Even the northern beekeepers produced a little," Mussen said. "However, even if we have a horrendous El Niño event, it probably won't make a huge difference in honey production this coming year. The seed bank has been terribly diminished by so many consecutive years of drought."
"While we can never predict exactly who is going to get the honey and how much, this is the way things generally tend to go in California," Mussen noted. "Our bees, and our beekeepers, are really hurting for nectar and honey right now."
There's not much blooming right now. But for those "lucky" honey bees with access to a 30-foot-high hedge of luxuriant cherry laurel, as in our yard, life is good.
That's when life is just a bowl of cherries (cherry laurels).
In the movie, "Field of Dreams," an Iowa corn farmer hears a voice whispering "If you build it, he will come." Apparently thinking this is the voice of his father, the farmer plows under his corn and builds a baseball field.
We are hearing a similar whisper as spring approaches. "Plant pollinator-friendly flowers and they will come."
Are you ready for spring, which begins March 19? The UC Davis Arboretum is, and has scheduled its first plant sale of the season on Saturday, March 12. It's actually Member Appreciation Plant Sale--members only--but folks can join at the door and participate in the appreciativeness.
The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, UC Davis campus.
Arboretum officials, noting that there is "life after lawn," are encouraging area residents to create a low-water landscape "that not only looks great, but one that attracts beneficial wildlife with our incredible selection of gorgeous Arboretum All-Stars,California natives, as well as other great drought-tolerant plants."
Access the Arboretum website for more information on what's available and for the dates of the other plant sales (April 2, April 23 and May 14).
Life is good, but it's better when you can create a field of dreams in your own yard. Just add honey bees. And bumble bees. And butterflies. And other pollinators.
Plant 'em and they will come.