Hear the buzz in the California almond orchards?
It's almost pollination time.
The season usually begins around Feb. 1. This year California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and each acre requires two bee colonies to pollinate.
That's 1.2 million colonies needed to pollinate the almonds, according to honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Since California doesn't have that many colonies--the number is around 500,000--the remainder must come from beekeepers outside the state.
Christine Souza of Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California agriculture, wrote in the Jan. 19th edition that pollinating the state's $3.2 billion crop is not without problems: thieves steal bee hives. Beekeeper Brian Long, Madera County, reported losing 400 colonies last month, a total loss of $120,000, Souza said.
To thwart thieves, beekeepers brand their names and phone numbers on their boxes. (We know a beekeeper who also brands his driver's license.)
It's a good idea to store hives behind enclosed and locked gates, the Ag Alert article noted, and "to give nearby property owners descriptions of your vehicles so that they can report any suspicious activity or vehicles."
Perhaps those Hollywood producers looking for story ideas could take what's happening in the bee yards and film another version of "The Sting."
Honey bee expert Eric Mussen of UC Davis offers some good advice in a piece that he and commercial beekeeper Gene Brandi of Los Banos wrote in the current edition of CAPCA Advisor, published by the California Assoiciaton of Pest Control Advisors.
Mussen, an Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, and Brandi, a long-time beekeeping legislative advocate, emphasized these two points:
1. The best way to protect honey bees from damage by pesticides is to keep them from being exposed.
2. To prevent negative effects of pesticides of all types, do not apply them to blooming plants upon which the bees are foraging.
Pesticides can have "negative effects on queens, drones, developing brood and bee behavior that eventually result in weakened or dead colonies," they wrote.
Honey bees can die from injesting pesticides on plants and in contaminated water. Or they can be accidentally sprayed, such as when they cluster on beehives on hot evenings and are "hit by applications from directly overhead or by pesticide drift."
Bees carry pesticide residue back to the hive. "All types of pesticides contain some products that are toxic to developing honey bee brood," they wrote.
"It would be nice to think that we know all about the effects of pesticides on adults and immature honey bees, but that just is not the case."
What we do know is that honey bees pollinate about a third of the agricultural crops produced in the United States and the bee population is decreasing.
As a child, Angela Smilanich never harbored a “fascination or obsession for insects.”
That came later.
“My love for insects actually came later in life after visiting a lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, where I was given my first project as a young scientist,” said Smilanich, a biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno who will speak on "Self-Medication vs. Self-Toxicity in Generalist and Specialist Herbivores” from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26 in 1022 Life Sciences Addition, University of California, Davis.
“In a tropical rainforest, the diversity of insects literally smacks you in the face, and one cannot come away from this experience without awe and respect for nature. And I was no exception.”
Since then, she has dedicated her career to studying the intricate interactions between insects and their environment, mostly plants. “The research has never ceased to amaze or challenge me, and I cannot think of a life more fulfilling than discovering science and sharing it with others.”
Smilanich, who received her doctorate in ecology and evolution from Tulane University, New Orleans, in 2008. is now an adjunct faculty member in biology at University of Nevada, Reno, and an affiliate associate research faculty at the Desert Research Institute, Reno.
Her talk is part of the weekly seminars held every Wednesday noon through March 9 by the UC Davis Department of Entomology. It will be webcast live at http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/ucsn1/ and then archived on the department website.
“Specialist and generalist caterpillars are different in many aspects,” Smilanich says. “My research highlights these differences in a tritrophic context by focusing on plant chemistry and natural enemies. For example, quite often, specialist caterpillars are physiologically constrained to feed on plants with specific leaf chemistry. In addition, they have adapted to sequester plant compounds in their tissues thereby becoming toxic to predators.”
“In contrast, generalist caterpillars may encounter several different classes of plant chemistry over the course of a day. Given these differences in host plant chemistry, one question that I am interested in addressing is: What are the differences in physiological differences between specialist and generalist caterpillars?"
To answer that question, Smilanich has focused on the insect immune response, which she describes as “one of the most important defenses caterpillars have against natural enemies.”
In her UC Davis talk, she will show how host plant chemistry differentially affects a specialist caterpillar (Junonia coenia, buckeye) and a generalist caterpillar (Grammia incorrupta, woolly bear). In the case of the buckeye, she will show how ingesting and sequestering high concentrations of plant compounds negatively affects the immune response.
"With the woolly bear, there is evidence that plant compounds help the immune response; however, this question is still under investigation. “
Natural enemies, Smilanich says, may be influencing the evolution of the insect immune response.
Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, makes seven good points in his piece on honey bee health published in the Jan. 18th edition of The Daily Green.
Scientists, he writes, don't know what exactly causes colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
But Flottum says, all this research on what ails them provides insight on what will help them. He lists seven key maladies that may be contributing to CCD.
One of them is poor nutrition.
"Honey bees forced to dine on only a single source of pollen have problems. Imagine living for a month on only Twinkies. The first one is great, the second good... the 123rd is disgusting, and, you are slowly starving to death. When researchers looked closely at the diet for our honey bees, they saw the problem and today--after four years--there are almost a dozen healthy food choices on the market we can feed our bees (including Megabee and Nozeivit, sold by Dadant; Ultra-Bee, sold by Mann Lake; and Feed Bee, sold by Ellingsons’s Inc.) That's progress. (But look at your grocery store and see how many kinds of dog food there are... wouldn't you think hard working honey bees should have the same choices?).
Flottum advocates diversity in the diet--and rightfully so.
"Make sure bees have a diverse and varied diet. Many floral sources are needed for a healthy, wholesome, season-long diet. And make sure those flowers have not been sprayed with the new insecticides and fungicides that are so detrimental to the young. And feeding bees is a good idea. Use one of the newer substitute diets available from the supply companies and feed whenever there's a food shortage or lack of variety. It will only help."
Check out the other six maladies contributing to a honey bee's poor health. We're all in this together, and together we can improve their health.
The Bohart Museum, located on the University of California, Davis campus at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is home to more than seven million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo” that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks.
The butterfly specimens range from the big and bold to the small and shy. Of special regional interest is the cabbage white butterfly; a contest is under way to find the 'first of the year" in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano or Sacramento.
The museum’s regular hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
To accommodate families and other area residents who are unable to attend the regular visiting hours, Mondays through Thursdays, the Bohart began offering special weekend hours last year.
Events scheduled this year, in addition to the Jan. 23 opening, are:
Saturday, Feb. 26: “Meet the Beetles,” 1 to 4 p.m.
Sunday, March 13: “The Ants Go Marching On,” 1 to 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 16: “UC Davis Picnic Day,” all day
Saturday, May 7: “Moth-ers Day,” featuring moths, 1 to 4 p.m.
Sunday, June 5: “June Bugs,” 1 to 4 p.m.
Cabbage white butterflies are the focus of Art Shapiro's 40th annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition, which began Jan. 1, 2011.
Shapiro, a noted butterfly expert and a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. The first person to collect a cabbage white in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento will win a pitcher of beer or the equivalent. So far, no winner.
"I had predicted the first rapae would be between Jan 17 and Jan. 21, based on my own projection of a 3-week January dry spell," Shapiro said today. "The projection was right on, but the bug may well not be out by then."
Shapiro usually wins his own contest, but so far, no cabbage whites. However, he's been finding other members of Lepidoptera. "I did my Gates Canyon site (Vacaville) on Saturday--it was 65F!--and had a male Buckeye and 3 moth species, one being the wonderful BearSphinx, Arctonotus lucidus."
We expect to hear any day now that he's found the first cabbage white.
The R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is dedicated to teaching, research and service. Founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart, it houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America.
The Bohart Museum also includes a gift shop, where visitors can purchase t-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry, note cards, books, posters, insect candy and other gifts. The insect candy includes chocolate-covered ants and crickets.
More information is available on the Bohart website or by contacting Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-9464.