One of the spectacular plants blooming in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden at the University of California, Davis, is the cape mallow (Anisodontea hypomandarum), a native of South Africa.
The paperylike pink blossoms attract a good number of bees--no, a great number of bees. That's because of two reasons: (1) the haven is located right next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road and its 60 colonies, and (2) bees love--absolutely love--cape mallow.
The haven is designed to serve several purposes: to be a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees; to provide an educational experience for visitors who can learn what to plant in their own gardens; and to serve as a research garden.
Special attractions at the haven--it's open year-around and admission is free--are the six-foot-long ceramic bee sculpture, the work of Davis artist Donna Billick; the two bee hive columns that grace the entrance to the garden, and the ceramic bench tiles showcasing bees and flowers. The bee hive columns and tiles are the work of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, founded and directed by Billick and UC Davis entomologist Diane Ullman.
If you go--and you should--check out the cape mallow. The flowers are so drop-dead gorgeous that surely they must be replicated somewhere on an an exotic silk dress or shirt.
With honey bees foraging on them.
Ever see a golden bee that takes your breath away?
They're most likely Cordovans, a subspecies of the Italian race. The one below is a Cordovan, basically a bee with a color mutation that inhibits black, explains noted bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey.
Cobey, who does research at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, rears--and prefers--a line of bees called the New World Carniolans. The Carniolans are darker bees, quite the opposite of the Cordovans.
When we at the UC Davis Department of Entomology showcased the New World Carniolans in a bee observation hive at a Sacramento garden show earlier this year, one bystander wondered why the bees were darker than the ones (Italians) that she was accustomed to seeing.
"That's because they're Carniolans, a different race of bees," we said. "They're darker than the Italians."
Indeed, we're all accustomed to seeing the Italians, the most commonly reared bee in the United States.
Whether bees are lemony yellow, sunshine gold, silver gray or a chocolate brown, they're all our honey bees (Apis mellifera). In a way they're like the leaves on a liquidambar tree--some are fireball red, some are shamrock green and some are school-bus yellow, but they are all leaves on the same tree.
As are we all!
The first thing you notice about the fly is its brilliant red eyes.
They stand out like the proverbial elephant in the room.
But they are on a fly--a flesh fly.
Martin Hauser, an associate insect biosytematist in the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, identified this little critter as a member of the Sarcophagidae family.
"Sarco" is Greek for flesh, and "phage" means eating.
Hauser, who earned his doctorate in entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is skilled at identifying insects. And he speaks German, French and English and studied Latin.
The red-eyed fly, which in its larval stage is associated with decaying flesh, sipped a little nectar and then paused momentarily to groom itself.
And pose for the camera.
Aren't syrphid flies grand?
Syrphid flies, aka hover flies or flower flies (family Syrphidae), are especially grand in a Calandrinia grandiflora, aka rock purslane.
Often mistaken for honey bees, these insects hover over flowers, wings spinning like helicopters, and then dart inside a blossom to feed on pollen and nectar.
We spotted a brightly colored syrphid on a rock purslane in our garden last Sunday. It appeared in no hurry to leave its host.
Is it true that this colorful fly is in the same order (Diptera) as the common housefly? It is.
Hover flies are found everywhere in the world except Antarctica. For a look at some of the species, check out BugGuide.Net. The site contributors are self-described naturalists "who enjoy learning about and sharing our observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures."
Another great source is entomologist Robert Bugg's 25-page booklet, "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops," published in May 2008 by the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). You can download it for free by accessing this page.
Is coconut oil effective in treating varroa mites, those nasty little mites that plague our honey bees?
The facts aren't in, and research is ongoing.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, will discuss his research, “Coconut Oil - Varroa Treatment or Food Ingredient?” at the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) convention, set Nov. 16-17 in the Embassy Suites, San Luis Obipso.
He'll address the crowd on Tuesday, Nov. 16. (To read more about honey bees, check out his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and his Bee Briefs on his website.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey will address the conference on "Honey Bee Stock Improvement: Challenges and Options" on Thursday, Nov. 18.
In addition, she'll speak Nov. 16 at Cal Poly's Horticulture and Crop Science Department on “Mating is Risky Business and the Benefits Of Being Promiscuous." That talk is part of the Dow AgroSciences Seminar Series: “New Advancements in Biotechnology and Sustainability of Crop Science."
The CSBA is headed by Roger Everett of Porterville, who is also a member of the California State Apiary Board.
CSBA’s purpose is to “educate the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees, advance research beneficial to beekeeping practices, provide a forum for cooperation among beekeepers and to support the economic and political viability of the beekeeping industry.”