When you visit the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, be sure to check out the passionflower vine clinging to the fence.
You'll see female Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) seemingly speckled with gold dust. This is actually a thick coat of pollen from their foraging ventures. Underneath that gold pollen, the females are a solid black. (The males of this species are blond with green eyes.)
One of the haven's founding volunteer gardeners, Mary Patterson, a retired cattle rancher and businesswoman who was honored in 2009 as a "Friend of the College" (UC Davis College of Agricultural and Natural Resources), planted the vine there.
The vine is doing quite well.
So are the carpenter bees.
Passionflower blossoms range in color from white to lavender to red, depending on the varieties. This one sports lavender blossoms.
Passiflora is the larval host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange butterfly nicknamed "The Passion Butterfly." We spotted no eggs, caterpillars or chrysalids on this particular vine, however.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, planted in the fall of 2009, provides a year-around food source for the nearby bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility and other pollinators. It also serves to raise public awareness on the plight of honey bees, and as an educational resource to help visitors decide what to plant in their own gardens.
Maintained by the UC Department of Entomology and Nematology, it's open year around, from dawn to dusk for self-guided tours. Admission? Free. But if you want a guided tour, there's a nominal fee of $3 per person. For more information, contact Christine Casey at email@example.com.
The date: July 22, 2012. The place: a sunfiower field in Winters, Calif.
We watched as a BBC crew set up their cameras while professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, trained his bees for the documentary that would be titled "Ultimate Swarms."
Documentary host/zoologist George McGavin of Oxford, England, (he's an honorary research associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), walked among the rows, rehearsing his lines.
Gary, who has wrangled bees for more than 40 years for movies, TV shows, and commercials (including approximately 18 movies, 70 or so TV shows, and about a half-dozen commercials) prepped McGavin about honey bee behavior.
The bees "are in a swarm state, completely non-aggressive," McGavin told the camera. "They're not protecting anything, not protecting their young or honey, simply protecting the queen in the heart of this swarm until a new home is found."
McGavin related that honey bees are worth "a staggering $180 billion a year, and without them over a third of all the food we eat wouldn't exist."
Honey bees are just one part of the one-hour "Ultimate Swarms," which will premiere at 8 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time and Pacific Time), Tuesday, Oct. 22 on the television show, Animal Planet.
In one segment, McGavin becomes the queen bee, thanks to Norm Gary and a swarm of 40,000 worker bees clustering on the host.
“Swarms," McGavin says, "are one of the greatest spectacles on earth.” Far from "being the ultimate nightmare, they are one of nature's most ingenious solutions."
"By joining together, even the most simplest of creatures can achieve the impossible," McGavin said.)
As for Gary, who will be 80 next month, says this was his last shoot as a professional bee wrangler. Last month he retired from beekeeping, after 66 years of keeping bees. "Training bees to do the right behavior on cue gets very complicated and gave me the opportunity to apply science as well as practical 'in-the-trench' beekeeping operations," Gary said, describing bee wrangling as "making bees 'act' in various scenes as called for by the script." A good example of his work is the bee scene in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes.
However, Gary still has his specially patented pheromones (his invention), and he plans to come out of retirement to help UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz fulfill her "promise for education" to help UC students in financial need. (See website to donate to the cause. If Allen-Diaz reaches her goal of $2500, the bee stunt will take place next spring at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis,)
The world's largest hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is huge.
Just how huge?
We photographed a two-inch specimen last week at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis. Among the insect musem's nearly eight million specimens is the giant hornet.
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, placed a honey bee next to it for size comparison.
The news about this hornet is not good. The Chinese news agency Xinhua declared that the insect is wreaking havoc in northwestern China. Some 42 people have died from its stings since last July and some 1600 others have been injured.
"The problem with this particular hornet is that it's big, sort of thumb-sized, and it packs a lot of venom," Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology told National Geographic News.
"And its nests get fairly large, including maybe several hundred individuals. They are aggressive, they are predatory, and they have been known to kill and eat an entire colony of honey bees," she said.
The hornet destroy the entire colony within minutes.
As Kimsey says, this hornet is a predator and highly aggressive.
It's great to see the world's most renowned bee wrangler, Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, come out of retirement to help out with a specific "UC Promise for Education" project spearheaded by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz.
In her promise to help UC students in financial need, Allen-Diaz says that if she raises $2500 by Oct. 31 she'll wear bees. Maybe not on her head, but on a UC ANR T-shirt or a UC ANR banner she'll be holding. And if she raises $5000, she'll eat insect larvae.
Enter Norm Gary. He'll be 80 in November and he retired from beekeeping last month after 66 years (yes, 66 years) of beekeeping. He earlier retired from UC Davis (1994). During his 32-year academic career, he did scientific bee research, wrote peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, crafted inventions, and wrangled bees.
If Allen-Diaz raises $2500, the stunt will take place next spring at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. If she raises $5000, it will be time to devour some tasty insect larvae!
You can donate $10, $15, $20, $100 or more by accessing Allen-Diaz' promise page. Just access http://promises.promiseforeducation.org/fundraise?fcid=269819.
You can also add a few comments as to why you're donating to help UC students. It could be in memory of a loved one, because you support the good work that UC ANR and Barbara Allen-Diaz do, or because you want to honor the amazing career of Norm Gary.
Or, you just may want to help raise public awareness of our declining bee population.
As Allen-Diaz says: "I am a true believer in the importance of honey bees and the importance of bees as pollinators in our agricultural and wild ecosystems. The health of agriculture and the health of the planet depend on the health and survival of our honey bees."
Thursday, Oct. 17 is Pest Management Day at UC Davis.
That's when the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) partners with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources for the 21st Century Invasive Pest Management Symposium Series: "Globalization, Climate Change and Other 21st Century Challenges" at the UC Davis Conference Center.
It's actually the fourth in a series of symposia on invasive pest management. This one deals with "Invasion Biology (Part 2): Invasive Insects, Disease and Nematodes." Daniel Simberloff, professor of environmental science ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, will keynote the symposium.
Who will be there? According to organizer David Pegos, CDFA special assistant for plant health, the attendees represent non-governmental organizations, industry, academia and other interested parties. "In addition to the CDFA leadership team, represented will be the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, the County Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association, UC Cooperative Extension, and the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program," Pegos said.
The goals of the symposium are two-fold: (1) to explore 21st century invasive pest management challenges and possible improvements to CDFA policies and procedures, and (2) to foster communication and understanding among the diverse people involved in California's food and agricultural systems.
But today, a group of conference attendees met at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road to look not at pests, but at beneficial insects—honey bees.
Billy Synk, who wears three hats (beekeeper, staff research associate and manager of the Laidlaw facility), talked about bees and their health, answered questions, and then the group donned protective gear to take a close look at a colony.
Synk pointed out the queen bee, the workers and the immature brood, much to the fascination of the group. Many had never been that close to bees before. "I stepped on one once," said one woman.
That was about as close as she could get--until now.