It was not a good day for a flower fly.
A flower fly, aka syrphid fly, dropped down in a patch of pink roses at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis today to sip nectar.
It was a pink-rose kind of day.
Not for the flower fly, though. A crab spider, lying in wait, pounced.
The battle ended quickly, but the syrphid-fly feast was not to be. Not today. The predator dropped its prey.
You can see lots of predator-prey action at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
It's open from dawn to dusk. Admission is free for all--including predators and their prey.
Understanding the honey bee’s immune system is crucial to battling the declining honey bee population, says University of California insect virus researcher Michelle Flenniken.
Speaking to 100 fellow researchers at the Honey Bee Genomics and Biology Conference, held recently in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, Flenniken said that if a bee can develop better antiviral immune responses, it’s better able to fight its foes.
"Our work is focused on understanding the natural mechanisms of antiviral immunity in honey bees--or how a honey bees fights off viral infections,” she told the researchers. “We are examining these pathways at the molecular level using gene expression microarrays.”
Flenniken, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis and a virologist in the Raul Andino lab, Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UC San Francisco, studies honey bee viruses and the role of RNA interference (RNAi) in the antiviral immune responses. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information of viruses. RNAi is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression.
RNAi can be used as an antiviral strategy in honey bees, Flenniken believes. Her research involves limiting virus production in the bees by priming their RNAi machinery with viral specific double-stranded RNA.
For the past several years, she has been analyzing viruses present in the hives of area beekeepers.
The findings she reported at the conference are mentioned in the May 10th edition of the international journal, Nature. Flenniken “presented evidence that in honey bees (double-stranded RNA) can trigger a general immune response that might ward off a variety of threats,” wrote Nature author Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib.
We look forward to seeing more of Flenniken's work.
Do you brake for wasps?
We spotted a bumper sticker on the UC Davis campus the other day that read: "I brake for wasps."
It was parked in the Briggs Hall loading zone--Briggs is the home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology--so I imagine it was braking for wasps right then and there.
It was not a car owned by self-described "wasp woman" Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
But she wants one of those bumper stickers!
The colorful wasp below was foraging recently on an Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepsis umbellata 'Olivia') at the Benicia marina. Kimsey identified it as a "a solitary vespid, probably in the genus Stenodynerus. This is a male. The females feed on caterpillars."
Of these wasps: "They are pretty interesting," Kimsey said. "The males have the last antennal segment like a finger folded up against the adjacent segment. You can see it in one of the photos."
Ladybugs, aka ladybird beetles, are out there.
Walk through the garden and they're easy to find.
Last weekend we spotted one tucked in the heart of an artichoke, another climbing a nectarine tree, and still another perched on an artichoke leaf.
They're doing what they're supposed to do--eat aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
Red on green--how beautiful is that?
If you're keen on ladybugs--and you ought to be--you'll want to check out Cornell University's Lost Ladybug Project, once confined to New York state and now a nationwide project. It all began in 2000 when Cornell researchers joined the 4-H Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners to survey ladybug populations throughout the state. Now "citizen scientists" participate in ladybug surveys across the country.
The excitement grew in 2006 when two pre-teens found a nine-spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata) near their home in Virginia. This marked the first documented nine-spotted ladybug found in the eastern United States in 14 years.
The Cornell University site seeks ladybug photos--as of today, the count reached 10,661.
Last Saturday, May 19 the San Diego Botanical Garden got in the act by hosting a "Lost Ladybug Project" for Cornell.
They posted the event on their website only to receive this note: "Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. And your children all gone. Because it is Judgment Day..."
Only thing being judged, however, was the number of ladybugs counted...that, no doubt, drew the rapt attention of all.
Those ladybugs are out there...
"How are the bees doing?"
That's the question beekeepers are asked all year.
Well, today the annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) answered that question.
The response? Roughly the same.
Total losses from honey bee colonies nationwide amounted to 30 percent from all causes for the 2010/2011 winter.
That's about the same for the past four years:
2009/2010: 34 percent
2008/2009: 29 percent
2007/2008: 36 percent
2006/2007: 32 percent
"The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers," entomologist Jeff Pettis said in a news release issued today by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Pettis leads the Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., the chief scientific research agency of USDA.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), first reported in 2006 by Pennsylvania beekeeper (Dave Hackenberg) overwintering his bees in Florida, is still with us. CCD is a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, food stores and immature brood. The worker bees leave. Nobody knows where they go. There are no dead bees to examine.
According to the ARS news release, the beekeepers who reported colony losses with "no dead bodies present" also reported higher average colony losses (61 percent) "compared to beekeepers who lost colonies but did not report the absence of dead bees (34 percent in losses)."
Some 5,572 beekeepers responded to the survey, which covered autumn to spring--the period from October 2010 to April 2011. Together these 5,572 beekeepers manage more than 15 percent of the 2.68 million colonies in the U.S.
What's interesting is that the beekeepers said they felt losses of 13 percent would be "economically acceptable." However, "61 percent of responding beekeepers reported having losses greater than this," according to the ARS press release.
So, the losses are still not economically acceptable, but the lack of increase is "marginally encouraging."
Bottom line: roughly the same.