If you attended the 141st annual Dixon May Fair, held May 5-8, and saw the honey bee display in Madden Hall, you probably heard the buzz.
In keeping with the theme, "Buzzing with Excitement," bees buzzed in the bee observation hives as fairgoers singled out the queen bee, worker bees and drones. Images of bees pollinating almonds graced the walls. Youths in Garry Haddon's beekeeping project in the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, displayed their decorated boxes. A smoker, gloves and beekeepers' suits lined a fence.
The UC Davis E.L. Niño lab, headed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Department of Entomology and Nematology, shared beekeeping equipment, facts about bees, pollinator posters (Guess if I'm a pollinator or not?) as well as bee observation hives. They told fairgoers that bees are responsible for a third of the food we eat, and if there were no bees to pollinator our crops, we wouldn't recognize the produce section of our supermarkets. Most of the shelves and bins holding fruits and vegetables would be empty.
They're everywhere. They're zigzagging around your yard, bumping into walls and windows, landing on your screen door and fence, and clustering on your porch lights, all the while searching for mates. They're in your garden, home and garage. They're in your office. They're in your car. They're everywhere.
There are tons of these spring insects this year. Why so many?
"Perhaps because of the previous years of drought, followed by good rainfall this winter, we have had a remarkable emergence of crane flies in the Central Valley, with unusually large numbers emerging over the past month or so," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Writing in the current edition of the Bohart Museum Society newsletter, Kimsey says that they're often falsely called mosquito hawks or mosquito eaters, but they don't eat mosquitoes. "In fact, adult crane flies generally don't eat at all," she points out. "Their entire brief adult lives are spent searching for mates and laying eggs."
With their long, stilt-like legs dangling, they look goofy when they fly. In fact, they're nicknamed "daddy long legs." They're not to be confused with arachnids; crane flies are members of the family Tipulidae of the order Diptera (flies).
Crane fly larvae, known commonly as leatherjackets, eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter. Who knows--as larvae they may also scoop up a few mosquito eggs if they're in their habitat.
Adults are short lived and "generally live only a few days," Kimsey says.
Yes, and some of them may live only a matter of hours or minutes--especially when they're snared in a spider web.
The haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus, will celebrate with an open house that night from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The garden tour begins r at 6. Free sunflower plants will be given while they last. Parking is free.
- Learn how to catch and observe bees up close, and see honey bees at work in an observation beehive.
- Hear from experts on such subjects as bee diversity and identification, and how to create a garden to help bees.
- Listen to children's book readings about bees and gardens
The half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven was installed in the fall of 2009 under the leadership of then interim Entomology Department chair Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology. Fast forward to today. Christine Casey serves as the staff director of the haven, and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño is the faculty director.
There is much to see at the haven. A six-foot-long worker bee sculpture anchors the garden. It is the work of self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick, who specializes in mosaic ceramic art. Billick and UC Davis entomology professor Diane Ullman co-founded and co-directed the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, which spearheaded the student/community art in the garden. See history of the garden.
And National Public Gardens Day? What is it? The sponsor, the American Public Gardens Association, "serves public gardens and advances them as leaders, advocates, and innovators." As told on the website: "
"A public garden is an institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden's resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors."
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is open from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Check out the website for group tours and educational information, including what's planted in the garden and helpful hints about what you can plant in yours.
Let's hear it from the insects, namely the woolly bear caterpillars that populate the cliffs of Bodega Bay.
They may know.
A UC Davis ecologist and his lab who study woolly bear caterpillars, the immature form of the Ranchman's Tiger Moth, Platyprepia virginalis, think that the "bears" will again predict the winner, as they have for the past three decades.
The woolly bears feed primarily on lupine along the cliffs of Bodega Bay, says professor Richard "Rick" Karban of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Sometimes the population booms; other times, it's a bust. When the population thrives, a Democrat heads to the White House. When the population dives, the Republicans take over.
The UC Davis scientists, known for their expertise in plant-insect interactions, are now making national headlines with their political predictions.
“The pollsters and talking heads seem unable to size up this election cycle,” said Karban. “Paul the Octopus had a pretty good run predicting soccer matches in 2012 so perhaps the woolly bears have earned as much credibility at forecasting this presidential election.”
“The woollies aren't seemingly as decided as they have been in years past - I don't know what they are really predicting,” said graduate student Eric LoPresti. “They seem to be leaning Republican but the point is between the range that we've seen in the past for each party.”
Washington Post reporter Karin Bruilliard picked it up and ran with it on April 26 in a piece titled, “These Fuzzy Little Caterpillars Are Better at Predicting Elections Than Most Pundits.”
This year, however, the pollster findings are unclear, they agreed. “Given their wildly erroneous predictions thus far for both primaries, trusting their predictions for the general election seems ill-advised,” LoPresti wrote. “The woolly bears, on the other hand, have a 100% accurate prediction record over the past 30 years. In years of low abundance, a Republican is elected, and in years of high abundance, a Democrat.”
“A superficial examination suggests that 2016 will be a Republican year – woolly bear abundance is not particularly high,” LoPresti noted. “However, looking a little closer, it may not be. The number of woolly bears per lupine bush in 2016 (0.53) is higher than the average Republican year by 152% and is 36% above the highest Republican year ever recorded (1988). However, it is only 27% of an average Democratic year and still only 36% of the lowest Democratic year (2008). This result is without presidential precedent in the last 30 years.”
So, which party, which political animal (elephant or the donkey), will occupy the White House come Jan. 1, 2017? What do the bears indicate?
“We suspect that the Republicans have the edge,” the UC Davis scientists surmised. “However, a valid hypothesis would be a third-party winner, such as a right-leaning independent (a logical placeholder in between Democrats and Republicans). Perhaps Donald Trump will take particular interest in our data. Alternately, a contested Republican convention could produce a fractured party and the old Republican woolly bear average would not accurately represent the mean caterpillar abundances seen by this new party.”
Responding to the April 25 blog, someone noticed the resemblance of the hair of a presidential candidate to the hair of the woolly bear caterpillar.
The UC Davis scientists study the caterpillars at the Bodega Marine Reserve above the Bodega Marine Laboratory. The reserve, which surrounds the Bodega Marine Laboratory, is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System and is administered by UC Davis.
“Platyprepia virginalis caterpillars are dietary generalists and feed on multiple host species within a single day,” Karban says.
In research, Diet Mixing Enhances the Performance of a Generalist Caterpillar, Platyprepia virginalis, published in February 2010 in the journal Ecological Entomology, “We found that relative growth rates and rates of survival were higher when they fed on mixed diets compared to lupine only,” Karban said. These results were consistent with hypotheses that mixed diets provided balanced nutrition, diluted toxins, and/or allowed recovery from parasitoids, although our data did not allow us to separate these non-exclusive explanations.”
The caterpillar's taste for plants containing alkaloids may help it survive parasitoids, Karban said.
Just think about the bees.
The 141st annual Dixon May Fair, California's oldest fair, is "Buzzing with Excitement," and that's the theme of the fair, which opens Thursday, May 5 for a four-day run.
Fairgoers will make a beeline for Madden Hall, the main thematic attraction. A glass bee observation hive from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis will entice visitors to find the queen, worker bees and drones. In addition, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her fellow Laidlaw facility apiarists are providing beekeeping equipment, informative posters, decorated bee boxes made by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, and interactive displays, including a pollination poster ("Can you guess if I'm a pollinator?"). The El Niño Bee Lab will answer questions from fairgoers on Thursday and Friday.
Garry Haddon, beekeeping project leader of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, will showcase his honey as well as decorated bee boxes crafted by his 4-H'ers.
Chief administrative officer Patricia Conklin expects fairgoers to learn a lot about the importance of bees. Meanwhile, the final touches are underway.
In the Interior Living building, superintendent Debee LaMont is surrounded by a display of tasty desserts made with honey, and the proverbial bear ready to partake. Or just take.
Indeed, there's much to see and do at the fair, located at 655 S. First St. It's meant to inform, educate and entertain. Hours are neither "bankers' hours" nor "bee time." It's "people time":
- Thursday, May 5 from 4 to 11 p.m.
- Friday, May 6 from noon to 11 p.m.
- Saturday, May 7 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Sunday, May 8 from noon to 11 p.m.
The biggest bargain is Thrifty Thursday Day with everyone five years and older admitted for $5. (Children under five receive free admission.) Check out the website at http://dixonmayfair.com for more information on prices and activities.
Meanwhile, it's good to see the focus on bees!