Robbin Thorp saw it first.
Talk about an eagle eye.
Thorp, a native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, was monitoring the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, on July 23 when something caught his eye.
The California buckwheat was waving at him.
"While looking closely at the California buckwheat flower heads, I noticed a piece of one waving but there was no wind," recalled Thorp. "I watched a linear group of florets march across to another head. I tried to get a close-up on a flower head as background, but could not get the focus right."
So he placed the "unusual life form" on his finger to capture a better image. He captured it all right: a larva covered with buckwheat florets.
Later insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis, a regular visitor at the haven, obtained a spectacular photo of the camouflage.
Thorp identified the "unusual life form" as the larva of an emerald moth Synchlora (see http://bugguide.net/node/view/747823/bgimage). "The larva pupates with its camouflage still on then turns into a delicate green geometrid adult," he said. (See http://bugguide.net/node/view/316178/bgimage for the life cycle: caterpillar to moth).
Maybe it was serendipity, but Thorp found the larva during National Moth Week, July 23-29.
Watching honey bees zero in on the zinnias: Zounds!
Zinnias, known throughout the world as showy and easy-to-grow flowers, are as colorful as they are attractive to bees.
Last week we watched a honey bee head toward a zinnia, grab some nectar, buzz around the blossom, and return again and again.
The site: the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is quite attractive to people as well as to pollinators. The half-acre garden, open from dawn to dusk, is located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey bee Research Facility, west of the central UC Davis campus. Admission is free for self-guided tours. Those interested in guided tours can contact Christine Casey at email@example.com for more information. Several interns are working in the garden this summer: Danielle Wishon, Nick McMurray and Eric Xu. Wishon just received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis, and both McMurray and Wu are undergrads at UC Davis: McMurray is studying entomology, and Xu, landscape architecture.
At the haven, you'll find plants from "A" to "Z"--from almonds to zinnias, and lots in between. It's a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators and serves as an educational resource for visitors.
Want to know what's planted in the garden right now? Check out the plant list posted on the Laidlaw facility website.
Just a few of them: apples, basil, catmint, deergrass, eggplant, elderberry, fruity germander, Greek myrtle, hummingbird sage, lamb's ear, Mexican daisy, naked buckwheat, oregano, pomegranate, raspberry,Santa Barbara daisy, St. Catherine's lace, toyon, Western columbine, yarrow, and yes, zinnia!
Yes, the haven also has a Facebook presence!
You never know what you'll see on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Honey bees. Check.
Sweat bees. Check.
But sometimes these rough-and-tumble blossoms are graced with a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus).
This gorgeous yellow-and-black butterfly glides so delicately and so freely in our gardens that we want it to stay forever.
We spotted this one this morning in the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. The garden, owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
The garden is open from dawn to dusk. Bring a camera, a hat, some sunscreen, and enjoy lunch at one of the picnic tables in the garden.
Maybe, just maybe, a Western tiger swallowtail, will flutter by.
It's one of the little pleasures of life.
You've probably seen a blue moon, which happens every two to three years. That's when a second full moon occurs in a single calendar month.
You've also probably seen blueprints, blue books and blue-plate specials. You've sung the blues and you've been blue.
But, have you ever seen a blue honey bee? As blue as...well...a blueberry?
We recently visited the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, when we saw a...drum roll...blue bee! It was foraging on a purple coneflower.
I captured the image with a Nikon D700 camera, equipped with a 105mm macro lens. Settings: shutter speed, 1/160 of a second; 6.3 f-stop; and 800 ISO. No flash. No tripod.
Honey bee guru/Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology looked at the photo and agreed it was a blue bee.
Now Mussen, who has been with the department since 1976 and is a favorite of the national news media, knows bees. He's also captured many images of bees, none blue (although many beekeepers have turned blue, especially during massive colony losses).
So, a blue bee?
"The exoskeletons of insects are waxy and oily," Mussen said. "Given just the right angle to the sun, you can see structural colors that are not the true pigments of the exoskeleton. In fact, there are some very shiny, metallic-looking insects that lose their sheen when they die, never to be seen again."
Just the right angle to the sun.
Once in a blue moon...
When you visit the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, you might just see a cuckoo bee.
The cuckoo bee (see below) is a male Triepeolus concavus, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who maintains an office in the adjacent Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Thorp has been monitoring the garden not only since it was planted--in the fall of 2009--but BEFORE it was planted, to collect the baseline data. To date, he's detected more than 80 species of bees, "and counting."
The cuckoo bee, nectaring on a blanket flower (Gaillardia), is just one of the species he's found in the garden.
The female cuckoo bee lays her eggs in the ground nests of other bees, including the sunflower bee, Svastra. Cuckoo bees are kleptoparasites, meaning that they steal the food stores provisioned by the host bee. Cuckoos lack pollen-collecting structures (scopa). So when the cuckoo bee eggs hatch, the larva will consume the pollen ball collected by the hosts, and kill and eat the host larvae.
Like human kleptomanias, they've found a way to make it in this world at the expense of others.
Thorp annually teaches at The Bee Course, described as a "workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees," and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. This year's dates are Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. The workshop attracts people from all over the world, including dozens from the UC system.