Native bee enthusiast Celeste Ets-Hokin of the Bay Area is on a three-fold mission: She wants to protect North America's premier pollinators; she wants to inspire an appreciation for the importance and diversity of our native bees; and she wants people to create a habitat for native bees in their own gardens.
So, as an educational tool meant for all ages, Ets-Hokin originated the idea of a Wild Bee Gardens app to "show the dazzling diversity of North America's native bees." The app links native bees to many of the flowers they frequent.
The app is a comprehensive introduction to what the UC Berkeley zoology graduate calls "the essential world of native bees." It's comprised of some 300 photographs of native bees and their floral resources (primarily by entomologist/insect photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area) plus 100 pages "of extensive background and educational material in the form of guides."
Topics covered in the guides include:
- The role of native bees in our natural ecosystems
- The ecology and life cycles of native bees
- How to create a successful bee garden
- How to identify the native bee visitors that will appear in these gardens
Ets-Hokin also praised the "amazing job" of the design and development team, Arlo and Rebecca Armstrong.
Where to get Wild Bee Gardens? The I-Pad version is now available on the Apple App Store for the introductory price of $3.99. Those purchasing the app will receive the upcoming, expanded iPhone version at no additional cost, said Ets-Hokin, adding that they also will receive free downloads of all future enhancements.
Ets-Hokin devotes her time to the public awareness and conservation of native bees. This includes establishing a native bee demonstration garden with the Alameda County Master Gardeners at Lake Merritt, Oakland; and coordinating the publication of native bee calendars .
Don't you just love watching bumble bees?
This morning we watched a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) foraging on lavender. It moved quickly from one blossom to another, barely allowing us time for a "bee shoot." It was "bee gone" every time we aimed the camera.
Finally, it cooperated.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, identified it as a male, the first (photo of a male Bombus vosnesenskii) he's seen this season.
He thinks a prize is in order.
Thorp, co-author of the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton Press), and Davis photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones and yours truly usually have a friendly competition to find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year, of the month, of the day, of the minute. Well, almost. It's "Bumble Bee Alert" a lot. On Christmas Day, I managed to capture an image of a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on jade blossoms at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Solano County. (The black-tailed bumble bees emerge much earlier than the yellow-faced bumble bees.)
Now a Bumble Bee Watch group has launched a website to track bumble bee populations across the U.S. and Canada. This is a collaborative effort among several conservation groups and universities, according to the website and they need your sightings, including photos. As a spokesperson said: "The information will help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees, and help locate rare or endangered populations. They will also help with identification!"
Well, today, I watched one male Bombus vosnesenskii, and he watched me.
My prize? Just enjoying--and appreciating--nature at its finest.
(Note: How can you distinguish a male from a female Bombus vosnesenskii? Said Robbin Thorp: "Boy bumble bees have an one more segment in the antenna and the abdomen than females do. The tip of the abdomen is also more rounded. Male bees do not have any pollen transport structures. In bumble bees, this means that the hind tibia is much more slender than in females which have corbiculae (pollen baskets). In Bombus vosnesenskii there is a second partial yellow band on the abdomen on T-5."
"The most accurate test of female vs male bumble bees, is to pick up a specimen with a bare hand. If you get stung, it is a female, if not, it is a boy bee. Boy bees can't sting, because they have no stinger. But I do not recommend this test unless you already know the answer! :)"
Visiting entomologist May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this morning stopped by the haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, to see the bee activity.
Joining her were Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; bee scientist Brian Johnson, assistant professor of entomology, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, all of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The garden, planted in the fall of 2009, is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is open year around, from dawn to dusk and maintained by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Berenbaum, who will become the fifth woman president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America in 2016, saw honey bees foraging on pomegranate and flowering artichoke blossoms and other flowers. Thorp pointed out the Valley carpenter bees, mountain carpenter bees, European wool carder bees, yellow-faced bumble bees and black-tailed bumble bees.
Thorp, who monitors the garden for bees, has found some 85 different species of bees--"and counting"--over the last five years. He began forming baseline data a year before the garden was planted.
The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own. Häagen-Dazs, a premier ice cream brand, generously supports the garden.
The garden design is the work of a Sausalito team which won the international design competition using a series of interconnected gardens with such names as “Honeycomb Hideout,” "Orchard Alley,” "Growers' Circle," “Round Dance Circle” and “Waggle Dance Way." The team: landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki.
The art work in the garden is by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by entomologist/associate dean Diane Ullman and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick. Billick also created the six-foot long worker bee sculpture that anchors the garden. The sculpture, which Billick cleverly named "Miss Bee Haven," is of mosaic ceramic.
Berenbaum visited the UC Davis campus May 20-21 to deliver two presentations as part of the Storer Lectureships: "Bees in Crisis: Colony Collapse, Honey Laundering and Other Problems Bee-Setting American Apiculture" on May 20 and "Sex and the Single Parsnip: Coping with Florivores and Pollinators in Two Hemispheres" on May 21. (Click on this link to watch a video of her talk, "Bees in Crisis.")
Berenbaum, a talented scientist, dedicated researcher, dynamic speaker, creative author, and an insect ambassador who wants people to overcome their fear of insects, focuses her research on the chemical interactions between herbivorous insects and their host plants, and the implications of these interactions on the organization of natural communities and the evolution of species.
As as a spokesperson for the scientific community on the honey bee colony collapse disorder, Berenbaum has conducted research, written op-ed essays and testified before Congress on the issue.
"It was a bad hair day," quipped native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Yes, it was.
A very bad hair day.
Thorp was looking at several photos I took April 14 of a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii Radoszkowski, 1862, foraging on rock rose (Cistaceae) at the Petaluma marina. With winds gusting at 18 miles per hour, the lone bumble bee struggled to right itself as the "Flight of the Bumble Bee" turned into "Crash Landings of the Bumble Bee."
This bee, also known as the Vosnesenskii Bumble Bee, was named by Polish entomologist Oktawiusz Wincenty Bourmeister-Radoszkowski (1820-1895) who worked in the Russian empire. It is one of the most common species near the West Coast, write Thorp, Leif Richardson, Sheila Colla and lead author Paul Williams in their newly published book, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide" (Princeton University Press).
Its habitat: open grassy areas, urban parks and gardens, chaparral and shrub areas, and mountain meadows. Indeed, the shrubby area around the Petaluma marina is perfect for bumble-bee habitat.
The authors report that the yellow-faced bumble bee likes a number of plants, including manzanitas (Arctostaphylos), ceanothus (Ceanothus), rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus), thistle (Cirsium), wild buckwheat (Eriogonum), California poppy (Eschscholzia), lupines (Lupinus), phacelia (Phacelia), rhododendrum (Rhododendrum), currants (Ribes), vetch (Vicia), goldenbush (Ericameria), godetia (Clarkia), and gumweed (Grindelia).
This little bumble bee showed a preference for rock rose, but the wind rocked its world.
Could it be--a bee?
Yes, that's the metallic green sweat bee, also called an ultra green sweat bee, Agapostemon texanus. This one (below) is a female. Males and females are easily distinguishable. The female is all green, from head to thorax to abdomen, while the male (right) is green on the head and thorax but not on the abdomen.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, talked about them at the recent UC Davis Pollinator Gardening Workshop, sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture.
The Agapostemon are members of the Halictinae family. They are "often called sweat bees because in hot weather they are attracted to human perspiration, which they lap up, probably for the salt it contains," according to the book, Bees of the World, by Christopher O'Toole and Christopher Raw.
Some of the family's many genera, including Agapostemon, are restricted to the New World. Halictus and Lasioglossum "are common to the Old and New Worlds," the authors write.
Coreopsis, also called tickseed or coreopsis, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae.
We spotted the female metallic green sweat bee at the Loch Lomond Marina, San Rafael. We captured the image of the male several years ago on a seaside daisy at the Mostly Natives Nursery, Tomales.
Green sweat bees will be among the bees featured in the book, "California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists," to be published in the fall of 2014 by Heyday Press. It's the work of Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley; Robbin Thorp of UC Davis; photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area; and Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. It will contain nearly 30 of the most common bee genera in California.
Frankie, Thorp, Coville and Ertter (and others) also published "Native Bees Are a Rich Natural Resource in Urban California Gardens" in California Agriculture.