When a rotten apple tree was cut down last week on private property in Davis, scores of eyes peered from the drilled holes. Soon, adult male Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta)--those green-eyed golden bees known as "teddy bears"--emerged with their female counterparts. The males and females look nothing alike; the females are solid black.
As entomologists know, the females drill holes in wood to lay their eggs. When the adult females and males emerge from their cells, they "wait it out" until spring or when the weather warms enough for them to take flight. It gets pretty cold in Davis.
Talented insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis got the carpenter-bee call. "My good friend's son, a football player up from Claremont, cut down the rotten apple tree," Jones said. Surprise! Insects began crawling from the drilled holes.
Jones knew immediately what they were. He's photographed hundreds of them. He picked up the golden bees, knowing that "boy bees can't sting" and delivered them to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The golden boys were all clinging together in a little ball when I left (the Laidlaw facility)," Jones said.
Thorp plans to keep them chilled to see if they survive the winter. They also will be part of "show and tell" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The male Valley carpenter bees are often mistaken for a new species of bumble bee. In fact, some refer to them as "golden bumble bees."
The Valley carpenter bees are the largest carpenter bee in California. They are included in the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, entomologist-photographer Rollin Coville and UC Berkeley botanist and curator Barbara Ertter.
Xylocopa varipuncta inhabits the Central Valley, Santa Clara Valley, and Southern California. At many garden events, visitors are surprised when Thorp picks up a male Valley carpenter bee and lets them hold it and feel the vibrating buzz.
"Boy bees can't sting," he tells them. "They're bluffing."
When the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology hosts its open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 23, the theme will be "Insect Myths." (Okay, and spider myths, too!)
You'll learn about honey bee, ladybug, butterfly and spider myths at this family-oriented event, which is free and open to the public.
The insect museum located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is not only the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, but it operates a live "pettting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a year-around gift shop filled with T-shirts, jewelry, posters, books, bug-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy, including chocolate-dipped scorpions, crunchy crickets, and protein-rich lollipops.
Another popular book, published in 2013, is a 35-page children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly, authored by entomologist Fran Keller, who this year received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis. She is a researcher, college instructor, mentor, artist, photographer, and author.
The book, geared for kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms, and also a favorite of adults, tells the untold story of the California dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice), and how a classroom successfully mounted a campaign to name it the California state insect. Illustrations by artist Laine Bauer, a UC Davis graduate, and photographs by naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart Museum volunteer, depict the life cycle of this butterfly and show the host plant, false indigo (Amorpha californica). Net proceeds from the sale of this book are earmarked for the education, outreach and research programs at the Bohart Museum.
Gift shop items are available both in the store (Monday through Thursday) and online, http://www.bohartmuseum.com/.
Among the favorites gifts at the Bohart Museum:
- T-shirts depicting images of dragonflies, butterflies, beetles and moths
- Bohart Museum coffee mug
- Insect collecting net
- Posters of butterflies of Central Californian, Dragonflies of California, and the California Dogface butterfly
- Butterfly habitat
- Jewelry depicting bees, butterflies, dragonflies and ladybugs (many of the boxes are engraved with the Bohart logo and treasured)
- Science kits
- Insect and spider books
- Insect magnets
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information is available by contacting the Bohart Museum at (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at email@example.com.
Last summer we spent many hours capturing images of male long-horned bees, Melissodes aegils, sleeping in clusters on the stems of our guara at night and early morning. (Sometimes they slept inches away from a praying mantis.) Then during the day the boys chased the girls, all the while protecting their turf from prospective suitors and pollinators.
We captured our last seasonal image of a long-horned bee on Sept. 28. It was a Melissodes, all right, but it was Melissodes robustior, a male, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and one of the authors of California Bees and Blooms.
The book, the work of Gordon Frankie, Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter, all affiliated with UC Berkeley (Thorp received his doctorate there), is a wealth of information about not only bees, but the flowers they visit. (See the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Want to know about Melissodes? There are 130 species of Melissodes in the New World, and about 100 of them live in North America. Of that number, 50 species live in California. Who knew? And only three Melissodes species are widespread and common in California, including our robust buddy, Melissodes robustior.
Last summer we watched at least two species of Melissodes attempt to claim all the guara, catmint, oregano, rosemary, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), Cosmos, and African blue basil, much to the "bee-wilderment" of honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and other pollinators.
The long-horned bees are all gone now, but next year a whole new generation will take their place.
Add "California" to it and you have California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
It's a book that's well-planned, well-executed, well-written and well-photographed.
Bees are hungry. What plants will attract them? How can you entice them to your garden and encourage them not only to visit but to live there?
The book, the first of its kind, profiles some of the most common bee genera found in California gardens; their preferred plants, both native and non-native; and how to attract them.
Most folks are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees. But what about the other bees, such as mining, leafcutting, sweat, carpenter, digger, masked, longhorned, mason and polyester bees?
Published by the nonprofit Heyday Books in collaboration with the California Native Plant Society, the book is the work of four scientists closely linked to UC Berkeley: urban entomologist Gordon Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley; native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of UC Davis (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley); insect photographer and entomologist Rollin Coville, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley; and botanist/curator Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley.
“This book is about urban California's bees: what they are, how and where they live, their relationships with ornamental flowers, and how to attract them to urban gardens,” they wrote. “It was written in the urgency of knowing that bees are critical to the health of our natural, ornamental and agricultural landscapes and that populations of some, perhaps many are in rapid decline.”
Frankie studies behavioral ecology of solitary bees in wildland, agricultural and urban environments of California and Costa Rica. He teaches conservation and environmental issues. He is involved in how people relate to bees and their plants and how to raise human awareness about bee-plant relationships.
Co-author Robbin Thorp, who retired in 1994 after 30 years of teaching, research and mentoring graduate students, continues to conduct research on pollination biology and ecology, systematics, biodiversity and conservation of bees, especially bumble bees. He is one of the instructors at the The Bee Course, affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The course is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
“The book is profusely illustrated with photos and drawings of bees and flowers, especially notable are the magnificent close-up images of bees by co-author Rollin Coville,” Thorp said.
Ertter thoroughly explores the anatomy of a flower. Bees and flowers constitute what the authors delightfully describe as "a love affair."
California's bees differ in size, shape and color, as do the flowers they visit. “The tiniest bees are ant-sized; the largest rival small birds,” the authors wrote. “Some are iridescent green or blue, some are decked out with bright stripes, some are covered with fuzzy-looking hairs.”
“Nature has programmed bees to build nests and supply their young with nutritious pollen and nectar, and their unique methods for collecting these resources are fascinating to observe. Their lives are dictated by season, weather and access to preferred flower types and nesting habitat.”
California Bees and Blooms lists 53 of urban California's best bee attractors identified through the Urban California Native Bee Survey. Among them: aster, bluebeard, catmint, California lilac or Ceanothus, cosmos, California sunflower, red buckwheat, California poppy, blanket flower, oregano, rosemary, lavender, gum plant, and salvia (sage). With each plant, they provide a description; origin and natural habitat, range and use in California; flowering season; resource for bees (such as pollen and nectar), most frequent bee visitors, bee ecology and behavior and gardening tips.
The book offers tips on how readers can “think like a bee.” It devotes one chapter to “Beyond Bee Gardening: Taking Action on Behalf of Native Bees.” In addition, the book provides quotes on bees and/or bee gardens from Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (retired) of UC Davis: Ellen Zagory, horticulture director of the UC Davis Arboretum; and Kate Frey of Hopland, a designer of sustainable, insect-friendly gardens throughout California and in some parts of the world.
For more data on the book, the authors, and purchase information, access the publisher's website at https://heydaybooks.com/book/california-bees-and-blooms/.
And for ongoing research on California's bees and blooms, be sure to check out the UC Berkeley website, appropriately named www.helpabee.org..
'Cept when it's a fly.
Lately we've been seeing lots of images on social media (including Facebook and Twitter), news media websites, and stock photo sites of "honey bees."
But they're actually flies.
Will the real flies come forth?
Today we saw several drone flies, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, jokingly calls this drone fly "the H bee." Why? There's an "H" pattern on its abdomen.
The drone fly and honey bee are similar in size and both are floral visitors in their adult stages. However, the drone fly is quite distinguishable from a honey bee. The fly has large eyes, stubby antennae and one pair of wings.
The larvae of the drone fly is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, pooled manure piles and other polluted water.
Unlike a honey bee, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. The fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as flower flies, hover flies and syrphids) and the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.
The case of mistaken identity can cause excruciating pain. A journalist will spend half a day interviewing bee experts about bee health--investigating colony collapse disorder, malnutrition and Varroa mites--only to have a copy editor illustrate the prized bee story with a fly. It's more horrific than Halloween.
Likewise, Facebook editors have been known to turn a fly into a bee faster than the beat of a wing. And photographers who know more about "F" stops than "H bees" post misindentified photos on Flickr or sell their mislabeled images to stock photo businesses.
The old saying, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck" doesn't ring true in "the drone bee vs. the honey bee" identity crisis.
If it looks like a bee, acts like a bee and buzzes like a bee, it may be...a drone fly.