It's no secret that bugs often get a bad rap.
Take the negative expression, "Bah, Humbug!" uttered by Ebenezer Scrooge, a Charles Dickens character.
Now it seems that everyone who dislikes Christmas says it, with an emphasis on "bug."
Why not turn things around and say "Ah, humbug!" Think of the hum of the buzzing honey bees on a warm summer day.
Or even a cold wintry day.
Yesterday as the temperature hovered at 48 to 49 degrees on the University of California, Davis, we took a noonhour stroll behind the Lab Sciences Building to look for insects. We spotted a lone honey bee buzzing around some spiderylike red flowers, and buds that looked like tiny balls of red yarn. The plant? Calliandra californica, also known as Baja fairy duster, according to Ernesto Sandoval, director of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory.
Now bees don't usually leave their colony until the temperature hits at least 55 degrees (although we've seen them flying at 50 in our backyard).
This bee apparently wasn't aware of the "no fly" list.
Sue Cobey is world renowned for her work in trying "to build a better bee." With colleagues, she collects drone semen throughout Europe and deposits it in Washington State University's honey bee germplasm repository, aka "the world's first bee sperm bank." Cobey works closely with entomologist Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology.
Cobey is renowned, too, for teaching courses on queen bee insemination and queen bee-rearing courses. She draws students from all over the world, and there's always, always, a waiting list.
We first met Sue in May 2007 when she began managing the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis (she's now based at WSU).
You won't find anyone, anywhere, more passionate about honey bees or the need for diversity. Or the need to protect them. In October 2010, she told us that her overall goal "is to improve colony health to supply the critical and demanding need for pollination of the nation's agricultural crops."
Reporter Joel Millman of the Wall Street Journal successfully captures Cobey's passion.
Cobey talks about queen bee insemination, why bees are in trouble, and why the United States needs to unplug the genetic bottleneck. Honey bees, you see, are not natives. European colonists brought them to what is now the United States in 1622. Indeed, honey bees didn't arrive in California until 1853.
Cobey is especially fond of the subspecies, the Carniolans, originating from Slovenia. But she also works with Caucasians from the country of Georgia, and the Italians, the most common bee reared in the United States. To paraphrase Will Rogers, she's never found a bee she didn't like.
We are continually asked if Cobey still offers queen bee insemination classes. Yes, she does, but they're small, private classes. She will offer the classes in July and August. She also plans to teach a queen-rearing class at Mt. Vernon, Wash.. Dates not set. (She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meanwhile, Cobey is working her hives on Whidbey Island and doing research at WSU. And enjoying every minute of it.
The Queen Bee of the Queen Bees--that she is.
So patient, so passionate.
The praying mantis looked hungry last Thursday when it perched on a coneflower in the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Where's breakfast? Where's lunch? Where's dinner?
Nowhere to be found.
A few honey bees and sweat bees buzzed around the predator, but didn't land.
The praying mantis changed positions, much like a fisherman who feels "skunked" in one place will try his luck at another site.
It crawled up, down and around the flower.
Half an hour later, it slid beneath the coneflower, out of the hot sun. An umbrella for shade, a place to rest, a place to prey...
Have you ever seen a bee fly, a member of the family Bombylidae?
It's about the size of some bees. It buzzes like a bee. But you can quickly tell it's not a bee by its behavior. It's a fast-moving, long-legged, fuzzylike critter that darts in and around flowers, grabbing nectar on the go, before buzzing off again.
It's curious little insect. Its long tongue (proboscis) is so long you're inclined to say "What? Is that for real?"
Like a fly, it has two wings (unlike bees, which have four).
We spotted this one pollinating the flowers behind the Lab Sciences Building at the University of California, Davis. The adults feed on nectar and pollen.
In their larval stage, bee flies parasitize the eggs and larvae of ground-nesting bees, beetles and wasps.
Says Wikipedia: "Although insect parasitoids usually are fairly host-specific, often highly host-specific, some Bombyliidae are opportunistic and will attack a variety of hosts."
Biologist Beatriz Moisset, in writing a "Pollinator of the Month" piece for the U.S. Forest Service in celebration of wildflowers, called it "A Pollinator with a Bad Reputation." She also blogs about Pollinators.
It was definitely a hot spot.
Honey bees foraging last week on a pomegranate tree on Hopkins Road, west of the UC Davis main campus, competed for food on hundreds of blossoms.
We counted five honey bees on one blossom alone in what amounted to a pushing/shoving match.
Most of the bees probably came from the nearby apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road.
The pomegranate is an ancient fruit and the honey bee is an ancient insect. Millions of years ago, they grew up together in the Mediterranean region of southern Europe. European colonists brought the honey bee to our Eastern coast (Jamestown colony) in 1622; honey bees finally arrived in California in 1853. The pomegranate trees were introduced to California in 1769.