Splat! Splat! Splat! What was that?
A squadron of flying insects? No, more like multiple squadrons of flying insects.
There's a major outbreak in the area of alfalfa butterflies, also known as sulphur butterflies, Colias eurytheme.
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has monitored butterflies in Central California for more than 40 years and posts information on his website, says he's been receiving lots of inquiries about the sulphur butterfly outbreak. Their caterpillars are major pests of alfalfa. The 'cats can consume an entire alfalfa leaf, including the midrib.
"Outbreaks like this used to be commonplace in late summer and fall in the Valley," Shapiro says, "but they disappeared during the drought: from 2012 through 2015 there were hardly any Colias, and I even contacted ranchers and farm advisers to find out if they were using any new pesticides or had altered alfalfa culture in some way that might account for the situation." The answer: No.
"The last big outbreak around here (Davis) was in October 2012," the professor noted. "Long-time residents can recall killing multitudes of them when driving near alfalfa fields in the Valley back in the 'old days.' Now it's happening again! Mass dispersal, like we're seeing now--when they blanket urban flower gardens and mowed lawns--typically occurs when the alfalfa is cut. Females are laying eggs on clover in lawns. One is, of course, tempted to say it must somehow be related to the weather--but we really don't know."
Encounters with cars and people and--yes, predators--continue. We just noticed an alfalfa butterfly trapped in a spider web in our yard.
There will be more.
UC Statewide Integrated Pest Program: Alfalfa Butterfly
- You want to do your part to help the declining bee population.
- You want to learn about the honey bees that pollinate the food you eat, including fruits, vegetables and nuts (especially almonds!).
- You'd love some honey for your table and some wax to make candles.
- You want to learn about the queen bee, drones and worker bees--what they do and how to care for them.
- You want to join your fellow beekeeping friends.
But where do you start?
You're in luck.
The E. L. Nino lab at the University of California, Davis, is offering two back-to-back short courses: the first on Saturday, Aug. 27 on “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” and the second on Sunday, Aug. 28 on “Working Your Colonies.”
Each will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Participants may register for one or both courses, according to Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, who is coordinating and teaching the courses with Bernardo Niño and colleagues at the Laidlaw facility. The short courses will be limited to 25 people.
Here's some information about each:
Planning Ahead for Your First Hive
The course, “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives,” taught by Elina Niño, Bernardo Niño, Charley Nye and Tricia Bohls, will provide lectures and hands-on exercises. The course is described as “perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills before moving on to the next step of owning and caring for their own honey bee colonies.”
Lecture modules will cover honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive. Practical modules will zero in on how to build a hive, install a package, inspect a hive and monitor for varroa mites.
Participants will have the opportunity to learn about and practice many aspects of what is necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving. At the end of the course, participants "will be knowledgeable about installing honey bee packages, monitoring their own colonies and taking on possible challenges with maintaining a healthy colony."
The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments.
Working Your Colonies
For the short course, “Working Your Colonies,” instructors are Elina Niño and Bernardo Niño. The course, to include lectures and hands-on exercises, is described as “perfect or those who already have beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical to move on to the next step of managing and working their own honey bee colonies.”
Lecture modules will include advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management and products of the hive. Practical modules will cover queen wrangling, honey extraction, combining colonies, splitting colonies and monitoring for varroa mites. The $150 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch, and refreshments.
For each course, participants are asked to bring a bee suit or veil if they have one (the lab has a limited number). Lodging is not provided. For more information on registering for the short courses, contact Bernardo Niño at email@example.com or (530) 380-BUZZ (2899). Want to access up-to-date information? See lab's Facebook page.
In a groundbreaking discovery, a scientific team of Brazilians and Brazilian-born chemical ecologist Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, has announced that the Zika virus has been detected in wild-caught Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes in Recife, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic.
Scientists from the Fiocruz Institute, Pernambuco, confirmed the discovery July 21. The detection could have widespread repercussions, as the Culex mosquitoes are more common and widespread than the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, known as the primary carrier of the Zika virus.
Leal, who collaborates with Fiocruz Institute researcher Constancia Ayres in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored project on the investigation of Zika in the C. quinquefasciatus, said that the Brazilian lab earlier discovered that Culex had the capability of transmitting the virus. Although the scientists were able to infect the lab mosquitoes with the virus, they had not found the virus in wild-caught mosquitoes—until now.
“This could have major repercussions here in the United States and in other parts of the world,” said Leal, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology who is co-chairing the International Congress of Entomology meeting Sept. 25-30 in Orlando, Fla. The conference is expected to draw some 7000 entomologists throughout the world.
Leal said more work needs to be done to see if Culex mosquitoes are playing a role in the current epidemic. In an interview July 21 with health reporter Jennifer Yang of the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily, he commented: “It looks like there were more vectors than we thought, and this is one of them. We don't have to panic, but we have to know. And now that we know, we have to take care of the Culex.”
A. aegypti is already established in California; it has spread to at least seven counties since its discovery in Clovis, Fresno County, in June 2013, according to medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier.
The Zika virus, which can result in birth defects in pregnancy, can be transmitted through exposure to infected blood or sexual contact. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 400,000 and 1.3 million cases have been discovered across South, Central, and North America, where the disease was previously unknown.
Leal and a group of 18 students just hosted a Zika Public Awareness Symposium on May 26 at Giedt Hall, UC Davis campus. The podcast can be accessed at https://video.ucdavis.edu/media/Zika+Virus+Public+Awareness+Symposium/0_n3aupf5c
It's an insect collecting trip to Belize for the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis.
Praised by entomologists for its insect diversity, Belize is a rain-forested country on the eastern coast of Central America, bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea.
Leading the 'blitz, set June 20-July 1, are entomologists Fran Keller, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and teaches at Sonoma State University, and David Wyatt, an entomology professor at Sacramento City College. Keller, a longtime Bohart Museum associate and volunteer, studied with Wyatt before enrolling in the UC Davis graduate program. Wyatt has taught entomology at Sac City for 15 years. This marks his 12th trip to Belize.
Keller and Wyatt are already in Belize, teaching a Sonoma State class, June 6-June 17. See their blog at https://belizebiodiversity.wordpress.com. "So we are setting up a lot of the collecting equipment early so it will be running for two weeks before the Bohart folks even get here," Keller said.
A 21-member team of professionals, entomology graduates, college students and a couple of teens will participate in the 10-day Bohart Belize Bioblitz. One of them is 17-year-old Noah Crockette of Davis, a longtime Bohart Museum volunteer who will mark his second consecutive collecting trip to Belize.
Crockette won the 2015 senior award from the Coleopterists Society and will be surveying some of the dung beetles from the Stan Creek District in Belize.
"He is an excellent student to mentor and I only hope I am as good a mentor as he is such an excellent student and terrific person," said Keller, who showed him the ropes--along with the bugs, bats, butterflies, birds and frogs--on the 2015 trip.
The bioblitz team met June 1 in the Bohart Museum for a pre-trip discussion. Among those participating: entomologist and "butterfly guy" Jeff Smith, who curates the Bohart Museum's butterfly and moth collection; Bohart Museum senior scientist Steve Heydon; UC Davis entomology graduates Joel Hernandez and Melissa Cruz; former UC Davis Entomology Club president Maia Lundy; and entomology student Tom Nguyen; and "beetle guy" Larry Bezark.
"We are trying to collect as much as we can and some insects will stay in Belize at the field station but most are coming back to the Bohart," said Keller, who studied for her doctorate with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart. The insect museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, collected worldwide.
Thousands more will be collected June 20-July 1.
At the pre-trip meeting, Wyatt and Keller promised an educational, safe and fun trip. "I brought Noah back alive, didn't I?" Keller quipped. Laughter ensued.
"Are you ready for an adventure?" Keller asked the Bohart Belize Bioblitz team. "It's a phenomenal country."
How many times have you heard that?
Strong-willed arguments flash rapidly, pointedly and furiously, much like guard bees defending their colony in the fall from would-be robbers. Just when you think the issue is settled once and for all, the arguments circle again. Non-beekeepers, in particular, gleefully maintain that the sweet mixture you spread on your toast in the morning is "bee vomit." Or they may label that spoonful of honey in your tea as "bee barf." (It's usually accompanied by "How can you eat THAT?")
So, what's the answer?
We consulted "honey bee guru" Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who completed 38 years of service in 2014 to the apiculture industry and the general citizenry of California. (However, as an emeritus, he continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall and answer questions.)
The answer? "In one word--No!" he says. "Honey is neither bee vomit nor bee barf."
Then, what is honey?
"To answer that question, we have to define a few important words," Mussen says. "We will use Wikipedia as our source.
- Vomit – “Forceful expulsion of the contents of one's stomach through the mouth.”
- Regurgitation – “Expulsion of material from the pharynx or esophagus.”
- Crop – “A thin-walled expanded portion of the alimentary tract used for the storage of food prior to digestion.”
Wait, there's more, and yes, it gets technical.
"While residing in the crop, a curious, pulsating valve, called the proventriculus in insects, extends curved, rake-like bristles into the crop that filter out particles from the nectar," Mussen points out. "The particles can be moderate in size to quite small, such as a pollen grains or infectious spores of the intestinal parasites Nosema apis and N. ceranae. The size is limited by the diameter of the tubular mouthparts through which all honey bee food must be consumed. Some squash pollens are too large to swallow. Once a number of particles have accumulated, they are passed back (swallowed) into the midgut as a bolus. As the bolus leaves the proventriculus, it is wrapped in a sausage skin-like wrapper called the peritrophic matrix (formerly the peritrophic membrane). Once passed into the midgut inside the peritrophic membrane, there is no way for it to return to the honey stomach."
No way. No way for it to return to the honey stomach.
Mussen says that "the most time-consuming step in converting nectar to honey is the dehydration process, during which the moisture content of the honey is reduced to a fermentation-inhibiting 20 percent or lower. To accomplish this, the nearly particle-free nectar is pumped (regurgitated) out of the crop and suspended as a thin film, hanging directly below the horizontally extended mouthparts. Bees fan the films with their wings to hasten evaporation of water. As the film thickens, it is pumped back into the crop, blended with the remaining nectar, and pumped back out to be dried some more."
So, what happens then?
"When it reaches the appropriate moisture content, the 'ripened' honey is pumped into a comb cell and capped with a beeswax cover. This is the honey that beekeepers provide for us to eat. The color and flavor of the honey depends upon the floral sources from which the nectars were collected. The moisture content of the honey is markedly influenced by the relative humidity of the ambient air surrounding the hive."
So, bottom line is this: Sorry, honey, honey is not bee vomit.
"It never reaches the true digestive tract of a honey bee," Mussen emphasizes.