Cobey, former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, and now with Washington State University (WSU), is an international authority on instrumental insemination. She's perfected and taught the specialized technique of instrumental insemination for more than three decades.
Based on Whidbey Island, Wash., Cobey maintains the New World Carniolan Closed Population Breeding Program, now in its 32rd generation. Her independent research program focuses on the post-insemination maintenance of queens and the selection of behavioral traits at the colony level.
Cobey currently coordinates the WSU collaborative stock improvement and maintenance program, partnering with California queen producers. A focus is the incorporation of germplasm (sperm) collected from Old World European honey bees into domestic breeding stocks to enhance U.S. honey bees. Much has been written about the germplasm repository established at WSU.
The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Cobey presents her work nationally and internationally at numerous conferences and seminars, and publishes extensively in trade journals and professional peer-reviewed publications. Her credentials include the former management of several bee research labs, including those at UC Davis and Ohio State University. She has also worked at the USDA Honey Bee Lab, Baton Rouge, and in commercial queen production in Florida and California. Cobey studied with Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., for whom the UC Davis research facility is named. She founded and operated a queen production business, Vaca Valley Apiaries, in northern California (Vacaville, Solano County).
It's what I've always wanted to see on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, we rarely see any insects--probably because we aren't looking for them. But a butterfly? And a butterfly laying an egg?
I took an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) laying an egg in west Vacaville (Solano County) on Christmas Day. She fluttered around a frost-bitten, caterpillar-eaten passionflower vine (Passiflora) as the temperature held steady at 65 degrees.
Then the butterfly dropped down, extended her abdomen, and laid an egg. A tiny yellowish egg, right in the middle of dozens of caterpillars and chrysalids. Somehow or another, these immature stages managed to survive our extended frost, when the mercury dipped to 22 degrees.
I told butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, about the egg-laying butterfly. Not so coincidentally, he was searching for adult butterflies in Vacaville today (temperature, 70 degrees), but didn't see any.
Shapiro, who monitors the butterflies of Central California and posts information on his website, sounded the alarm about the comeback of these spectacular orange-red butterflies several ago. It was in September 2009 that he excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit after its four-decade absence in the Sacramento metropolitan area, and its three-decade absence in the Davis area.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanillae feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shapiro says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. No one knows exactly when the first Gulf Frit first arrived in California, but "it was already in the San Diego area by about 1875," Shapiro said. It was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 it "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, a Davis resident since 1971.
Now we know that at least some Gulf Frits survived the freezing temperatures--just when a setback threatened the comeback.
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...