If you plant it, they will come.
Western tiger swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) can't get enough of our butterfly bush. For the first time ever, we saw two of them and managed to get both in the same image. Courtship? Curiosity? Chance encounter?
Whatever it was, they came together, touched and flew away.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that "the Western tiger swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen.
"One brood (June-July) at higher elevations; one and a partial second at Washington; 2-3 at lower elevations with a long flight season (late February or March-September or October). An avid puddler. Visits Yerba Santa, California Buckeye, Milkweed, Dogbane, Lilies, Coyotemint, etc., etc. and in gardens frequent at Lilac and Buddleia. Spring individuals are smaller and usually paler than summer. Low-elevation hosts include Sycamore (Platanus), Ash (Fraxinus), Cherry and other stone fruits (Prunus), Willow (Salix), Privet (Ligustrum), Lilac (Syringa) and (in Sacramento County) Sweet Gum (Liquidambar)."
Nevertheless, "the tiger" is common in Western America and its bright yellow and black markings with its blue and orange spots on its tail is a sight we never tire of--even when parts of the swallowtail are missing. Predators, such as birds, praying mantids and spiders, try to grab it.
They may have a "tiger" by the tail, but that doesn't mean they can hold on.
So you want to be a beekeeper...but you don't know where to begin.
You're in luck.
Bee experts at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, are planning two short courses or sessions in September--the first on Sept. 13 and the second on Sept. 20.
This will be their inaugural "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives," taught by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño and staff research associate Bernardo Niño at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Each course will be limited to 24 participants and registration is now underway.
"The short course will include lectures and hands-on exercises," they announced. "This course is perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills to move 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. The practical modules will cover how to build a hive, how to install a package, how to inspect your hive and how to 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," they said. "At the end of the course, participants will be knowledgeable about installing honey bee packages, monitoring their own colonies and possible challenges with maintaining a healthy colony."
This is a BYOV (that's Bring Your Own Veil--if you own one. If you don't, they have some on hand.) The $95 registration fee covers the cost of the course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments. For more information, contact Bernardo Niño at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the lab at 530-380-2899.
John "Jack" Longino knows his ants.
Longino, known by his students as "The Astonishing Ant Man," will present a seminar to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
His topic: "Project ADMAC or Ant Diversity of the Mesoamerican Corridor."
Longino, who received his bachelor's degree in zoology, with distinction, in 1978 from Duke University, and his doctorate in zoology in 1984 from the University of Texas, Austin, traces his fascination with insects back to his childhood. He developed an interest in ecology and the desire to explain patterns of diversity, so "I settled on ants as an ecologically dominant group of insects worthy of study."
"As it became clear that I was living during a time of enormous biotic change caused by human activities, I developed a strong conviction that it was important not only to understand patterns of diversity but to document it in detail for this time in history. I divide my time between two research fields: taxonomy and ecology. On the taxonomy side, I have coordinated large-scale inventories of Neotropical insect biodiversity, I discover and describe new species of ants, and I further refine our understanding of species ranges and morphological variability. I make use of advanced imaging technology, specimen-level databases, and Web-dissemination to make biodiversity data available to the widest audiences."
"On the ecology side, I use quantitative inventory techniques that allow analysis of diversity patterns. I am interested in how species are distributed on tropical mountainsides, what ecological factors explain the elevational range limits of species, and how species might respond to climate change."
Ant specialist Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology (and also known as "the ultimate ant man") will introduce and host Longino.
What is the MesoAmerican corridor? It's a zone of complex tectonic history, episodic biotic interchange between large continents, and frequent mountain-building," Longino says. "Ants blanket this landscape, forming a tapestry of fine-scale habitat specialization and geographic replacement. Many taxonomists have contributed to the description of species in the region and this fundamental 'biodiversity mapping' continues apace. Project ADMAC (Ant Diversity of the MesoAmerican Corridor) combines morphological analysis with large-scale DNA sequencing (targeted enrichment of Ultra-Conserved Elements) to reveal the evolutionary history and geographic structure of ant species in MesoAmerica."
"Ants show very strong patterns of elevational specialization and geographic turnover, and Project ADMAC will address questions of (1) how and when montane species evolve, (2) the effects of differing mountain ages on communities, (3) the impact of lowland barriers on montane ant dispersal, and (4) whether ants experienced a major biotic interchange on the closure of the Panamanian isthmus."
National Public Radio interviewed Longino in August of 2013 on his research. He told NPR he started out collecting stamps in his childhood, but that bored him. He decided to "get small."
"If you're shopping for a home entertainment system," he says, "you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope," he said. At the time of the NPR interview, Longino had just published two papers describing 33 new species of ants, bringing his personal "new species" total to 131, NPR reported. In the article, Longino described himself as "average" among entomologists, pointing out that some entomologists have described thousands of new species.
So, if you're like Longino, if you had a choice between a home entertainment system and a good dissecting microscope, the winner--hands down--would be the dissecting microscope.
And if you want to know about ants, you can download Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants for free at http://ants.yourwildlife.org/dr-eleanors-book-of-common-ants/. It's the work of science writer Eleanor Spicer Rice, noted insect photographer Alex Wild, and designer Neil McCoy.
Be sure to check out Alex Wild's Myrmecos blog at http://www.myrmecos.net/ for amazing ant photos and educational information. He holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (major professor Phil Ward) and is now curator of Entomology in the College of Natural Sciences, University of Austin--the university where Longino received his doctorate.
All in the family...the ant family...Formicidae.
Bee health is a challenge, and this hot topic tied in with ESA President Frank Zalom's theme "Grand Challenges Beyond the Horizons." Zalom, who just completed his presidential term and is now serving as past president, is a distinguished professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and an integrated pest management specialist.
Debate topics are always lively and this one was no exception. The teams are given eight months to practice for the 45-minute debate. The end result: their work is published in the ESA journal, American Entomologist.
From all accounts, it was a fantastic debate, with both sides making key points. The UC Davis team, captained by Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, successfully argued that a ban on the insecticides in agriculture “will not improve pollinator health or restore populations, based on current science. Neonicotinoids are important for control of many significant agricultural and veterinary pests. Part of the solution is to develop better regulations that will protect the health of pollinators and retain the use of an important IPM tool.”
UC Davis won the debate, and then went on to win the overall ESA student debate championship for the second consecutive year.
“Neonicotinoids are important for control of many significant agricultural and veterinary pests,” Aghaee said at the onset. “Part of the solution is to develop better regulations that will protect the health of pollinators and retain the use of an important IPM (integrated pest management) tool.” The team also argued successfully that neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) are not all “created equal.” The insecticide, chemically similar to nicotine, is implicated in the mass die-off of pollinators. The European Union recently adopted a proposal to restrict the use of three pesticides belonging to the nenicotinoid family (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for a period of two years. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that by January 2016, it will ban the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides and the use of crops improved through biotechnology throughout the 150 million acres managed by the National Wildlife Refuge System.
In addition to Aghaee, the UC Davis team included graduate students Margaret "Rei" Scampavia, Ralph Washington Jr., and Daniel Klittich. Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, served as their advisor. The Auburn team, captained by Olufemi Ajayi, included Adekunle Adesanya, Julian Golec, Matt Burrows, Scott Clem and alternate Zi Ye. Associate professor David Held served as their advisor.
The protocol included a seven-minute statement by each team; cross-examinations; rebuttals; and questions from the judges and audience.
The UC Davis team cited three main points:
- Pesticides are IMPORTANT tools used in modern agriculture
- Neonicotinoids were registered as reduced risk pesticide to replace the organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids
- Banning neonicotinoids would increase of use of pesticides that have known non-target effects
The UC Davis entomologists agreed that acute and chronic studies "have shown that neonics are toxic to honey bees and bumble bees (Blacquiere et al. 2012)" but argued that “all neonics are not created equal (Brown et al. 2014)." They cited “inconsistent results with field-realistic doses (Cresswell et al. 2012)" and noted that “many other factors have been documented as contributing to pollinator decline (Epstein et al. 2012).”
It's not just insecticides that are killing bees, the UC Davis team pointed out. They listed the varroa mite (Varroa destructor), vectored pathogens, and the acaricides, antibiotics and fungicides that are directly added to the colony. They also mentioned American foulbrood and Nosema bombi; inadequate honey bee nutrition; insufficient food substitute; habitat fragmentation; land-use changes; and the increasing demand for pollination changes.
The UC Davis entomologists recommended that regulatory agencies need more thorough registration guidelines that incorporate bee toxicity data for all pesticides (Hopwood et al. 2012). This would encompass chronic toxicity, sublethal effects and synergistic effects. Another recommendation: mandate better management practices that follow IPM principles that protect bees on crops (Epstein et al. 2012). This would include banning certain application strategies, using less toxic neonicotinoids, and encompass the essential education and communication.
The UC Davis team summarized its argument with “There is NO definitive scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are the primary cause of pollinator declines. Neonicotinoids are important reduced risk pesticides for management of some of our most damaging pests. Neonicotinoids should be better regulated, not banned." They concluded: “Given the current state of knowledge, banning neonicotinoids is a premature and disproportionate response to a complex issue. This requires holistic scientific inquiry and interpretation, and cooperation among stakeholders. Any changes must be based on science rather than opinion, current trends, or fear.”
The Auburn team argued that neonicotinoids are causing the death of bees essential for pollinating our food crops, and that the use of neonicotinoids should end. They outlined six key points:
- Critical time for pollinators in the United States
- Lethal and sub-lethal effects
- Prevalence and exposure
- Effects on other pollinators
- Food Quality and Protection Act (FQPA) as a precedent
Expanding on the fact that this is “a critical time for pollinators in the United States,” the Auburn team pointed out that honey bees pollinate $15-20 billion worth of crops in the U.S., and $200 billion worldwide; that approximately $3 billion worth of crop pollination services are provided by native bees; and that CCD likely has many contributing factors but many of those are enhanced by neonicotinoids. They said that the honey bee population is declining. In 1947, the United States had 6 million bee colonies and today, it's down to 2.5 million.
The Auburn team keyed in on lethal and sublethal effects of neonics: synergistic interactions with other pesticides, including DMI (demethylation inhibitor) fungicides; increased susceptibility to pathogens (Nosema spp.); decrease in foraging success; decrease in overwintering queen survival; learning impairment consequences; and reproductive inhibition. They also called attention to prevalence and exposure to neonicotinoids. They discussed the neonicotinoid residues found on bee-pollinated crops and plants by various means of exposure: seed coating; foliar spray, soil drench, trunk injections; length of residue (soil vs. foliage and length of bee exposure); and single exposures resulting in season-long impacts. They also said the multiple means of exposure due to application can lead to multiple routes of exposure within bees: via pollen, nectar, guttation fluid and extrafloral nectaries.
In their concluding statement, the Auburn team said that current tools for risk assessment may not be adequate; and that limiting neonicotinoid use will not harm agriculture--"it will open the door for more sustainable agriculture and new insecticides." They emphasized that we must save our pollinators, especially in the United States. "The United States is a special case--globally there is an increase in bee colonies; however, the United States is at a critical point at which bee pollination services are being threatened irreversibly."
One of the several swaying arguments that led to UC Davis winning the debate was that not all neonics are created equal, and thus, they should not all be lumped together as "an equal" and all be banned.
The UC Davis team received a $500 cash award, a plaque and a perpetual trophy engraved with UC Davis. ESA president Frank Zalom presented the awards.
Next year's ESA meeting takes place Nov. 15-18 in Minneapolis. Its theme, chosen by ESA President Phil Mulder, professor and head of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Oklahoma State University, is "Synergy in Science: Partnering for Solutions." He says that the theme "represents a collaborative effort with the other societies, but genuinely keeps us focused on our three strategic principles; 1) our social responsibility to develop ALL members, 2) exploring global partnerships and relationships within our science, and 3) expanding our influence around the world to maximize the impact that entomology has on improving the human condition and our knowledge of the world around us."
In actuality, those fragile white petals fluttering to the ground in the Central Valley are a different kind of snow, but the kind that doesn't make you shiver or shovel.
The University of California, Davis, campus is now seeing the last of its dwindling almond blooms. Over on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, steady rains are driving the bees 'n blooms away.
So we took one last look for the buds that first began unfolding in mid-February. The almond trees are leafing out as if to welcome spring. In a couple more weeks, spring officially arrives (March 20).
Meanwhile, the California State Beekeepers' Association is busy planning its display at the California Agriculture Day, a farm-to-fork celebration always held near the beginning of spring on the State Capitol grounds. This year it's March 19. It's when the rural folk meet the city folk. Youths learn that chocolate milk doesn't come from chocolate cows, honey doesn't come from sticks, and beef doesn't originate on a bun at a fast food restaurant.
It's good to see the governor and the state legislators mingle with the farmers, the ranchers, the growers, the 4-H'ers and the FFA'ers.
For one day, the State Capitol lawn virtually turns into the land of milk and honey: the dairy industry hands out cartons of milk and the state beekeepers, sticks of honey.
Best of all, it's good to see a tractor on the steps of the capitol building. That's exactly where it belongs.