Bee specialists like to point out that the yellowjacket is a carnivore and the honey bee is a vegetarian.
They are, indeed. The yellowjacket is an aggressive predator that seeks protein-rich foods for its colony, while the honey bee--usually quite passive unless it's defending its hive--gathers nectar and pollen.
If you've ever watched a yellowjacket invade a honey bee hive or prey upon other insects--or grab a bite of chicken from your barbecue or scavenge rotting fruit--you know how aggressive it is.
We watched a western yellowjacket, Vespula penyslvanica (as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis), forage on a cluster of red-hot pokers along a road leading to Tomales, a tiny town in Marin County.
This wasn't a "red" red-hot poker, though. It was yellow. Varieties of the Kniphofia genus (the genus was named for 18th century German physician/botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof) now appear in such colors as orange, coral, cream and yellow.
Rather fitting that a yellowjacket was on a yellow red-hot poker!
We caught it in flight as it headed toward the tubular flowers and watched it grab a few tasty morsels, an unsuspecting spider or two, to carry back to the nest. (It also sips nectar for flight fuel.) When it emerged, it was dotted with pollen grains, so you could say that sometimes it's a pollinator, too. But not a significant one...
The western yellowjacket, native to the western United States, is a major pest in Hawaii, where it was first discovered in 1977. Erin Wilson, a former postdoctoral scholar in the Louie Yang lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, studies this social, ground-nesting wasp.
Wilson, who launched the vespularesearch.com website, describes it as a "vacuum cleaner" that wreaks ecological havoc among the native species in Hawaii.
“The introduction of non-native organisms is a leading cause of imperilment of native species,” says Wilson, who has studied the western yellowjackets at two sites: the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii and the Haleakala National Park on Maui since 2004.
Scientists have found that the incidence of perennial or overwintering colonies is higher in Hawaii than in its native range.
Compared to annual colonies, these overwintering perennial colonies can collect twice as many prey items and produce 10 times the worker force, Wilson says. Some perennial colonies are huge, their size linked to Hawaii’s mild climate and the ability of the yellowjackets to establish perennial colonies. How huge? One Maui colony yielded 600,000 individuals. Compare that to a typical California colony of less than a few thousand wasps.
Read the PBS piece about this invasive insect in Hawaii and see it "stinging" the camera lens.
Insects and Halloween just seem to go together.
What would Halloween be like without costumes depicting honey bees, ladybugs, butterflies, bumble bees, and just plain bugs?
And maybe a few termites, roaches, bed bugs and stink bugs tossed in for good measure?
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, annually hosts two pre-Halloween open houses. One, sponsored by the Bohart Museum Society, is for donors, Entomology Department affiliates, and other invited guests. The other, hosted by the museum itself, is open to all as part of its education, teaching and public service mission.
Spiders--although not insects--are wildly popular at these functions. Spider decorations dangle from the ceiling and painted images adorn faces.
Among the most interesting "bug" costumes showing up at the Bohart last week: a monarch butterfly outfit donned by Maia Lundy of Davis Senior High School, an intern at the Bohart; and a black widow spider costume worn by Tabatha Yang, the museum's outreach and education coordinator. Tabatha and her husband, Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis, are expecting their first child.
Kara Handy of Davis dressed as a witch, and a beautiful witch at that, with a stunning spider web accenting one eye.
Another guest, carrying an insect net, creatively presented herself as a pinned specimen. (Back in 2010, graduate student Matan Shelomi dressed as Billy the Exterminator.)
The Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive) will be open for more weekend open houses during the 2012-2013 academic year. These open houses are free and open to the public.
The schedule includes:
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Insect Societies"
Saturday, Dec. 15, 1 to p.m. Theme: "Insects in Art"
Sunday, Jan. 13, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Extreme Insects"
Saturday, Feb. 2, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Biodiversity Museum Day"
Sunday, March 24, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Aquatic Insects"
Saturday, April 20 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m., UC Davis Picnic Day)
Saturday, May 11, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Moth-er's Day"
Sunday, June 9, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "How to Find Insects"
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
The insect museum includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," complete with Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula that you can hold and photograph.
The Bohart’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Quick, what's the state insect of South Dakota?
If you answered "the European honey bee," you're right. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is also the state insect of 16 other states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
We call "our" honey bee the European or western honey bee because it's non-native. European colonists brought it to this country in 1622 to what is now Jameston, Va. Surprisingly, however, Virginia's state insect is not the honey bee, but the tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus).
California, too, has a non-bee state insect, even though this little agricultural worker arrived here in 1853. The Golden State's choice? The beautiful California dogface butterfly (Zerene Eurydice), a native. California is one of 27 states heralding the butterfly as its state insect. (Not all states have state insects, and some states have more than one. See Wikipedia.)
If you visit the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus, at its pre-Halloween open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, you'll see a wall map of the United States with a colorful image of each state insect.
The museum, home of more than seven million insect specimens, is located in 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive).
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, encourages all to wear Halloween costumes. Last year many wore bee and ladybug costumes. Some painted their faces with a butterfly motif.
There will be plenty to see and do. There's even a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula).
If you're unable to attend the open house Saturday, be aware that you can visit the Bohart Museum from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It's closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission? Free.
The gift shop holds assorted treasures, including t-shirts, jewelry, insect-themed candy, and posters of the California dogface butterfly and dragonflies.
The "boo"--in the way of costumes and decorations--is traditional. The hiss? That's the sound emanating from the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka "hissers."
This all will happen from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Bohart Museum on the UC Davis campus. The museum is located in Room 1124 of Academic Surge, Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive).
The event is free and open to the public. Wear a Halloween costume! Ghouls just love to have fun---but so do ghosts and goblins.
The theme, "Insects and Death," focuses on forensic entomology. UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology will be on hand to answer questions about insects as decomposers, and why they’re important.
Bohart Museum officials also will correct myths about “deadly” insects and “creepy crawlers.”
“House flies and mosquitoes cause more human deaths than all other insects combined,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
In addition to the hissers, other live attractions at the open house will be walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula.
Carved pumpkins, with an insect motif, will decorate the museum.
Over at the gift shop, you can purchase jewelry, T-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, and "entomological" candy. Especially popular around Halloween are scorpion-themed lollipops, chocolate-covered insects and flavored mealworms.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), is the home of more than seven million insect specimens. More information is available on the Bohart website at or by contacting Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-0493.
If you're trying to rear some Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on your passion flower vine, but the caterpillars seem to be doing a disappearing act, check the leaves.
You might find some assassin bug nymphs.
They look like little cartoon characters as they prowl the leaves, looking for prey.
That prey includes caterpillars.
These assassin bug nymphs, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, are memorable. The nymphs (family Reduviidae and genus Zelus) on our Passiflora have beady eyes, narrow necks, needlelike beaks, long legs, and I swear, a perennial quizzical look. They're beneficial insects when they eat leafhoppers, aphids and other pests. They're good to have in your garden.
They're not so beneficial when they eat other beneficial insects like lacewings.
Or, when they eat the larvae stages of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae)--if you're trying to rear a few of these beautiful reddish-orange butterflies.
We've seen adult assassin bugs grab spotted cucumber beetles, inject a lethal saliva, and then suck their bodily fluids with their long feeding tube (rostrum).
We haven't seen one actually prey on a Gulf Frit caterpillar, though.