Several honey bees and at least one lady beetle (ladybug), also discovered the "hot spot" in the garden as the temperatures climbed to 52 degrees.
A bumble bee in Benicia? On Christmas Day? Who would have thought?
This bumble bee species, identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is one of only 250 species worldwide in the genus Bombus. It's native to North America.
Thorp is one of four co-authors of the newly published and long-awaited Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press). The book is billed as "the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century." It allows us to identify all the 46 bumble bee species found in North America, and also to learn about "evolutionary relationships, geographical distributions and ecological roles."
Lead author is Paul H. Williams, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. In addition to Thorp, other co-authors are Leif L. Richardson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College; and Sheila R. Colla, postdoctoral fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a project leader at Wildlife Preservation Canada.
Meanwhile, back to Benicia. Like North America's bumble bees, the Benicia Capitol has a rich history. Erected in 1852 and located at 115 West G St., it served as California's third seat of government. Legislators convened there from Feb. 4, 1853 (the year the honey bee was introduced to California) to Feb. 25, 1854.
Today, 160 years later, the Benicia State Capitol is the only surviving pre-Sacramento capitol. Let's hope we can still say that about bumble bees 160 years from now--and the years to come.
If you like community gardens, then you'll want to visit the Avant Garden at the corner of First and D streets in Benicia.
The Benicia Community Garden (BCG) signed a lease agreement in the fall of 2010 with Estey Real Estate to establish a downtown community garden. The land is for sale, but until it's sold, it's a community garden.
The mission of Benicia Community Gardens? "To encourage and enable local citizens to establish and care for gardens throughout the city that provide ongoing sources of healthful food, fellowship, beauty and discovery."
According to their website, the Avante garden is called that because "it represents an experiment not only to provide wider opportunity for more people to observe and practice organic urban farming, but also, because BCG will be making private, undeveloped property in the heart of our historic commercial district productively used for growing food."
Residents lease individual plots and grow such foods as tomatoes, peppers, kale and cabbage. Ornamental flowers line the fence. Signs warn guests not to reap the benefits of what other have sown.
We stopped by there last Sunday afternoon and were amazed that despite the colder weather settling in, insects abound. We saw such pollinators as honey bees, a yellow-faced bumble bee, a hover fly, a carpenter bee and a green metallic sweat bee, as well as a pest, the spotted cucumber beetle. Assorted cabbage white butterfles, also pests, fluttered around the cucurbits.
What a treasure! A good place to spend part of a Sunday.
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, is back.
We spotted some overwintering queen bumble bees gathering nectar on a hebe bush last Sunday at the Berkeley marina.
Distinguished by their yellow faces, yellow head pile, black wings, and a bold yellow stripe on their lower abdomen, they bumbled around the hebe as if they were newbie pilots.
The warm weather invited them out of their underground nests. RSVP accepted. The hebe proved to be a good host, enticing them with the sweet scent of nectar. Soon the queens will be starting rearing a colony, and the worker bees will emerge.
Hebe (genus Hebe), a native of New Zealand, grow wells along the coast. Gardeners who tend the marinas around the San Francisco Bay seem to favor it.
So do the bumble bees.
The bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) is definitely a great fall-winter plant that's a magnet for bees. Just look at the bees that frequent the germander in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis.
As soon as the temperature rises to a sunny 50 or 55 (good bee-flying weather), the honey bees head over to the haven from the nearby Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Last Saturday's visit to the haven yielded an "out-to-lunch" bunch that included a dozen honey bees in the germander and one syrphid fly (aka flower fly or hover fly). Bumble bee aficionado Gary Zamzow, one of the volunteers in the haven, found something better: A bumble bee, a queen Bombus melanopygus or black-tailed bumble bee, foraging in the germander.
The germander bush is one of several plants blooming in the haven in the dead of winter, according to Missy Borel, haven volunteer and program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. Among the others blooming or just finishing a bloom:
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)
- Blanket flower (Gallardia)
- Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
- Butterfly rose (Rosa mutabilis)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis)
- Red hot poker (Kniphofia)
- Dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Betty Rollins’ )
- Lavender (Lavandula)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
- Sage (salvia)
- Seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick')
"Honey bees in California will seek forage on warm sunny days in California," Thorp noted. "Some Asteraceae and mint family flowers will continue blooming and provide some food for honey bees, but they primarily rely on their stored honey to get them through the winter."
Native on native.
That's when you get when you see a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) on a penstemon, also known as "beard's tongue."
Both the bee and the flower are native to North America.
Native Americans reportedly used the penstemon, formerly classified in the Scrophulariaceae family and now considered a member of the Plantaginaceae family, to relieve toothaches.
Whether it relieves toothaches or not, the penstemon, with its two-lipped tubular flowers, is quite attractive to bumble bees!