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!
Let's have a pause--and applause--for the pollinators.
Next week, June 18-24, is National Pollinator Week, as designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
That means, says Pollinator Partnership, that it's time to celebrate all our pollinators--the bees, the birds, the butterflies, the bats and the beetles. Those are just the B's. Don't forget the flies, particularly the syrphid or flower flies. And all the others, including ants, hawk moths, wasps, midges, thrips, carrion flies and fruit flies.
Pollinator Partnership officials remind us that pollinators "are responsible for pollinating nearly one-third of every bite of food we eat." And, "the global value of crops pollinated by bees is estimated to be nearly $217 billion."
What they want you to do is S.H.A.R.E., which stands for Every landscape can Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment. The idea is that when you plant for pollinators, everyone benefits: plants, pollinators, and people.
Take a look in your garden or a nearby garden. What's pollinating your ornamentals, vegetables and fruits?
We took a look in our garden and spotted:
--a yellow-faced bumble bee pollinating an ornamental plant, a rock purslane
--a squash bee nestled in a squash blossom, and
--two honey bees battling it out for first rights to a pomegranate blossom.
Life is good.
Not all bumble bees are primarily black.
Take the Bombus flavifrons.
We spotted a male Bombus flavifrons nectaring on Centaurea montana, aka perennial cornflower or mountain cornflower, recently in Mill Valley. It didn't look like many of the other common bumble bees, such as the yellow-faced bumble bee and the black-tailed bumble bee.
It was as yellow as a baby chick.
It's just one of 20,000 species of bees found globally, and one of 49 bumble bee (Bombus) species found in the United States and one of more than 250 species of bumble bees found worldwide.
Sometimes we overlook something we're not ready to see.