A good way to spend part of Valentine's Day is to "bee" among the almond blossoms.
We stopped by the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, today to see and hear the bees buzzing.
That they did! An entire chorus of bee buzzing...
As Debbie Arrington wrote in today's Sacramento Bee: "Fluffy puffs of delicate white and pink flowers crown tree after tree; they hint of spring--except it's only Valentine's Day and spring isn't supposed to arrive for another five weeks."
Don't tell that to the Laidlaw bees. Spring is already here.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, told Arrington: "Honey bees don't really get confused. They do act predictably. Anytime the temperature gets above 55 degrees, if there's food somewhere, they'll go get it."
"Street trees usually bloom a week earlier than orchards," Mussen told her. "Plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds are going like crazy."
Yes, indeed. We saw street trees (almonds) blooming in Benicia--maybe we should spell that Bee-nicia--in late January.
And that was way before Valentine's Day! Sweet!
On a visit last week to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, we saw a paper wasp (genus Mischocyttarus) foraging in the fava beans with assorted ladybugs, aphids and ants.
This particular genus is characterized by a long, narrow petiole between the thorax and abdomen. Talk about narrow! We wouldn't be surprised if the term, "wasp waist" (referring to women girdling their waists in the 19th and 20th century to look "becoming") originated with Mischocyttarus.
The meaning of Mischocyttarus? It comes from two Greek words, mischos meaning "stalk" and kyttaros meaning "cell of a honeycomb."
Its family is Vespidae (yellowjackets, paper wasps, and hornets; and potter, mason and pollen wasps) and its subfamily is Polistinae (paper wasps).
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is full of surprises throughout the year as insects share the garden meant for pollinators, especially honey bees.
The haven is open from dawn to dusk for self-guided tours; no admission is charged. The Department of Entomology is now offering guided tours ($4 per person).
At last, the Laidlaw almonds are in bloom.
That would be the almond trees on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
And no one appreciates this more than the bees holed up in the 40 hives behind the facility. The bees are getting ready for the big spring build-up, and what's a spring build-up without almonds?
The bees are hungry. Very hungry. If you take a photo of the almond blooms, you'll see how hungry they are. Sometimes you get five bees in one photo.
So, it was with great interest that we read a news story in today's Business Journal, Fresno, that was headlined "New Almond Promises Independence from Bees."
Independence, you ask? Are bees declaring their independence from almonds? No. The piece in The Business Journal concerned the "Independence almond." Wrote reporter Chuck Harvey in the lede: "The Independence almond — a self-fertile variety needing few bees to produce numerous large nuts — is creating a buzz among almond growers."
"Created by Zaiger Genetics Inc., the Independence almond was released in 2008. Dave Wilson Nursery, which holds the patent on the trees, has a producing Independence almond orchard in Modesto."
Basically, it's an early-blooming, self-fertile almond described in the news story as "a large high-grade commercial quality almond with a soft shell," according to the CEO of Dave Wilson Nursery. And it "blanches well."
You'll want to read more about it, and what the Almond Board of California, beekeepers, and growers have to say about it.
One thing's for sure: we need stronger, healthier bees, or we'll all in trouble.
It's an Asian species "generally found in Japan, Korea, the Ryukyu Archipelago (Okinawa and associated islands), Taiwan, South China, and Hong Kong," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It was first detected in the United States in 1998, collected on Long Island, N.Y. and in Ocean County, N.J.
In a little over a decade, this little known mosquito has spread to 28 U.S. states, several Canadian provinces, with additional introductions discovered in Washington State, Oregon, Hawaii, Germany, France, and New Zealand, says Jamesina "Jamie" J. Scott, district manager and research director, Lake County Vector Control District
Scott, who has a doctorate in entomology from Rutgers, will be speaking on "Aedes japonicus-- Tracking an Invasive Mosquito We Knew Very Little About" at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar, set for Wednesday, Feb. 15 from 12:10 to 1 p.m., 122 Briggs Hall.
Her seminar should draw a widespread crowd.
"Before its detection in the United States in 1998, fewer than a dozen scientific publications existed that even mentioned Aedes japonicus," Scott says. Although laboratory studies have shown that it is "a competent vector of Japanese encephalitis and Getah viruses (Takashima and Hashimoto 1985, Takashima and Rosen 1989), there was little interest in this species within its native range because it did not play a major role in disease transmission, and rarely was present in populations large enough to pose a pest problem."
"Interest in the biology of this mosquito," Scott says, "has increased with its recent introductions around the world, its ability to transmit West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis viruses" and its willingness to bite humans.
Why study this particular mosquito? "The opportunity to track an invading vector species provides many opportunities to investigate its ecology, competition with other native and introduced mosquitoes, and new roles in the transmission of native and introduced viruses."
Host will be Brittany Nelms, a doctoral candidate in William Reisen's lab (Center for Vectorborne Diseases/UC Davis Department of Entomology. "It's going to be a fascinating talk," Nelms said.
Valentine's Day traditionally marks the beginning of almond pollination season, but it's an early spring. The almonds are blooming and the bees are buzzing.
So, first the tweets, then the buzzes.
CNN Money, New York, came out Feb. 7 with a news story headlined "Honeybee Die-Off Shouldn't Sting." The Almond Board linked to it in its tweet.
The piece, written by Steve Hargreaves, explored the "good news and bad news on the honeybee beat."
Hargreaves said that colony collapse disorder (CCD) continues to claim about 30 percent of the nation's bees every winter. That's the bad news. The good news, he said, is that "beekeepers have been able to rejuvenate their hives each year so that by summer, the population is back to previous levels."
And "another bit of good news," Hargreaves pointed out, is that although agricultural yields are rising and "rejuvenating beehives is costly," the higher costs aren't being transferred in the supermarket.
Hargreaves quoted UC Davis agricultural economist Daniel Sumner as saying "It shouldn't be a significant item on the radar screen of consumers. It's not that big of a deal."
So, there you have it. Bees are in trouble. Almond production is up (about 750,000 acres in California and each acre requires two hives for pollination). And, demand for almonds is up. California now produces 80 percent of the world's almonds.
Meanwhile, honey bee guru and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is repeatedly asked "How are the bees doing?" He writes a bi-monthly from the UC Apiaries newsletter and the periodic Bee Briefs, both posted on the Department of Entomology website.
Mussen attributes CCD (a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive) to a combination of factors, including parasites, pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
It continues to amaze us, however, what some folks think is causing CCD. They're looking for a silver bullet. There is none.
The arguments can get ugly. As debates continue to rage in the CNN Money commentary section, one reader, obviously exasperated, posted "...the writers in this place don't know anything about the realms of science, economics or ecology. And 90 percent of the posters aren't very bright, either."
Meanwhile, the bees are busy pollinating almonds.