A sure sign that winter is nearly over: when the flowering quince bursts into bloom, attracting a flotilla of foraging honey bees.
Actually, the bees began "inspecting" the flowering quince in the bud stage. "Hurry, open up!" the bees seemed to urge. "We have to start feeding our colonies."
Flowering quince (genus Chaenomeles, family Rosaceae) is an ornamental plant that's delightful to see. Who doesn't admire the soft pink blossoms and the comforting hum of bees buzzing around with heavy loads of yellow pollen?
The nation's bees, though, are still in trouble. Overwintering losses are still around 30 percent as in the years past, honey bee experts say. Bees are still suffering from colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious malady characterized by adults bees abandoning the hive. CCD is thought to be the result of multiple factors, including pesticides,pests, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
As Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. (as in Apis mellifera), told the Almond Board of California at its meeting in December: “Colony losses are not quite as acute as in previous years, mainly as a result of improved management, but overwintering losses still hover around 30 percent, an unsustainable rate of loss.”
Heintz, who is the Almond Board Bee Task Force liaison, listed seven areas for best management practice (BMP) development: bee nutrition, pest control/varroa, disease control/nosema, hive mangement/equipment, colony management, business management, and BMPs for almond growers/bee rentals.
You can read the entire BMP article in Bee Culture.
Project Apis m. or PAm, serves an important role. Beekeepers and orchardists established PAm in December 2006, as a "New Vision" to fund honey bee research on managed colonies, according to its website. The organization's goal: "to fund and direct research to improve the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Emphasis is placed on research studies that have realistic and practical usefulness for beekeeping businesses."
"PAm brings together representatives of the American Honey Producers Association (APHA), the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), the National Honey Board (NHB), California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA), and California almond farmers. PAm includes representatives from both the pollination and crop production enterprises."
Together we can all do our part to help save the bees. The first step: awareness.
What do butterflies tell us about tropical diversity?
Take it from an expert.
Tropical ecologist Philip DeVries of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans, will discuss the topic at his lecture on Thursday, Feb. 9 at the University of California, Davis.
His presentation, sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences' Storer Life Sciences Endowment, is at 4:10 p.m. in 2 Wellman Hall. Professor Phil Ward of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is his host.
Free and open to all interested persons, the lecture is sparking a lot of interest, and rightfully so.
DeVries focuses his research on insect ecology and evolution, especially butterflies. A native of Detroit, Mich., he received his doctorate in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1987.
Highly honored, DeVries has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim and Dodge foundations, and the Smithsonian Institute. He is not only a noted researcher and ecologist, but a writer, scientific adviser and photographer.
If you listen to his piece on YouTube (uploaded in 2008), you can see, hear and feel the excitement in his voice as the long-tongued hawk moth, Morgan's Sphinx (Xanthopan morgani) pollinates Darwin's orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) one night in a Madagascar rain forest. Truly amazing!
Background of the moth and orchid: Naturalist Charles Darwin examined the orchid in 1862 and famously predicted in his book Fertilisation of Orchids that there must be in existence a moth with a long-enough tongue (proboscis) to be able to pollinate it. The orchid's "nectar spur" measures about 12 to 14 inches long. The moth itself was discovered in Madagascar in 1903--correctly proving Darwin's prediction of its existence-- but no one saw it pollinate the orchid until DeVries headed out to the rain forest with his camera equipment. Since pollination occurs only at night, DeVries used infrared light (invisible to the moth) to capture the scene.
Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, blogged about the spectacular video in "Why Evolution Is True."
"The video," Coyne wrote, "was made in Madagascar by a friend of mine, Phil DeVries from the University of New Orleans, a remarkable—and, as you’ll see, intrepid—naturalist, and author of the two-volume Butterflies of Costa Rica and their Natural History."
"It’s really lovely to see how excited Phil gets when he finally sees the pollination," wrote Coyne. "Those are the juicy moments that every naturalist lives for."
Yes, indeed! It's something you never expect to see--and hope to see again.
In a pre-Valentine's Day event, officials at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, are planning a Bug Lovin' theme for their next open house. It will be a lovefest of bugs!
The event, free and open to the public, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12 at the museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive.
The Bohart, home of more than seven million insect specimens, also houses a "live petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks) and a bug-themed gift shop, where you can buy Valentine's Day presents for your sweetie. Among the many items: jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect candy, coffee cups, posters, insect-collecting equipment and the like. (Be sure to check out the California dogface butterfly earrings crafted by UC Davis entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk. Items from the gift shop can also be ordered online.)
The open house will be part of "UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day." Also open that day from 1 to 4 p.m. will be the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and the Botanical Conservatory. The Center for Plant Diversity will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. (Download directions)
What else is Feb. 12 known for? Scientists celebrate the birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin (Feb. 12, 1809-April 19, 1882).
With four open houses planned on Feb. 12, it's a good time to head over to the campus and learn about biodiversity.
Last summer we spotted what appeared to be the red-backed jumping spider, Phidippus johnsoni (famiiy Salticidae), stalking native bees and honey bees in our yard.
Its iridescent green chelicerae, which characterizes many species in the genus, literally glowed.
It wasn't a good hunter. It missed its prey time after time.
So, it should be interesting when Damian Elias, assistant professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley, comes to UC Davis on Wednesday, Feb. 8 to speak on "Multimodal Communication in Jumping Spiders" from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8 in 122 Briggs Hall.
"Animals use a variety of senses to navigate the world," Elias says. "While humans are adept at sensing the world through visual, auditory, and olfactory (smell) information, some animals use senses that are imperceptible to human observers. The vast majority of life on the planet uses vibrations transmitted through solid objects (substrate-borne vibration) to communicate and up until recently, this crucial aspect of animal biology was completely unknown."
The jumping spider he is currently focusing on is Phidippus clarus.
Elias, who received his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell in 2005, says he uses behavioral ecology techniques to study different aspects of communication. In particular, he is interested in questions regarding sexual selection, mating system evolution, signal design and responses to population, ecological, and environmental variation.
If you look on YouTube, you'll see an excellent macro video of the same jumping spider, Phidippus clarus, that Damian Elias studies. It's the work of Oklahoma artist Thomas Shahan (who also teaches macro photography in the popular BugShot workshop).
And, if you think that's amazing, check out the even more spectacular images of jumping spider photos on Shahan's website.
This year, however, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, almond trees began blooming in late January in some parts of Central California.
Take the city of Benicia. Its temperate climate is conducive to early spring. Today as the temperature climbed to 58 degrees, we saw almond blossoms everywhere--at the entrance to Benicia State Park, in residential yards, in fields and meadows, and lining city streets and roads.
Benicia resident Gordon Hough, who owns and skippers the sports fishing boat, The Morning Star, didn't go fishing for sturgeon and bass today, but he did go jogging in Benicia State Park. On his way home, he stopped to check an almond tree for honey bees.
No bees. But one ant.
It should be a great year for almonds. The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service projects a record 2600-pounds-per-acre yield for the 2011-2012 California almond crop. That represents an increase of 200 pounds per acre, or 8 percent, over the previous yield-per-acre record set in 2008-2009, the NASS officials said.
This is what the California Almond Board had to say in its September 2011 newsletter: "The California Almond objective forecast for the 2011–12 crop year is 1.95 billion meat pounds, which is based on 750,000 bearing acres. Overall, shipments were up 13 percent, reaching 1.668 billion pounds and marking the fifth consecutive year of record shipments across domestic and export markets.
"For the second year, California shipped over 1 billion pounds to export destinations, an increase of 15 percent over 2010–11. Domestic shipments were up 9 percent over the previous year, at 490 million pounds. The top five export destinations (China, Spain, Germany, India and the United Arab Emirates) account for approximately 53 percent of total export shipments, while the top 10 destinations account for over 72 percent of export shipments. For the first time, China became the leading export destination, with shipments rising by 26 percent to reach 168 million pounds."
Meanwhile, it takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's 750,000 acres. The bees, trucked here from all over the country, are in holding yards and ready to go.
The orchards will be abuzz soon with millions of bees pollinating the blossoms.