We've seen bumble bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wool carder bees and syrphid flies topple into our swimming pool, but never an alfalfa butterfly until now.
This male alfalfa butterfly--the gender identified by noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis--bumbled into our pool early one morning. Not sure why it fell into the pool. It spiraled over the catmint, fluttered over the pool, and then dropped into the water. Not very gracefully, either.
We netted it and placed it on a flowering artichoke so it could rest a bit and dry its wings.
The alfalfa butterfly, Colias eurytheme (common name "orange sulphur" or "alfalfa butterfly") is a significant pest of alfalfa, Shapiro says on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It "overwinters as a larva almost entirely in annual vetch at low altitudes, and colonizes alfalfa only as the vetch senesces in May-June. Aside from alfalfa and annual vetches, it also breeds on a variety of clovers and sweet clovers and occasionally on lupines."
"An oddity of sulphurs is that their orange and yellow pteridine pigments are water-soluble," Shapiro told us today. "Had it remained in the water long enough, its scales would have been leached to translucency."
And, he pointed out, "Colias that sit out in the alfalfa during overhead irrigation regularly get water-spotted."
This one not only survived but so did its colors.
Pity the poor worker bee.
In the spring/summer months, she lives only four to six weeks and then she dies. Bee scientists say she basically works herself to death.
For the first half of her short life, she works inside the hive, tending to the brood, feeding the queen and drones, processing the food, building and repairing the nest, and completing other responsibilities, all in total darkness. In the second half of her life, she leaves the hive, emerging from the total darkness to the bright light. Weather permitting, she'll forage every day for food, propolis or water for the colony.
You've probably noticed these older foragers, with tattered wings, scarred bodies and hairless thoraxes, foraging among the flowers. Those tattered wings could be the result of predators that missed: spiders, dragonflies, grasshoppers, dogs, birds and the like.
Worker bees do not fly well with flawed wings and they're even more susceptible to those crafty jumping spiders lurking in the flowers.
So it's interesting to read the recently published research by scientists at the Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, research that shows that older honey bees experience reverse brain aging when they return to working inside the hive.
Writing in the journal, Experimental Gerontology, the researchers related that they tricked the older, foraging bees into returning to the hive to perform the social tasks of the younger bees.
In an ASU news release: Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, said: “We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae--the bee babies--they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function--basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?"
Well, they found that the older bees that returned to the hive seemed to recover their ability to learn, and that the protein in the bee brains changed for the better.
"When comparing the brains of the bees that improved relative to those that did not, two proteins noticeably changed," the news release said. "They found Prx6, a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia--including diseases such as Alzheimer’s--and they discovered a second and documented 'chaperone' protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when brain or other tissues are exposed to cell-level stress."
In some respects, you could almost say that stay-at-home moms are better off than the work-outside-the-home moms, but (1) worker bees are not moms, and (2) both are working. The queen lays the eggs, as many as 2000 eggs a day during peak season. The worker bees are females, but their ovaries are tiny and normally non-functional, says Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
Still, we can imagine that this fascinating bee science research could lead to another tool to investigate dementia in elderly humans.
Jumping spiders have to eat, but do they have to snag the bees?
Last weekend as we were checking the lavender patch in our yard, we noticed something partially hidden--and moving--on a post.
It was a jumping spider eating a honey bee. Later in the afternoon, the same jumping spider snared a sweat bee.
If you have flower patches in your yard--and you should, to attract the pollinators--you will also attract the predators.
Fortunately, they don't eat as much as Joey "Jaws" Chestnut of San Jose, the hot-dog eating champion of the world.
It boasts striking colors, but you don't want this bug anywhere near your garden.
This is a harlequin bug, Murgantia histronica, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
What it does is suck the juices out of your cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi, radish and other crucifers. You might also find it on your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, okra, beans, asparagus and beets. And on fruit trees, fruit crops and weeds, plant scientists say.
We saw scores of these harlequin bugs last weekend in a weed patch bordering the Benicia Marina.
They belong to the stink bug family (Pentatomidae) and like the sting bugs, these harlequin bugs could be coming to a garden near you.
Today's the Fourth of July and folks are splashing in their pools.
So, what happens when a bee falls in?
Sometimes they get lucky--if there's a human around to rescue them. And sometimes their luck extends to a floating leaf.
This tiny female sweat bee, genus Halictus (probably H. tripartitus, as identified by native polinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, fell into our pool and then managed to save herself by climbing onto a cherry laurel leaf.
If you look closely, you'll see another sweat bee, an even smaller one, trying to climb onboard, too.
The scenario ended well. The bee coasting along the leaf dried her wings and then flew off.
Luck be a lady...