Watching honey bees zero in on the zinnias: Zounds!
Zinnias, known throughout the world as showy and easy-to-grow flowers, are as colorful as they are attractive to bees.
Last week we watched a honey bee head toward a zinnia, grab some nectar, buzz around the blossom, and return again and again.
The site: the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is quite attractive to people as well as to pollinators. The half-acre garden, open from dawn to dusk, is located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey bee Research Facility, west of the central UC Davis campus. Admission is free for self-guided tours. Those interested in guided tours can contact Christine Casey at email@example.com for more information. Several interns are working in the garden this summer: Danielle Wishon, Nick McMurray and Eric Xu. Wishon just received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis, and both McMurray and Wu are undergrads at UC Davis: McMurray is studying entomology, and Xu, landscape architecture.
At the haven, you'll find plants from "A" to "Z"--from almonds to zinnias, and lots in between. It's a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators and serves as an educational resource for visitors.
Want to know what's planted in the garden right now? Check out the plant list posted on the Laidlaw facility website.
Just a few of them: apples, basil, catmint, deergrass, eggplant, elderberry, fruity germander, Greek myrtle, hummingbird sage, lamb's ear, Mexican daisy, naked buckwheat, oregano, pomegranate, raspberry,Santa Barbara daisy, St. Catherine's lace, toyon, Western columbine, yarrow, and yes, zinnia!
Yes, the haven also has a Facebook presence!
Bees, butterflies and sunflowers at the California State Fair?
The state fair, which opened July 12 and ends July 28, is a good place to see a bee observation hive, honey bees on sunflowers, carpenter bees on petunias, and butterflies in the Insect Pavilion, aka Bug Barn.
If the purpose of a fair is to educate, inform and entertain, then that's what this fair does. A recent stop at the 160th annual fair provided a glimpse of what's going on in the entomological world--and what shouldn't be going on in the petunia patch.
At the California Foodstyles in the Expo Center, beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daughter, Rebekah Hough, urged folks to find the queen bee, worker bees and drones in the bee observation hive. Then the fairgoers sampled the honey.
At the Bug Barn, mounted butterflies drew "oohs" and "ahs." Just a few of the butterflies: Monarchs, Western Tiger Swallowtails, Great Purple Hairstreaks, Dusty-Winged Skippers, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, home of nearly eight million specimens, provided some of the butterflies.
Outside the Insect Pavilion, a garden thrived with tall-as-an-elephant's-eye sunflowers. Honey bees and sunflower bees buzzed among the heads--sunflower heads and fairgoers' heads.
The most disconcerting scene: teenagers screaming when they heard and saw the female Valley carpenter bees nectaring petunias. "Ick, big black bees!" said one as she quickly ran off.
"Carpenter bees," a middle-aged bystander commented dryly as she sauntered off to see the sturgeon display.
Another teenager approached the petunia patch, and she, too, bolted. "They're going to sting me!" she yelled.
It's rather sad that the first reaction on seeing bees in a flower bed is not "pollinator" or "pretty flowers" or "pink petunias" but "sting."
When did "Big Fun" become "Big Scare?"
A pond attracts dragonflies and damselflies.
Last weekend, though, we spotted a damselfly a good 65 feet away from our pond. It touched down on our passion flower vine (Passiflora). Lights, camera, action...
The enlarged photo revealed a surprise: a cluster of something reddish-orange beneath the thorax.
Now that's something you don't see every day!
"Water mites," said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. (There are also images on BugGuide.net.)
"Phoresy," said entomology graduate student Lesle Saul-Gershenz, and professor Sharon Lawler, both of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Phoresy is a symbiotic relationship in which one organism transports another organism of a different species. Bottom line: these bright red mites, from the tick family, are hitchhikers that feed on body fluids. They jump off when the host drops down over a new pond or wetland.
What's the effect of water mites on damselflies? Surely, that parasitic load of arachnid hitchhikers must be cumbersome.
Scientists Jose Andres and Adolfo Cordero of the Universidade de Vigo, Pontevedra, Spain, took a close look at parasitism in their research “Effect of Water Mites on the Damselfly, Ceriagrion tenellum,” published in a 2002 edition of Ecological Entomology.
They pointed out:
1. "Water mite parasitism is expected to have an important effect on damselfly survivorship and reproductive success, because mites drain considerable amounts of body fluids from their hosts," they wrote in their abstract. "This study tests the effect of water mite parasitism in a marked population of the damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum during 1995 (individuals marked as mature adults) and 1996 (individuals marked as tenerals)."
2. "Almost all teneral individuals were parasitized (98%) and mites were aggregated strongly on some individuals. Parasite load increased during the season."
3. "Parasites had no effect on the probability of recapture of hosts as mature adults. The average daily survival rate of lightly- and heavily-parasitized individuals, estimated with Jolly's stochastic method, did not differ significantly."
4. "In 1995 parasites had a significant effect on host mating success. The probability of mating was about 25% lower for heavily parasitized males than for lightly parasitized males. Lightly parasitized males also mated more times than heavily parasitized males, even if heavily parasitized males lived longer. In 1996, parasitism did not have an effect on male mating success. In both years mites had no effect on female lifetime mating success."
In conclusion, they found that "water mite parasitism does not reduce damselfly survivorship, but it could reduce male mating success in some circumstances. Further long-term studies are needed, especially in populations with a lower incidence of parasitism."
As for our little damselfly, it lumbered away with its distinctive load of little red hitchhikers clinging to its thorax...
Hint: It's the state insect.
"What, we have a state insect?" you ask.
Yes, and it's the California dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice).
On the monorail, it's an artistic blue and white and it seems to flutter along for the ride. (See what the Monorail Society wrote about it in 1995.) In real life, the male of the species is yellow and black, and the female, predominantly yellow.
Fran Keller, doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, and her colleague, naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a volunteer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology identified the insect on the monorail right away. Several years ago they teamed to create a California dogface butterfly poster, which graces many a classroom, office, and den. The poster is for sale in the Bohart Museum's gift shop on Crocker Lane, UC Davis, or online.
Keller went on to write a children's book, "The Story of the Dogface Butterfly," with watercolor-and-ink illustrations by Laine Bauer, a 2012 graduate of UC Davis. Kareofelas contributed photographs.
Net proceeds from the sale of the 35-page book, also available at the Bohart Museum or online, benefit the insect museum's education, outreach and research programs.
The book tells the untold story of the California dogface butterfly, and how schoolchildren became involved in convincing the State Legislature to select the colorful butterfly as the state insect.
Bauer’s illustrations depict the life cycle of this butterfly. As part of their research, Keller, Karofelas and Bauer visited a Placer County habitat of the butterfly last year.
As for the book, “There are also ecology, life cycle, taxonomy and conservation issues presented that are relevant to grades K-6 that can be used in classroom curriculum,” Keller said. In addition, the book includes information on the butterfly’s host plant, false indigo (Amorpha californica).
So, score one for the California State Fair. And score two for the Bohart Museum.
Just call it a missed opportunity.
Catmint (genus Nepeta) draws scores of insects, from honey bees to leafcutter bees to European wool carder bees.
It also draws spiders.
We usually see a cellar spider (family Pholcidae) trapping prey in its web. It inflicts a fatal bite and then wraps it for later consumption.
This cellar spider, however, crawled along a catmint stem to wait for prey. A honey bee buzzed down and began nectaring one of the lavender blossoms.
It was not aware of the predator. Just as the spider moved toward it, the bee took off.
Later we saw the cellar spider wrapping prey. A closer look revealed it was not a honey bee, a leafcutter bee or a European wool carder bee.
It was another cellar spider. Sexual cannabalism? Maybe. A very hungry cellar spider inept at catching a bee so it nailed a fellow spider instead? Perhaps.
At any rate, that was "what's for dinner."