It's worth the wait.
The two towers of jewels (Echium wildpretti) are blooming in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
The plant is a biennual and it blooms the second year and that's it. Plant specialists call this a monocarpic (dies after flowering).
There's no better place for the towers of jewels to "bee" than next to the six million or so bees at the Laidlaw facility.
The garden is open from dawn to dusk (no charge) year around. It's located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
If you go, bring your camera!
It's spectacular. It's awe-inspiring. It's a work of art.
And it's home to a feral honey bee colony in Vacaville.
A Vacaville resident contacted us awhile back about a feral honey bee hive built 30 feet off the ground in a Modesto ash tree.
The bees anchored the comb among the limbs so well that it survived the winter storms of 2010-11. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet...nor colony collapse disorder...
It's still viable. Bees forage in the gardens, tend to their brood, and make honey.
Noted apiculturist Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and author of a newly published book, "Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees," estimated that the feral bees probably built it in the spring of 2010. Leaves hid it from public view until winter.
Bee folks at UC Davis speculated that the heavy rains and severe winds would topple it. Not so. It's still going strong.
Some cities, including Vacaville, have ordinances prohibiting bee swarms or feral bee colonies. If bees build it, the homeowner/tenant must remove it. (6.24.130 Wild swarms of bees. "No person shall keep, maintain, or allow to remain on any property, lot or parcel of land under his or her ownership or control any wild swarms of bees.")
It's easy to see why a city would pass such an ordinance--especially in areas with Africanized bees, which are more defensive than the European/western honey bee.
With this colony in Vacaville, however, the bees are minding their own business and the neighbors don't mind at all. (Note: the homeowner is pursuing removal, but wants to save the bees.)
Meanwhile, it's a colony to bee-hold.
There's something about maggots that non-forensic entomologists don't like.
"Those are the larvae of a fly," a mother told her inquiring daughter last Saturday at the Maggot Art table at Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus. The occasion: the 97th annual UC Davis Picnic Day.
Maggot Art? It's been part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology's featured Picnic-Day attractions since 2003.
It started with graduate student Rebecca O'Flaherty, who coined the name, "Maggot Art," and established it as an educational curriculum. She's taught youths and adults alike to dip a maggot in non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl (or guide its movements) on white paper. Voila! Maggot Art!
“The beauty of the Maggot Art program,” O'Flaherty told us a few years ago, “is its ability to give hands-on, non-threatening experience with an insect that most people fear or loathe.”
So last Saturday, scores of children crowded around the table awaiting their turns. Once finished, they literally danced away with their masterpieces.
Can't you just see the result? A favorite aunt or uncle comes to visit and there's a colorful "painting" on the refrigerator.
That's definitely a conversation piece.
Anyway, one of the Maggot Art artists at UC Davis Picnic Day was entomologist-artist Diane Ullman, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Ullman and colleague Donna Billick co-founded and co-direct the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program and on occasion invited O'Flaherty into their classrooms to teach Maggot Art.
Last Saturday, when Ullman volunteered to staff the Maggot Art table, she found a little time to create her own insect art--again.
"It's just like old times," she said.
If you visit the Jepson Prairie Reserve near Vacaville-Dixon in Solano County, keep your eyes out for Andrena (mining) bees on the meadowfoam (Limnanthes).
We were out there Monday morning and saw a mining bee nestled inside a white flower cup. The bee, about the size of a grain of rice, wasn't moving.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and a noted expert on "Vernal Pool Flowers and their Specialist Pollinators," identified the bee below as a male Andrena (mining bee) and "most certainly Andrena pulvera, the species whose females specialize on Limnanthes as their pollen source."
The males have no burrows. "They spend the night inside the meadowfoam flower cups so they are frequently encountered as 'sleeping' inside them early in the morning. As soon as the sun warms them up, they go about their business searching for meadowfoam patches for females."
A short distance away, we spotted another Andrena doing the same thing.
Life is good.
It's not just high temperatures that play a significant role in the transmission of dengue, a deadly mosquito-borne disease that strikes millions of people in tropical and subtropical countries.
The size and pattern of fluctuations in daily temperature have a large effect on pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes, according to groundbreaking research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research, led by French, Thailand and U.S. scientists and conceived by medical entomologist Thomas Scott (right) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, targets the transmission of spread of dengue.
Lead author Louis Lambrechts (left) of the Institut Pasteur, France, who did postdoctoral research in the Scott lab, points out that the influence of average temperatures on dengue virus transmission has long been known–the higher the temperature, the more efficient the virus transmission—but this is the first study linking temperature fluctuations to the transmission of the disease.
Dengue, transmitted by the daybiting Aedes aegypti mosquito, globally infects 50 to 100 million people yearly. At risk are some 2.5 to 3 billion people, primarily in tropical and sub-tropical countries. The most severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), strikes half a million a year and kills an estimated 5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scott said the study helps to explain a long-standing enigma: “What are the underlying causes of seasonal fluctuations in dengue incidence?” Experiments showed that mosquitoes die faster and are less susceptible to virus infection under large temperature swings, which is typical of the low dengue season, than under moderate temperature variation, which is typical of the high dengue season.
Scott, a noted dengue expert whose goal is to save lives through research, surveillance and implementation of disease prevention strategies, has a longstanding interest in the factors that drive seasonal and annual fluctuations in diseases caused by mosquito-transmitted pathogens. “Traditional explanations for the seasonal increase in dengue are not consistent with my experience in Thailand, Peru, and Puerto Rico,” Scott said.