When the Onward California tour rolls into Davis next week, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility will share the limelight.
First of all, the tour of 10 campuses and their adjoining communities is a campaign to draw attention and support for the University of California in these tough economic times.
Or, as Dan Dooley, UC senior vice president for External Relations, told Dateline, UC Davis: "This tour brings the University to Californians in their own communities and gives them the opportunities to engage with UC in a new and unexpected way. We hope that building understanding of how UC contributes to the daily lives of all Californians will further strengthen public appreciation and support for the mission of public higher education in the state."
So, how does the honey bee fit in?
Naia's 10 UC gelato flavors show the value of what UC delivers to California through higher education--"in agriculture and nutrition; health and brain science; astronomy, computers and energy; and sustainability and the arts," Jones wrote.
Which brings us to the flavor selected for UC Davis: "Bar Gelato Honey Bee."
The label indicates that "UC Davis' honey bee research facility is the largest and most comprehensive state-supported apiculture facility in North America and the only one in California."
So the spotlight next week is on the bee scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Laidlaw facility; the 80 research hives they maintain; and the honey bees.
And the free bar of gelato? That's one honey of a deal.
Here's where you can get yours:
Wednesday, Oct. 3: Davis Farmers' Market, Central Park, 3rd and C streets, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 4: UC Davis campus on the East Quad from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Onward California tour will share the site with the Davis Chamber of Commerce; this is the annual day that Davis businesses meet and greet the students.
On that note, if you want to know more about what UC is doing for us and how you can get involved, be sure to read Jones' article, "UC's Statewide Tour Heads to Davis--City and Campus." in Dateline and access the Onward California website.
And if you're the curious type and want to know the gelato flavor selected for each of the 10 campuses (okay, who got the chocolate and why?), you'll have to read Jones' sidebar, "A Honey of a Treat Just for UC Davis."
Oh, the life of a praying mantis...
You can hang upside down like an acrobat, shading yourself from the sun while waiting for prey and avoiding predators. You can crawl beneath dense leaves, the better to ambush, snatch and eat an unsuspecting bee. And you can mate with a fine-looking specimen like yourself and produce some more fine-looking specimens.
Life doesn't get any better than this if you're a praying mantis. (Unless, of course, you're a male mantid and the female practices sexual cannibalism. Or, if you're a newly emerged offspring and your brothers and sisters are feasting on one another and then...eyeing you.)
Finding praying mantids is not so easy. Sometimes the slightest movement in the leaves will reveal their location. Sometimes when you water a plant, they'll emerge, looking quite irritated--if mantids can look irritated. Other times they're blatantly perched on top of a blossom or lurking beneath it.
Up until recently, we'd never actually seen them mating. But there they were that warm midsummer day on Sept. 17 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven doing just that. See, the praying mantids like to hang out in the bee garden because that's where the bees are. The half-acre garden is located next to bee research hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Ah, we thought, a "lover-ly" photo to add to the educational collection of Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
So, we took a few photos, being careful not to interrupt them.
If this were a documentary being filmed about the birds 'n the bees, can't you just hear it? The Cole Porter hit, "Let's Do It," softly playing in the background:
...And that's why birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
All the while, the Cleveland or blue sage (Clevelandi salvia) stirs with life. A hummingbird, honey bees and carpenter bees drop down to investigate the blossoms and sip a little nectar. A garden spider patrols its sticky web. A scared lizard darts into the shadows.
Ants lumber by with their heavy loads. No sign of any "educated fleas," though.
The buck stops here.
Whether it's doing the fandago on the plantago, the can-can on the lantana or the waltz on the sedum, it's easy to spot.
That's because of its large eyelike circles on its wings. That's enough to scare any predator--and distinguish it from other butterflies.
On his butterfly-monitoring website, noted lepitdopterist Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that the "male buckeyes are territorial perchers, usually on bare ground. Both sexes visit a great variety of flowers, from Heliotrope and Lippia to California buckeye and rabbitbrush! They often swarm over coyotebrush (Baccharis) in autumn, especially the male plants."
Lately we've seen the buckeye on Sedum (a genus in the family Crassulaceae) and Lantana (genus in the family Verbenaceae).
If you’re interested in the butterflies of the San Francisco and Sacramento areas, be sure to check out Shapiro’s Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. Illustrated by Timothy Manolis, it's published by the University of California Press.
No doubt many of them did.
The award-winning book, published in 1969, traces the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly, from an egg to a larva (caterpillar) to a pupa (chrsyalis) to an adult.
If you've ever seen a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine, you've seen The Very Hungry Caterpillar in action.
We planted a passion flower vine two months ago in our yard. The plant hasn't yet bloomed, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) found it. Thankfully! We planted it for them.
Within what seemed like a matter of days, the passion flower vine (the host plant of the Gulf Frits), went from no caterpillars--zero, zilch, nada--to five.
We've seen the showy orange-reddish butterflies fluttering around the plant looking for places to lay their eggs, but haven't seen them actually do it.
But the evidence is there!
"As a spiny orange-and-black caterpillar, it feeds only on passion flower leaves, eating many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
The butterfly, he says, can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood.
Let there be a critical mass!
Ah, the Gulf Fritillary...
We spotted this orange-reddish butterfly nectaring lantana last Saturday near downtown Vacaville. In fact, the patch of lantana (family Verbenaceae) drew assorted butterflies, including buckeyes, alfalfa, monarchs, and painted ladies. A few honey bees and native bees tried to get their share.
Lantana and Gulf Frits. These multi-colored blossoms and the multi-colored butterfly, both found in the tropics and subtropics, are a study in brilliance.
On his website, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae) was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said.
Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
Now it appears to be thriving in some areas, at least where its adopted host plant, the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora), grows. If you have a passion flower vine in your yard, you may very well see the spiny orange-and-black caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And if you have lantana or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in your yard, don't be surprised if a few adults drop by for a sip of nectar.
No wonder that commercial companies mass-rear these exotic-looking butterflies for release at weddings, garden parties and other social events.