Gotta love those dragonflies in the family Libellulidae.
The Thunderbirds of the insect world, they perform amazing aerial maneuvers as they skim over water, catching mosquitoes, knats, flies and other undesirables on the wing.
But oh--occasionally they nail a pollinator.
A red flame skimmer (Libellula saturata) skimmed over our fish pond and pool last Saturday and picked on the pollinators. Well, at least one pollinator.
It grabbed a female sweat bee, of the genus Halictus, probably H. tripartitus (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis).
Yes, they can even identify a mangled sweat bee in the mouth of a dragonfly.
And no sweat bee.
That very word summons a smile.
A public celebration--appropriately titled “Honey!”--will take place Friday, Oct. 21 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
Save the date!
The event, sponsored by the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, will include tastings and a honey-focused lunch.
“Bees play a crucial role on our planet from pollinating to honey creation,” said Clare Hasler-Lewis, executive director of the institute, which is affiliated with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The public is invited to “come celebrate with us and enjoy lectures, tastings and displays on honey,” she said.
The event is scheduled to include the history of honey and its use across the ages; honey as a food incorporating honey in your diet; and honey for health, from balancing blood sugar to wound healing.
Among the UC Davis speakers:
--Liz Applegate of the UC Davis Department of Nutrition faculty. A national expert on nutrition and fitness, she will discuss the health benefits of honey.
--Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. Johnson, who specializes in the behavior, genetics and evolution of honey bees, as well as apiculture, will explore the history of honey use across the ages.
--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. A nationally known expert on honey bees and honey, he will lead a honey tasting.
As plans progress, additional information will be posted on the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science website, Facebook and on Twitter.
Ah, sweet October!
Honey bees are still in trouble.
University of California scientists hammered home that point tonight during the PBS NewsHour program on the colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the declining bee population.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology told Spencer Michels of the PBS NewsHOur that "We really don't seem to have accomplished a whole lot (since CCD surfaced five years ago), because we're still losing, on an average, approximately 30 percent or more of our colonies each year. And that's higher than -- than it used to be. Only 25 percent of the beekeepers seem to have this CCD problem over and over and over. The other 75 percent have their fingers crossed and say, 'I don't know what this is, but it's not happening to me.'"
CCD is indeed frustrating, agreed Mussen, beekeeper-researcher Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, and UC San Francisco researchers Joseph DeRisi, Michelle Flenniken and Charles Runkel.
Flenniken, a postdoctoral fellow in the Raul Andino lab at UCSF and the recipient of the Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellowship in Honey Bee Biology at UC Davis, was among the team of scientists who recently discovered four new bee viruses, a discovery that may help unlock the secrets of why the bee population is declining.
The team found the new viruses while examining viruses and microbes in healthy commercially managed honey bee colonies over a 10-month period.
"Honey bee colonies, kind of like human populations, are exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens throughout the whole -- the entire course of the year," Flenniken told Michels. "So what this study provides us is a normal, healthy colony baseline of the ebb and flow of the microbes associated with that colony throughout the course of the year."
Oliver, who maintains 1000 hives and who has dealt with CCD, pointed out that CCD is resulting in "new science, new interest and new researchers" studying the mysterious malady.
As scientists delve in the mysteries of what's ailing the bees, they're bound to learn what's causing it. Meanwhile, it's good to see a national news program exploring this topic.
(Read PBS NewsHour transcript. Read more about the declining bee population on Spencer Michels' blog.)
Be careful when you're harvesting an artichoke.
You might find a European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) hunting for a little protein, such as ants, flies and tiny bees to carry back to its nest.
Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University writes in one of his fact sheets that "European paper wasps rear their young on live insects. They do not produce nuisance problems around outdoor dining that characterize scavenging species, such as the western yellowjacket. European paper wasps will sometimes feed on sweet materials, including honeydew produced by aphids. On rare occasions, they also may feed and damage ripe fruit."
Don't consider the European paper wasp a pest. "European paper wasps have become one of the most important natural controls of many kinds of yard and garden insects," Cranshaw writes. "Most commonly they feed on caterpillars, including the larvae of hornworms, cabbageworms, and tent caterpillars. Sawfly larvae are also commonly taken prey."
As its name implies, it's a native of Europe. Says Cranshaw: 'The European paper wasp is the common paper wasp of Europe. It was first found in North America in the 1970s in the Boston area. Since then it has spread rapidly to much of the northern half of the United States and British Columbia."
Volunteers at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, recently spotted a paper wasp nest on a lush growth of grey musk sage.
As the paper wasps tended and guarded their nest, honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees gathered nectar.
The bees: vegetarians. The wasps: carnivores.
That's how many tenants are occupying our wooden bee block, aka "bee condo."
It's "home, sweet home" for leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.).
Daily we see these native bees tear holes in leaves (red bud, rose, catmint, gold coin, rock purslane and nectarine) and gather the fragments to line their nests.
Folks who grow prize-winning roses--the kind that win blue ribbons at county fairs and rose shows--aren't fond of these little critters, but we are.
Especially when we see two leafcutters at the bee condo at the same time...