Remember when Chicken Little ran around yelling "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
For almond growers, beekeepers, entomologists, researchers and artists, it's "The almonds are blooming! The almonds are blooming!"
Finally, the almond trees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis burst into bloom today. They still have a long way to go for a full bloom--but this is a start.
These are Sue's bees.
That would be bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey with her line of New World Carniolians.
Her nectar-sipping, pollen-packin' bees are back in action after the winter doldrums, which are turning into spring frenzies.
Soon: the big spring buildup in the colonies.
But for now, "The almonds are blooming! The almonds are blooming!"
Oh, hap-bee day!
Didn't you just love that commercial for the Volkswagen Beetle during the Super Bowl?
While the Green Bay Packers were beetle-ing up the Pittsburg Steelers, 31-25, Volkswagen brought out its delightful Super Bug commercial.
It starred a black beetle with racing stripes.
The scene: As the rock band Ram Jam plays "Black Betty," Mr. Black Beetle races through the jungle, powering his way around assorted centipedes, caterpillars, dragonflies and praying mantids before morphing into a Volkswagen Beetle.
Beetles, centipedes, caterpillars, dragonflies and praying mantids? We see their counterparts on the freeway every day, don't we?
Which got us to thinking--why not name more vehicles after insects? We could have Death's Head Cockroach, the Flame Skimmer, Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach ("Hisser" for short), Devil's Coach Horse, Diabolical Ironclad Beetle, Cicada Killer and the Zodiac Moth.
And the Doodlebug, Damselfly, Dragonfly and...the Honey Bee...
But wait! A car manufacturer, Datsun, produced the Honey Bee from 1973-1978 during the gas shortage. Dodge also got into the act with a Rumble Bee and a Super Bee.
Sadly, Datsun's Honey Bee crested a hill and disappeared.
Let's hope that the nectar-sipping, pollen-packing honey bee doesn't do the same thing.
"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck," or so the saying goes.
But if it looks like a honey bee, moves around on blossoms like a honey bee, and feeds on nectar and pollen like a honey bee, it may not be a honey bee.
It could be a flower fly or syrphid in the Syrphidae family.
The syrphids suffer from multiple cases of mistaken identity.
One of the syprhids commonly mistaken for a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the drone fly (Eristalis tenax).
We spotted a drone fly--the first we've seen this year--on Feb. 5 in Tomales, Marin County. It was nectaring a pincushion flower (Seabiosa columbaria) at the Mostly Natives Nursery.
"There's a bee!" someone exclaimed.
It wasn't. It was a drone fly.
In its larval stage, it's known as a rat-tailed maggot. You'll see it in stagnant water, such as in ditches, ponds and drains. It feeds on stagnant rotting organic material.
In its adult stage, it moves from flower to flower, sipping nectar and pollinating flowers. Watch it hover and you know it's not a honey bee. Look at its two wings, and you know it's not a honey bee (the honey bee has four).
Lots of other differences, too.
It's a good pollinator, but a honey bee, it is not.
Mellow yellow! The butterflies are back!
We spotted a bright yellow butterfly nectaring a bush germander on Feb. 7 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis.
He said it "counts as the first Valley record in 2011."
The orange sulphur butterfly, also known as "the alfalfa butterfly," often reaches "very high densities in alfalfa fields in midsummer to autumn," Shapiro says. When the alfalfa is cut, it "may emigrate en masse, even flooding into cities. This is also our most variable butterfly, seasonally and individually."
Its presence on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, probably had something to do with the unseasonable warm weather--or that enticing-- oh, so enticing--bee friendly garden.
It's friendly to other pollinators, too!
Like orange sulphur butterflies...
Shapiro's the professor who sponsors the "beer for butterfly" competition; for 40 years he has issued a call for the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento. (He usually wins; he collected the first one of 2011 in Suisun City, Solano County, on Jan. 31.)
Perhaps Professor Shapiro should sponsor a "wine for a butterfly" contest: the first orange sulphur butterfly of the year photographed in the garden receives a....drum roll...bottle of wine. Or, maybe the first to find a yellow-faced bumble bee in the haven could receive...ahem...a jar of honey. And Kool-Aid for the first cuckoo bee!
No matter, it's a treat to find such a glorious butterfly--and so early in the year.
When Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology asked California beekeepers for photos of their bee trucks moving out at night to the almond orchards, his call did not go unanswered.
Bob Miller of Miller's Honeybees in Watsonville provided a series of photos.
But let's let him tell the story:
"These photos were taken February 2005. They (bees) had been doing very well and it was a warm evening. We had loaded these colonies near Monterey Bay, and were moving them to Braden Ranch almonds near Snelling.
"This load contained about 135 colonies, and had been given additional supers for honey production about 10 days prior and had pretty much filled them. This is usually not a normal happening at this time of the year. The bees, being warm and on a honey flow, needed to have some breathing room, so out they came. We unloaded them that evening after a three-hour trip. They had not cooled down at all."
Amazing photos. We're glad Bob Miller picked up his camera before heading out; his photos help tell the bee-almond pollination story.
This year's California almond crop is valued at $3.2 billion. NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture) forecasts 1.65 billion pounds this year, up 8.5 percent above last year's revised production of 1.41 billion.
However, this may be overstated by 50 million pounds, according to industry consensus.
Mark Jansen, president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers, writes in the current edition of Almond Facts, that a predominantly wet harvest could "reduce the saleable product by another 20 to 50 million pounds, bringing the likely crop size to between 1.55 and 1.6 million pounds."
And, he writes, "With a consumption growth rate of 8 percent, our industry will need a 2011 crop of more than 1.75 billion pounds to sustain its current growth. As most regions in the world consume more almonds, and with developing nations desiring more protein in their diet plants, almonds are a perfect fit."
California currently has 750,000 acres of almonds in production, with each acre requiring two bee colonies. That's 1.2 million colonies needed to pollinate the almonds, according to honey bee guru Eric Mussen. Since California doesn't have that many colonies--the number is around 500,000--the remainder must come from beekeepers outside the state.
Early varieties of almonds are already blooming, but generally, Feb. 14--Valentine's Day--launches the pollination season for the commercial growers.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, my favorite almond tree--yes, everybody ought to have a favorite almond tree--is just about to burst into bloom.
The Laidlaw bees and other pollinators are currently foraging in the cape mallow, bush germander, roses and seaside daisies in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.
But they're checking out those almonds.
As are we all.