If you want to take photos of honey bees in flight, do so early in the morning. They don't move as fast and the lighting is to die for.
This morning we stepped out in our yard, steaming coffee in hand, and watched the honey bees foraging among the lavender blossoms. Against the backdrop of red pomegranate blossoms and spring green leaves, they crawled up and down the lavender and then took off for the next blossom.
So smoothly. So effortlessly. So tirelessly.
You don't always have to stop the action with a flash. We took this with a Nikon D700 with a 105mm macro lens. No flash. We set the aperture (f-stop) at 8, the shutter speed at 1/800th of a second, and the ISO at 800.
The blurring of the wings added to the feeling of speed.
Indeed, the honey bees seem a little more frantic now as they rush to bring back nectar, pollen, propolis and water to the hive. With the queen bee laying about 2000 eggs a day now, everyone has to pitch in.
Just call this "The Lavender Blossom Special."
Remember the news published several years ago about a scientist who discovered a two-inch-long bat with a tongue longer than its body, so long that it had to tuck it into its rib cage?
Nathan Muchhala, who discovered the pollinator (yes, bats are pollinators!) in the Ecuadorian Andes, drew worldwide attention when he described Anoura fistulata in a 2005 paper. His work later appeared in the journal Nature (2006). Then The New York Times featured his discovery, headlining the piece with "For an Andean Nectar Feeder, a Tongue that Wags the Bat."
New York Times reporter Henry Fountain cleverly wrote: "Imagine your tongue was nine feet long."
"That's about how long it would be if you were a certain kind of nectar-feeding bat."
Fast forward to today. Muchhala, now a postdoctoral scholar in the Stacey Smith lab in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, will be visiting UC Davis next week to present a seminar.
Muchhala will speak on “Bats, Birds, and Bellflowers: The Evolution of Specialized Pollination in the Neotropics” at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 30 in 122 Briggs.
Muchhala says that the two-inch long bat, Anoura fistulata, found in the Equadorian Andes, can extend its tongue 3.3 inches. Proportionately, this bat's tongue is longer than any other mammal in the world. It is so long that it stores its tongue in its rib cage.
The bat nectars Centropogon nigricans, which has a corolla the same length as the bat's tongue. This flowering plant is found in Mexico and much of South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru.
Scientists believe that the bat and the plant evolved together, or why else would there be such a perfect match?
But have you ever wondered which hosts Culex mosquitoes prefer?
Tara Thiemann, postdoctoral scholar in the William Reisen lab at UC Davis, will discuss host favorites when she speaks on "Survey of Culex Bloodfeeding Patterns in California" at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar, set from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 23 in 122 Briggs.
As a postdoctoral researcher, Thiemann works with Reisen, a noted medical entomologist, on studies investigating novel assays to identify current and emerging arboviruses in California.
"Culex tarsalis and members of the Culex pipiens complex are the primary vectors of WNV in California," Thiemann notes in her abstract. "Both mosquito species feed on a variety of avian hosts, as well as disease-susceptible mammals, such as horses and humans, so determining the bloodfeeding patterns of these mosquitoes is a critical component in understanding the transmission dynamics of WNV throughout the state."
The research project involved identifying bloodmeals from more than 2500 mosquitoes, and identifying hosts, including avian, mammalian and reptilian.
Thiemann, who received her doctorate in entomology in 2011 from UC Davis (dissertation: “Bloodfeeding Patterns of Culex tarsalis and the Culex pipiens complex in California”) says her research shows that variation in bloodfeeding patterns "primarily resulted from differences in host availability and abundance."
Several species, including the house sparrow, house finch, mourning dove, and domestic dog, proved frequent hosts throughout the state, Thiemann points out, "and highly competent corvids, Western scrub-jay, yellow-billed magpie, and American crow, were fed upon more frequently than in previous studies."
If you miss her talk, not to worry. The UC Davis Department of Entomology plans to record it and it will be posted in about two weeks on UCTV.
Sometimes you get lucky.
While watching floral visitors foraging last week in our rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), we noticed a tiny black bee, something we'd never seen before.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, identified it as a female leafcutting bee, Megachile gemula, "which has an all-black form."
It's a rather uncommon bee, but a distinctive bee, said Thorp, who is one of the instructors of The Bee Course, offered every year in the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. Participants come worldwide to learn about bees.
Megachile gemula is native to the United States. The females snip round holes in leaves and line their nests with the material. From egg to larva to pupa, a new generation emerges from the sealed nest.
Meanwhile, if you want to go on a walking tour with Thorp, mark your calendar for Friday, June 22. Thorp will lead a Tahoe National Forest Service tour of native plants and pollinators in the Loney Meadow, near Nevada City, Nevada County. The tour, free and open to the public, will take place from 10 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m.
The walk is provided as part of the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region’s 2012 Pollinator Special Emphasis Area "which has been developed to call attention to the importance of butterflies and native bees in providing important services for food production and ecosystem health," said Kathy Van Zuuk, Yuba River Ranger District botanist and forest level non-native invasive plant coordinator.
And what bees might tour participants encounter? Probably bumble bees, mining bees, digger bees, leafcutting bees, mason bees and cuckoo bees, Thorp said. Other floral-visitors are expected to include flies, butterflies, and beetles, he said. Van Zuuk and fellow botanist Karen Wiese will identify the native plants.
Those interested should meet at 10 a.m. at the Sierra Discovery Trail parking lot located off Highway 20 to carpool to Loney Meadow (where parking is limited). Participants of all ages should bring water, snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen and wear suitable footwear. (No dogs, please.)
Further information is available by contacting Van Zuuk at (530) 478-6243 or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Decades after he passed, a cousin gave me a set of his books from his childhood home. One was "The Early Poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes," published in 1899 by T. Y. Crowell and Company.
In it is a poem, "To an Insect," and it's about katydids.
"I love to hear thine earnest voice,
Wherever thou art hid
Thou testy little dogmatist
Thou pretty Katydid!
Thou mindest me of gentlefolks,
Old gentle folks are they,
Thon say'st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way."
Holmes (1809-1894), a physician, poet and professor, goes on to describe the sounds of a katydid as "thy piercing notes, so petulant and shrill" and asks "Oh, tell me where did Katy live and what did Katy do?"
Katydids, like grasshoppers and crickets, belong to the order Orthoptera. The katydid family, Teggigonildae, includes more than 6400 species. They're found throughout the world, with the greatest diversity in the tropics. They live where their host plants are.
Last weekend we saw long filamentous antennae poking from behind the red salvia in our yard. Upon closer inspection, it belong to a...drum roll...katydid.
The katydid is no friend of the farmer; it can wreak havoc in agricultural crops. Still, there's something about a katydid that makes you stop and ask "Katydid or Katy didn't?"
Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes pondered "What did Katy do?"