Bee specialists Neal Williams and Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology are among those quoted in a comprehensive news story, "Hives for Hire," published March 3 in the Los Angeles Times.
"Almond trees are exploding with pink and white blossoms across the vast Central Valley, marking the start of the growing season for California's most valuable farm export," wrote LA Times reporter Marc Lifsher in the lede.
Indeed they are.
This is a $3-billlion-a-year industry and the acreage amounts to some 750,000 acres. Approximately 2.6 million colonies from across the country are trucked into California for the almond pollination season.
"Without the honey bees...the (almond) industry doesn't exist," Williams told Lifsher. "We need those bees. We need them to be reliable, and we need them at the right time."
Williams, a pollination ecologist who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 2009, is an expert on bees, especially native bees (honey bees are not native; they were brought here in the 1600s by the European colonists).
An assistant professor of entomology, Williams heads a busy lab of graduate students and post-doctoral students. He just returned from Fukuoka, Japan, where he was one of the featured speakers at the International Symposium on Pollinator Conservation.
Also quoted in the LA Times piece was honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976.
Mussen discussed bee health with Lifsher and the collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive. Mussen regularly provides updates about bee health to national and state bee conferences and at beekeeper association meetings. Mussen writes the bimonthly from the UC apiaries and the periodic Bee Briefs, both available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
So, what's the word? Mussen tells his constituents that beekeeping is a complex issue, as is CCD, which he attributes to multiple factors, including pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
Yolo County-based beekeeper Henry Harlan of Henry's Bullfrog Bees, who maintains some 2400 hives, said it well when he told Lifsher that beekeeping is an inexact science. "If you meet a beekeeper who says he knows it all, his bees will probably be dead next year."
Indeed, it's a sinking feeling to open your hive at winter's end and find it empty.
This year's event, set Wednesday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 1031 of the Gladys Valley Hall, School of Veterinary Medicine, will include presentations on the historical, current and future efforts of malaria control, as well as updates on other vector biology research.
The UC Davis World Malaria Day is an opportunity "for students and researchers engaged in vector biology and genetics research to come together to discuss their research efforts,” said spokesperson Michelle Sanford, a postdoctoral scholar in the UC Davis Vector Genetics Lab.
The event supports World Malaria Day and the Roll Back Malaria Program in promoting education and research in the fight against malaria.
How did the UC Davis World Malaria Day observance originate? It was launched in 2007 by the (now folded) UC Mosquito Research Program, a UC Agricultue and Natural Resources program based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and directed by medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro. Lanzaro is now a professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology of the School of Veterinary Medicine.
For the last several years, the Vector Genetics Lab has funded the World Malaria Day observance through a National Institutes of Health training grant.
Lanzaro and his "blood brother" medical entomologist Anthony Cornel direct the Vector Genetics Lab research programs. They've been doing research in Africa together for years. Cornel is an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and a mosquito researcher at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier.
The target: malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by infected Anopheles mosquitoes transmitting Plasmodium parasites.
The bad news is that more than half of the world's population is at risk for malaria. According to the World Malaria Report 2011, more than 216 million cases of malaria and an estimated 655 000 deaths occurred worldwide in 2010. Children in Africa are the still most susceptible to malaria; a child dies every minute of the disease.
The good news: Due to investments in malaria control, malaria mortality rates have dropped by more than 25 percent globally since 2000. Statistics show that malaria deaths in Africa have been cut by one-third within the last decade, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The strides we're making in tackling this massive killer are reflected in this year's World Malaria Day theme: "Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria."
Sustain. Save. Invest. Well said.
The yellow-faced bumble bees are back!
And amid the throes of winter and the promise of spring.
On a trip Feb. 27 to Bodega Bay, we spotted two yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii) about two miles apart.
They were both foraging on "The Pride of Madeira" (Echium candicans) on a sunny, but wind-whipped day in this Sonoma County coastal town.
The camera lens, the strong wind and the erratic flight of the bumble bees didn't allow us to get close, but the purple spiked flowers made a delightful sight.
See more images of this bumble bee, found throughout western North America, on Bug Guide.
We've been watching the almonds budding and blossoming since late January.
They're in full bloom now, but a little ragged by the recent rain.
California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and it takes two hives per acre to pollinate them.
Since California doesn't have that many bees, beekeepers from all over the country--from Florida to South Dakota to Washington state--truck in the little agricultural workers.
We asked Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, just how many California-based hives are in the state's almond orchards. That is, how many are "residents" and how many are "migratory."
Being a honey bee guru--after all, he's been with the department since 1976--Mussen knew the answer.
"About 500,000 hives of the 2.6 million hives now pollinating California's almond orchards live here," he said.
As we checked out a spectacular almond orchard on Pitt School Road, Dixon, we stopped to ponder the numbers: 750,000 acres of almonds (and increasing yearly) and 2.6 million hives for pollination services. The bees forage within four miles from their colony, or within a 50-mile radius, Mussen says.
In the almond orchards, they don't have far to go.
California is known as the "The Golden State," but this time of year, it's never been so true. The "gold" is the pollen that the bees are transferring from blossom to blossom in the almond orchards.
Just call it a case of identity theft at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
But wait! Before you ask "Is everything okay?" and suggest contacting law enforcement immediately, not to worry. This is a different case of identity theft.
Insects! Camouflaged insects!
Take the walking stick. This insect looks so much like a twig, that you not only THINK it's a twig, you KNOW it is.
Question: Is the insect masquerading as a twig or is the twig masquerading as an insect?
You can learn about insect camouflage if you attend the Bohart Museum's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 10. The theme: "Hide 'n' Seek: Insect Camouflage." The event is free and open to the public. The site: Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on California Drive, UC Davis campus.
"We will have specimens from the collection like leafy katydids and bark-like moths and butterflies with clear wings," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum.
"There will be live walking sticks to hold and touch," Yang said. And, she said, visitors will "have a chance to make some stick insects from pipe cleaners that they can take and hide around their homes."
The walking stick (below is a Great Thin Stick Insect (Ramulus nematodes). Said Yang: "We like to call them Avatar Stick Insects, because the males are long, skinny and blue."
Staff and students will be on hand to answer questions.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, and founded in 1946 by her major professor, Richard Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of more than seven million insect specimens, the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity.
If you should miss the March open house, there are three more this academic year:
Saturday, April 21: 10 to 3 p.m., UC Davis Picnic Day
Saturday, May 12, 1 to 4 p.m., “Pre-Moth’ers Day”
Sunday, June 3, 1 to 4 p.m., “Bug Light, Bug Bright…First Bug I See Tonight.”
Regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The museum is closed on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information is available on the Bohart website or by contacting Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-0493. Due to limited space, group tours will not be booked during the weekend hours.