Last summer we watched European wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) dart in and out of the catmint and salvia in our bee friendly garden.
The males are very territorial, so they'd chase away honey bees, bumble bees, hover flies and other insects from THEIR flowers. Yes, they claimed them. Here I thought the flowers belonged to our family--silly me. The male wool carder bees took possession.
From dawn to dusk, the males would patrol the flower bed. They'd allow the female wool carder bees to drop by for nectar and to card the fuzz from the leaves to build their nests.
And they'd mate with them--not in mid-air as honey bees do, but on the plants.
Occasionally a male wool carder bee would bodyslam a honey bee. But she'd right herself, select another blossom, and gather more nectar--this time a little faster.
That's the way of things in the ecological world.
However, this week the wool carder bees turned into terrorists. A Sacramento area resident, interviewed on a local TV station, claimed that the wool carder bees target honey bees and are turning his flower bed and the neighborhood into blood-soaked battlefields. The male “cuts off their wings, cuts off their antenna, cuts off their heads, cuts off their torsi (tarsi) and stabs them to death.”
And all of a sudden, the story goes viral and our UC Davis entomologists are fielding a flurry of calls.
“The species (Anthidium manicatum) was first collected in Sunnyvale, Calif. in 2007 and it was well established in the Central Valley by 2008,” said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology (home of more than seven million insect specimens, including wool carder bees) and professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department Entomology.
“Males are territorial and very aggressive, attacking any insect that enters its territory that isn't a wool-carder female,” Kimsey said. “The males establish territories around flowering plants, so they will attack honey bees and any other bees coming to visit the flowers."
“The number of honey bees that wool carder bees kills is probably no different than those honey bees lost to praying mantids, phorid flies and spiders,” said honey bee expert Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Bohart Museum research entomologists Tom Zavortink and Sandy Shields (she's now at Port Townsend, Wash.) shed new light on the wool carder bee when they published their work in a 2008 edition of the Pan-Pacific Entomologist.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, also studies the wool carder bees.
“Males have been observed and recorded to occasionally maim and kill honey bees, but they are no major threat to our primary agricultural pollinator,” Thorp said. “They do not aggressively seek out honey bees to do them intentional harm. The male wool carder bee merely defends its territory from honey bees and other flying insects to keep the area free of potential competitors that might interfere with its mating opportunities. This non-native bee has co-existed with honey bees in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years.”
“A. manicatum appeared this past summer in our Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (the half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis) but I have yet to see it maim or kill a honey bee,” Thorp said. “I am certainly not planning to recommend that we move our UC Davis Apiary from the area or take extraordinary means to protect our precious honey bees because of the presence of this relative newcomer. Nor would I recommend we attempt to control or get rid of the ‘newbie.’ It is another pollinator, males visit flowers for nectar and females visit for pollen and nectar.”
Meanwhile, some folks are calling the wool carder bees "killer bees" and blaming them general mayhem and even colony collapse disorder.
The story went viral and it might take some doing to correct the misinformation.
“The story is being gobbled up by the general public due to all the media hype,” Thorp said. “I just had a UPS delivery guy ask me about “this new bee that is destroying our honey bees.”
Entomologist/integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, will discuss the identification and biology of the light brown apple
moth (LBAM) at the next meeting of the Northern
See the LBAM photos provided by David Williams, principal scientist, Perennial Horticulture, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia. The male is at the upper right and the female, lower right.
Zalom will highlight two studies that he and his lab conducted on commercial caneberry and strawberry fields in 2009 and 2010 to “evaluate the efficacy of ground-applied mating disruption products for LBAM management.”
The meeting begins at 9:15 a.m. with registration and coffee in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Plant Diagnostic Lab, 3288 Meadowview Road, Sacramento.
Zalom, who will speak at 9:45 a.m., is the first in a line-up of five speakers.
Zalom, who directed the UC Statewide IPM Program for 16 years, is a newly elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “distinguished scholarly, educational and administrative contributions that have significantly advanced the science and application of integrated pest management in agriculture nationally and internationally.” He is also a fellow of the Entomological Society of America and the California Academy of Sciences.
Zalom focuses his research on California specialty crops, including tree crops (almonds, olives, prunes, peaches), small fruits (grapes, strawberries, caneberries), and fruiting vegetables (tomatoes), as well as international IPM programs.
The NorCal Society agenda also includes:
10:30 a.m. “Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies) of Argentina,” Natalia von Ellenrieder, associate insect biosystematist, Plant Pest Diagnostics, CDFA
11:15 a.m.: “Using New Biologically Produced Pesticides in Crop Pest Management,” Christopher Strutz, Crop Production Services, Sacramento
12 Noon: Lunch
1:15 p.m.: “Recent Developments in Controlling Olive Psylla, Euphyllura olivina (Costa),” Charles Pickett, Environmental Research Scientist, Biological Control, CDFA.
2 p.m.: “Impacts of Scale Insects on Humanity,” Gillian Watson, Senior Insect Biosystematist, Plant Pest Diagnostics, CDFA.
The Northern California Entomology Society is comprised of university faculty, researchers, pest abatement professionals, students and other interested persons. Newly elected president of the society is Leann Horning, an ag technician with the CDFA Biocontrol Program since 1990.
Luncheon reservations ($15 for a chicken meal from Poco Lollo) should be made by Feb. 1 with secretary-treasurer Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. Mussen may be reached at ecmussen@ucdavis or (530) 752-0472.
The entomology group meets the first Thursday in February at the CDFA complex, Sacramento; the first Thursday in May at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility; UC Davis; and the first Thursday in November at the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District office, Concord. Membership dues are $10 per year.
Hear the buzz in the California almond orchards?
It's almost pollination time.
The season usually begins around Feb. 1. This year California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and each acre requires two bee colonies to pollinate.
That's 1.2 million colonies needed to pollinate the almonds, according to honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Since California doesn't have that many colonies--the number is around 500,000--the remainder must come from beekeepers outside the state.
Christine Souza of Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California agriculture, wrote in the Jan. 19th edition that pollinating the state's $3.2 billion crop is not without problems: thieves steal bee hives. Beekeeper Brian Long, Madera County, reported losing 400 colonies last month, a total loss of $120,000, Souza said.
To thwart thieves, beekeepers brand their names and phone numbers on their boxes. (We know a beekeeper who also brands his driver's license.)
It's a good idea to store hives behind enclosed and locked gates, the Ag Alert article noted, and "to give nearby property owners descriptions of your vehicles so that they can report any suspicious activity or vehicles."
Perhaps those Hollywood producers looking for story ideas could take what's happening in the bee yards and film another version of "The Sting."
Honey bee expert Eric Mussen of UC Davis offers some good advice in a piece that he and commercial beekeeper Gene Brandi of Los Banos wrote in the current edition of CAPCA Advisor, published by the California Assoiciaton of Pest Control Advisors.
Mussen, an Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, and Brandi, a long-time beekeeping legislative advocate, emphasized these two points:
1. The best way to protect honey bees from damage by pesticides is to keep them from being exposed.
2. To prevent negative effects of pesticides of all types, do not apply them to blooming plants upon which the bees are foraging.
Pesticides can have "negative effects on queens, drones, developing brood and bee behavior that eventually result in weakened or dead colonies," they wrote.
Honey bees can die from injesting pesticides on plants and in contaminated water. Or they can be accidentally sprayed, such as when they cluster on beehives on hot evenings and are "hit by applications from directly overhead or by pesticide drift."
Bees carry pesticide residue back to the hive. "All types of pesticides contain some products that are toxic to developing honey bee brood," they wrote.
"It would be nice to think that we know all about the effects of pesticides on adults and immature honey bees, but that just is not the case."
What we do know is that honey bees pollinate about a third of the agricultural crops produced in the United States and the bee population is decreasing.
As a child, Angela Smilanich never harbored a “fascination or obsession for insects.”
That came later.
“My love for insects actually came later in life after visiting a lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, where I was given my first project as a young scientist,” said Smilanich, a biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno who will speak on "Self-Medication vs. Self-Toxicity in Generalist and Specialist Herbivores” from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26 in 1022 Life Sciences Addition, University of California, Davis.
“In a tropical rainforest, the diversity of insects literally smacks you in the face, and one cannot come away from this experience without awe and respect for nature. And I was no exception.”
Since then, she has dedicated her career to studying the intricate interactions between insects and their environment, mostly plants. “The research has never ceased to amaze or challenge me, and I cannot think of a life more fulfilling than discovering science and sharing it with others.”
Smilanich, who received her doctorate in ecology and evolution from Tulane University, New Orleans, in 2008. is now an adjunct faculty member in biology at University of Nevada, Reno, and an affiliate associate research faculty at the Desert Research Institute, Reno.
Her talk is part of the weekly seminars held every Wednesday noon through March 9 by the UC Davis Department of Entomology. It will be webcast live at http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/ucsn1/ and then archived on the department website.
“Specialist and generalist caterpillars are different in many aspects,” Smilanich says. “My research highlights these differences in a tritrophic context by focusing on plant chemistry and natural enemies. For example, quite often, specialist caterpillars are physiologically constrained to feed on plants with specific leaf chemistry. In addition, they have adapted to sequester plant compounds in their tissues thereby becoming toxic to predators.”
“In contrast, generalist caterpillars may encounter several different classes of plant chemistry over the course of a day. Given these differences in host plant chemistry, one question that I am interested in addressing is: What are the differences in physiological differences between specialist and generalist caterpillars?"
To answer that question, Smilanich has focused on the insect immune response, which she describes as “one of the most important defenses caterpillars have against natural enemies.”
In her UC Davis talk, she will show how host plant chemistry differentially affects a specialist caterpillar (Junonia coenia, buckeye) and a generalist caterpillar (Grammia incorrupta, woolly bear). In the case of the buckeye, she will show how ingesting and sequestering high concentrations of plant compounds negatively affects the immune response.
"With the woolly bear, there is evidence that plant compounds help the immune response; however, this question is still under investigation. “
Natural enemies, Smilanich says, may be influencing the evolution of the insect immune response.