Tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 2) marks the 125th annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa., and you know what that means.
That's when a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow and predicts the weather.
If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter. No shadow? An early spring.
What's probably going to happen: Our buddy the pudgy Punxsutawney will pop out of his burrow only to encounter a...snowstorm. A bone-chilling, teeth-chattering snowstorm.
Maybe we ought to skip the groundhog mascot altogether and determine the weather by a honey bee at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis.
If a bee--we'll call her Harriet the Honey Bee--exits her hive and forages in the cape mallow (Anisodontea hypomandarum), spring is just around the corner. If she declines to leave the hive, then it's below 50 degrees and too cold for her to fly and too early for us to think about spring anyway.
There are no groundhogs in Davis, but if you separate the two words, "ground" and "hog," we have both. We have ground squirrels burrowing around the bee facility grounds, and we have hogs in the nearby UC Davis Hog Barn. In a way, our porcine pals are "ground" hogs because pigs don't fly despite what anyone says.
For the rules...if Harriet the Honey Bee exits the hive, visits the cape mallow and rolls in the pollen, we'll have an early spring.
If Harriet the Honey Bee exits the hive and stings a ground squirrel, well, ouch! They should be more like flying squirrels. Or flying pigs, which don't exist. Weather forecast: Dismal.
If Harriet the Honey Bee exits the hive and goes hamward bound, resulting in a hog going into four-squeal drive, that's not good. We may have to forget about weather predictions for awhile.
One thing we know for sure. Ol' pudgy Punxsutawney will exit his burrow tomorrow in snowy Punxsutawney. Our streamlined Harriet the Honey Bee will exit her hive in sunny Davis.
Folks in Pennsylvania are crazy about Punxsutawney, but frankly, we're just wild about Harriet.
Nothing but net? No, no net.
We have a winner in the 40th annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition, sponsored by butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. Shapiro traditionally offers a pitcher of beer (or its equivalent) for the first cabbage white of the year collected in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento counties and delivered to the office of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, Storer Hall.
And the winner is...drum roll, please...Art Shapiro. Fact is, he's won the contest every year except for three.
And this year, he caught the prize-winner without a net.
Shapiro nabbed the first cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of 2011 at 1:21 p.m. today (Monday, Jan. 31) in Suisun City, Solano County. Last year he caught the first one on Jan. 27 in West Sacramento.
Although Suisun City is his oldest sampling site, dating back to 1972, Shapiro does not recall ever finding the first-of-the-year cabbage white there before. Precisely because of that, Shapiro traveled to Suisun at midday Monday without a net.
He saw it, a male, at 1:09 p.m. And he had no net.
“It was taking nectar from flowers of field mustard (Brassica kaber) along a 6-foot-high fence facing the sun,” Shapiro said. “I tried twice to catch it by hand but failed, and it soared over the fence into someone's back yard.”
"But I knew it wasn't as warm on the other side, and there probably wasn't anything in bloom either. So I figured I'd just wait and see if it came back. It did--and I got it on my first try."
Asked how he could catch an active butterfly by hand, Shapiro smiled and said "Experience." A few years ago he caught a very rare all-black mutant of the orange sulphur butterfly the same way.
Shapiro (see his website, http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu) sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. "I am doing long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate," he said. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, enlists public involvement "because I have that much more confidence that I am tracking the actual seasonality of this common 'bug.'"
Following his find, Shapiro said he took his disappointed grad students out for beer at The Graduate, a local pub, after work. “I usually buy the first pitcher anyway,” he said.
Shapiro has lost only three times in 40 years--and all by his graduate students. Adam Porter found the first cabbage white in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each claimed the title in the late 1990s.
Interestingly, people contact him as late as June asking if they’ve won.
“No,” he tells them. “Too late.”
Nature's suspension bridge--that's what the spider builds.
With the unseasonable warm weather and crafty spiders at work, can spring be far behind?
Spiders are already building their webs on fruit trees yet to bud and bloom. They're setting traps for the honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, hover flies and other insects sure to arrive.
Such was the case on our nectarine tree the other morning. A suspension bridge with silvery pearls of dew. Too soon. Too cold. Sorry, no insects.
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.