However, there may be sad ending...more about that later.
Members and their guests will gather Nov. 7 at 9:15 a.m. at their meeting site, the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District conference room, 155 Mason Circle, Concord. for coffee and registration.
Then, at 9:30 a.m., Saul-Gershenz will discuss “Meloid Parasites of Solitary Bees." A graduate student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a co-founder of SaveNature.Org, Saul-Gershenz researches a solitary ground-nesting bee, Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, found in the Mojave National Preserve.
She is the lead author of “Blister Beetle Nest Parasites Cooperate to Mimic the Sex Pheromone of the Solitary Bee Habropoda pallida (Hymenoptera: Apidae)," co-authored by professor Jocelyn G. Millar and staff research associate J. Steven McElfresh, both of UC Riverside. The Mojave National Preserve Science News published the peer-reviewed research in its April 2012 edition.
"The solitary bee is the first native bee to emerge in the spring on the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve," said Saul-Gershenz. “The adult beetles emerge on the dunes in the winter months at Kelso Dunes and feed exclusively on the leaves of Astragalus lentiginosus, which leafs out in January."
The bee's emergence is generally synchronized with the onset of blooms of the Borrego milkvetch, which is the sole host plant of adults of the blister beetle at Kelso Dunes.
The UC Davis ecologist said the larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical cue or a pheromone similar to that of a female solitary bee to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
The work of Saul-Gershenz, Millar and McElfresh appears in a newly published academic book, Sensory Ecology, Behaviour, and Evolution (Oxford University Press) by Martin Stevens. Another book, pending publication in December, also will contain their work: the second edition of Pheromones and Animal Behaviour (Cambridge University) by Tristram Wyatt.
Previously, three other books summarized their research:
Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by Laurence Packer and published in 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd.
Cuticular Hydrocarbons: Biology, Biochemistry and Chemical Ecology by editors A. Bagnères-Urbany and G. Bloomquist and published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press.
The Other Insect Societies by James T. Costa, and published in 2006 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Now, back to what may be a sad ending.
Following Saul-Gershenz' one-hour talk, the Nor Cal Entomology Society members will discuss the future of the organization, founded in 1930. Then it was known as the Northern California Entomology Club. Membership continues to be open to all interested persons, with dues at $10 a year. Currently the society meets three times a year: in Sacramento, at UC Davis, and in Concord.
Nor Cal Entomology president Robert Dowell of the California Department of Food and Agriculture will moderate the disussion.
“We have reached a critical juncture in the existence of the organization,” secretary-treasurer Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wrote to the members in an email. “At its beginning, the society served as the meeting place for entomologists mostly from UC Berkeley and UC Davis, as well as other members who appreciated their lively discussions of research and pest control. Representatives from industry and regulatory establishments also participated. A revolving system of society chairs was instituted and membership was good.”
“Over time, the climate has changed. UC Berkeley no longer has an entomology department or hardly any entomologists anymore,” said Mussen, who will retire from UC Davis in June 2014.
Those planning to attend to hear the talk and discuss the future of the organization should contact Mussen at email@example.com or telephone him at (530) 753-0472 by Nov. 1. And oh, yes, there's a luncheon to be served by Kinder's Meats. Mussen is taking reservations (and payment) for that, too.
UC ANR Vice-President Barbara Allen-Diaz promises to wear bees—honey bees—if she can raise $2500 by Thursday, Oct. 31 for the UC Promise for Education, a fundraising project to help needy UC students. See her promise page to donate.
Veteran professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, promises to come out of retirement (he retired from bee wrangling, academic service and beekeeping) to assist with the project.
If all goes well—that is, if Allen-Diaz can raise $2500 by Oct. 31--this bee stunt will take place next spring at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus.
However, if she raises $5000, she will eat insects or insect larvae. Entomophagy!
We asked senior museum scientist and world traveler Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology if he has any insect-eating recommendations.
“Crickets,” he said. “Fresh-roasted crickets. They’re really good with a little salt.”
What about termites? “Termites don’t have that much of a taste,” Heydon said.
If Barbara Allen-Diaz needs a little practice, she can enjoy some insect-embedded lollipops available at the gift shop at the Bohart Museum, Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane. The choices are crickets, ants and scorpions. Heydon says the lollipops are especially popular as Christmas stocking stuffers. Cost? $3 each.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, has eaten butterflies, including Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae). “I’ve eaten several to see if they’re edible to me, ‘though I’m not a bird. They are (edible), but I prefer fried grasshoppers. Yum!"
And what do Cabbage Whites taste like? “Toilet paper,” Shapiro said.
“My former student Jim Fordyce--he has a background in chemical ecology--used to say that he would never work on a bug he hadn't tasted,” Shapiro related. “However, he did work on the Pipevine Swallowtail, which sequesters the two aristolochic acids, which are mutagenic, carcinogenic and can apparently cause kidney atrophy. So I hope he never swallowed it. Fortunately, it tastes awful, or so I hear--I haven't tried it. Female European Large Whites (Pieris brassicae) are somewhat unpalatable and may be the basis of a loose mimicry ring. Larvae of the Large White are gregarious, inedible and smell like spoiled corned beef and cabbage."
According to Wikipedia, more than 1000 species of insects “are known to be eaten in 80 percent of the world’s nations.” Wikpedia lists some of the most popular insects as crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, various beetle grubs (such as mealworms), the larvae of the darkling beetle, various speces of caterpillars, scorpions and tarantulas.
Barbara Allen-Diaz hasn't indicated which insect or insect larvae she will select, but oh, the choices!
But first...the bee promise!
Mother Nature isn't, either.
For several weeks, we've been rearing Gulf Fritilliary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). We purchased a butterfly habitat from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, salvaged some caterpillars from our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and watched the transformation from caterpillars to chrysalids to butterflies.
One butterfly, however, emerged last weekend with crippled wings.
You may have seen crippled butterflies, too.
A reader who lives in Rancho Cordova said she's nurtured passion flower vines (the larval host plant of the Gulf Frits) for the past seven years and has "spotted or or two butterflies a year in the yard."
"In the past two weeks we suddenly have dozens and dozens of chrsalids," she wrote, adding "I'm not sure what their odds of survival are but I have picked up about 15 off the ground who were never able to fly. I tried giving them some sugar water on a q-tip and about four regained strength and were able to fly away but the others have died."
"Do you have any tips on helping our friends?" she asked. She also wanted to know the life span of a butterfly.
We asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of entomology and evolution at UC Davis, to answer the questions.
"It's highly abnormal that any significant proportion of Gulf Frits would be unable to fly," Shapiro said."If the pupae are not disturbed they hang vertically. The butterfly pops out and hangs on the bottom of the cast pupal skin, letting gravity pull down the wings so they elongate fully. If the bug is knocked down while the wings are soft and cannot immediately climb up a vertical surface, it will end up a cripple. The pupae should never be removed from their substrate and laid horizontally in a container. That virtually guarantees crippling. If there was no disturbance and all those animals fell down spontaneously, they are infected with some microorganism that has significantly weakened them."
"Any butterfly that is unable to fly is a lost cause and there is really no reason to try to save them since they won't reproduce. If a crippled female was mated by a flying male, which is possible, she wouldn't be able to lay her normal complement of eggs on the host plant anyway."
Shapiro, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley of California and posts information on his website, says that "adult Gulf Frits, which are pretty unpalatable to predators--they have chemical defenses-- are quite long-lived. In warm weather they can live 4-6 weeks. In cold weather they can live 2-3 months, but are killed outright at 21-22F."
"For the record, butterflies have sugar receptors on their feet. When their feet contact sugar, the proboscis uncoils automatically for feeding. If it's necessary to feed a butterfly, place watered-down honey--not much--or Pepsi or Coke right out of the container--on a fairly non-absorbent surface--I use a strip of foam rubber--and, using forceps to hold the wings over the back, lower the feet to the liquid. Bingo! Allow to feed ad lib."
As for the crippled butterfly we reared, we released it in our backyard. It encountered a possible mate, which checked it out and took off.
Then we placed it on an orange zinnia where it clung tightly to the blossom. A short life, true, but at least a taste of nectar and a little sunshine.
Mother Nature isn't perfect, and neither are we.
Poet Gertrude Stein, who coined "A rose is a rose is a rose," probably would have liked it.
Julia Child, maybe not.
We purchased a "Sparkle and Shine" yellow rose, related to the Julia Child Rose, last May at the rose sale sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, University of California, Davis. It's drawing quite a bit of attention from insects in our yard.
And not just from honey bees, earwigs and spottted cucumber beetles.
We recently spotted this drone fly (Eristalis tenax) foraging among the blossoms. Startled by the camera movement, it kept flying off, only to return within seconds.
At first glance, non-entomologists would probably identify it as a honey bee. It's a floral visitor, right?
Right. But not all floral visitors are flies, and not all pollination involves bees.
Wikipedia says that in its natural habitat, the drone fly "is more of a curiosity than a problem, and the adults are benficial pollinators."
It's the larva, the red-tailed maggot, that makes some people shudder. The larvae, as Wikipedia says, live "in drainage ditches, pools around manure piles, sewage, and similar places containing water badly polluted with organic matter."
So from a pool around a manure pile to a beautiful Sparkle and Shine yellow rose. Who would have thought?
Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
The Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) seems to be making a comeback of sorts in some parts of the West.
Reporter Michelle Nijhuis, in an Oct. 14th article in High Country News, wrote that this species was "once among the most common bumble bees in the Western United States (and Western Canada)." The population crashed in the 1990s and "all but disappeared from about a quarter of its historic range." Now, she says, it's recently been spotted in parts of Washington and Oregon.
Someone saw six species of the Western bumble bee pollinating blackberries just north of a Seattle.
That's good news indeed.
We remember last year when native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, was searching for the critically imperiled Franklin's bumble bee in its tiny range in northern California and southern Oregon, when a sole Western bumble bee appeared in front of him and his colleagues from the U.S. Forest Service. It was foraging on buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) on Mt. Shasta, above 5000 feet.
Thorp and many other scientists fear that the Western bumble bee may go the way of Franklin's bumble bee.
That's why Thorp describes the Seattle find as "very exciting."
"Any finds west of the Sierra-Cascade crest are of prime interest. It is those western populations that took the sharp dive between 1999-2002. They do seem to be increasing, which is indeed encouraging."
"Many populations east of the crest seem to have persisted, through this decline," Thorp noted, "but were not carefully monitored during this time so we don't have the detailed data on their population trends that we would like."
Bombus occidentalis is sometimes called the "white-bottomed bee" due to its distinctive white markings on its abdomen. It is known for pollinating blackberries, cherries, apples and blueberries. It also is "an excellent pollinator of greenhouse tomatoes and cranberries, and has been commercially reared to pollinate these crops," according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation website.
Read about the decline of bumble bees on the Xerces website.
And if you live in the West, keep your eyes open for the Western bumble bee.