They're populating the sandy cliffs of Bodega Head, Sonoma County. A sure sign of their presence: dense clusters of turrets.
When they're not foraging among the wild radish (genus Raphanus), lupine (genus Lupinus) and other plants, these ground-dwelling bees are digging nests and rearing their young.
"The female sucks up fresh water from nearby, stores it in her crop--like honey bees store nectar--for transport to the nest," said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
"She regurgitates it on the sandstone, and excavates the moistened soil," he said. "She carries out the mud and makes the entrance turret with it."
The digger bees are sometimes referred to as "alternative pollinators," but they're all members of the Apidae family, which includes honey bees (the super pollinators), bumble bees, carpenter bees, sunflower bees, orchid bees, cuckoo bees and the like.
Drones have no stingers, so they can't sting. In fact, their sole purpose in life is to mate with the virgin queen bee on her maiden flight. After mating, the drones die. If they don't mate, they won't survive the winter. Their sisters, the worker bees, kick them out of the hive in the fall to conserve the precious food resources.
But it was "all hail the drones" during a recent field trip by half-a-dozen second graders from the Grace Valley Christian Academy, Davis.
Before the tour, Elizabeth Frost, staff research associate and beekeeper at the facility, opened the hives and collected a handful of drones.
When the second graders arrived, Frost invited them to "touch and hold the drones." The drones felt warm and fuzzy.
And that's exactly how the young visitors felt about the tour.
To show their appreciation, the second graders crafted a clever "thank you" card for her. The outside of the card depicted the outside of a bee hive. The inside: colorful bees!
"Thank you, Elizabeth," the inscription read. "The students talked about the drones and beekeeper outfits for days. Your hard work was appreciated."
That's one lesson that won't be forgotten. thanks to an enterprising UC Davis beekeeper and a handful of drones.
He was just elected a member of California Floriculture Hall of Fame for distinguished leadership and service to the floral industry.
In 2008 he was elected a fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), an honor given to entomologists who have made outstanding contributions in entomological research, teaching, extension or administration. ESA annually singles out only 10 of its some 5700 members for the high honor.
Parrella, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, is scheduled to be inducted into the California Floriculture Hall of Fame in February 2010. Another UC Davis professor, Michael Reid of the Department of Plant Sciences, will also be inducted then.
Parrella, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, develops integrated pest management strategies for ornamental crops, with an emphasis on biological control. In 1985, he initiated what has become an annual conference on insect and disease management on ornamentals. The event is sponsored by the Society of American Florists.Michael Reid, who has a partial appointment in Cooperative Extension, is an authority on postharvest physiology and handling of ornamental crops. He conducts research on the senescence of ornamental plants, particularly cut flowers and potted plants. His work covers the spectrum from studies of the biochemistry of senescence to application, in the field, of new methods in postharvest technology.
Their names will be engraved on permanent plaques at the San Francisco Flower Market, the Los Angeles Flower Market and the San Diego International Floral Trade Center.
Kudos--or a bouquet of flowers--to these two outstanding scientists!
Bees, including honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees, along with other pollinators, share the pollen and nectar in the half-acre bee friendly garden.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, has logged some 50 different species of bees in the garden since its inception. He began a baseline monitoring process when the garden was a field of weeds, instead of dreams.
Today we spotted a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii)
and a honey bee sharing a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Minutes later, a honey bee and a sweat bee occupied another coneflower.
The garden, planted last fall, changes daily, which it is meant to do. When the grand opening celebration of the haven takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, expect to see scores of visitors--both humans and pollinators--sharing the garden.
Sunflowers, native to the Americas, are spectacular, especially when you encounter a field of them. If you look closely, you'll see honey bees, sunflower bees and bumble bees working the flowers.
It's pollination at work.
To encourage backyard gardeners to grow sunflowers and collect data about the bees that visit them, the Great Sunflower Project provides free seeds and educational information.
You can obtain the Lemon Queen sunflower seeds from the Great Sunflower Project, from a local nursery or from a seed catalog.
Associate professor and biologist Gretchen LeBuhn of the University of California, Santa Barbara, started the project in 2008 as a way to get citizens interested in bee pollination.
"In 2008, we started this project as a way to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations," writes LeBuhn, considered "the queen bee" of the Great Sunflower Project. "We wanted to enlist people all over the U.S. and Canada to observe their bees and be citizen scientists. We asked them to plant sunflowers in their gardens so we could standardize study of bee activity and provide more resources for bees. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and are wildly attactive to bees."
Since 2008, the Great Sunflower Project has expanded its list of plants studied to include bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, coreopsis (tickseed), and purple coneflower.
"It’s time to turn off your television, take off those earphones, shut down that computer, go outside, and rediscover the wonder of nature," LeBuhn says.
That's one small step toward improving bee habitat--and human habitat, too.