At first I thought it was a yellow-faced bumble bee.
Sort of like applying the adage, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." That's because most of the bumble bees I see are the yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii).
Our bumble bee guru, native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, quickly identified it as Bombus melanopygus, commonly known as the “Black Tail” bumble bee (melano = black; pygus = tail end of the abdomen).
Thorp says it's probably a queen that "just started her nest."
"Workers at this time of year would be quite small."
The queen was nectaring on Ceanothus in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Research Center at the University of California, Davis.
She was packin' pollen
Initially, Thorp suspected that the pollen load came from the nearby almond trees. "On closer inspection, the pollen loads look more yellow, so they may be from Ceanothus, but they seem a bit darker than what the honey bees foraging on Ceanothus are carrying," he said. "This could be to the difference in nectar added by the different bees to moisten the pollen pellets."
The queen buzzed around the Ceanothus as if she were late for an appointment.
A sip of nectar and she was gone.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says he's now a "cover boy," too.
Shapiro is featured in the current edition of Sacramento News & Review. The headline: "Butterflyman: Is the Climate Heating Up? A UC Davis Lepitopdera Detective Cracks the Case."
Fact is, Shapiro chases butterfly. It's his passion, pure and simple. He maintains "Art's Butterfly World" website, does nearly year-around field research, and is widely published.
He also has a keen sense of humor. When SN&R reporter Hugh Biggar and photographer Ryan Donahue tagged along with him to Sacramento's Granite Park, Shapiro spotted a male orange sulphur butterfly flying around in the vetch.
"He's probably looking for a mate, and we are not what he has in mind," Shapiro told them, as they moved on.
Shapiro is now pursuing painted ladies.
The Lepitoderan kind.
"I’ve begun receiving inquiries about whether or not to expect a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) migration this spring," he told us last week. "In good years they would already be showing up, but there have been no reports so far anywhere in California, to my knowledge. The phenomenon depends on breeding success in the desert wintering grounds, which in turn depends on the rains producing a good crop of annuals for the larvae to feed on. After good late autumn and December rains, the tap was turned off for seven weeks—just like here—and the early annuals either dried up or froze. There were good rains over the President’s Day weekend—almost 2 inches at Anza-Borrego—which have already triggered another round of germination.
"But is it too little, too late? It all depends on March. 1992 had a very wet March after a dry midwinter. However, the northward migration is controlled by photoperiod (we think), and any butterflies that are around in March will head north rather than try to breed down south. So the timing is dicey. As of now, I would NOT expect a big flight here this spring."
If anyone can find Vanessa cardui, Art Shapiro can.
(A) Ants, (B) Bonnie Blaimer and (C) Crematogaster.
Add a double "M" and you have a myrmecologist studying ants in Madagascar.
Bonnie Blaimer, a graduate student in entomology at the University of California, Davis, just received a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant for $13,794 to help support her doctoral dissertation research on the systematic and evolution of Malagasy ants of the genus Crematogaster in Madagascar.
Blaimer, who studies with major professor Phil Ward, a noted ant specialist, describes Crematogaster ants as "a species-rich, world-wide occurring group of ants with a notoriously difficult species-level taxonomy."
Why these ants? Blaimer said she first became interested in them when she was doing field work in Madagascar as an intern for the Cal Academy of Sciences.
“This genus fascinates me particularly because of its species diversity and dominance in tropical forests, and its intriguing natural history,” she said. “Most species are canopy-nesting in dead twigs and branches or under bark, or they make elaborate independent carton-nest from wood fibers. Some species are suspected to be temporary social parasites, and many tend scale insects or mealybugs. In short, many different aspects remain still open for investigation beyond my dissertation work!”
Blaimer, who holds a master’s degree in Forest Sciences from Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany, says she will mostly use the NSF funds to perform DNA sequencing of the Malagasy species and also a variety of species from other biogeographical regions.
"This enables me to investigate and revise species boundaries within Crematogaster in Madagascar, and to establish a framework phylogeny for the genus upon which I can explore the evolution of the genus in the Malagasy region. A smaller portion of the grant will further allow me to travel to Madagascar to do some outreach and education work.”
Blaimer is the co-principal investigator of the grant, titled "Aligning Ant Diversity with Conservation Priorities in a Biodiversity Hotspot: Systematics and Biogeography of the Arboreal Ant Crematogaster in Madagascar." Her major professor serves as the principal investigator.
Be sure to check out the Phil Ward lab website.
Ward welcomes visitors with:
"We are a group of myrmecologists who study the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants.
"In many terrestrial habitats – especially those of the lowland tropics – ants rival other arthropods in numerical abundance, ecological importance and species richness. Our research is concerned with unraveling details about the evolutionary history of ants and attempting to understand the processes that have generated such an extraordinary diversity of form and function. This work entails both species-level taxonomy and analyses of phylogenetic relationships.
"Visit our research pages to learn more about current projects."
And for amazing photos of ants, check out the websites of University of Illinois biologist-insect photographer Alex Wild, former graduate student of Phil Ward's. Wild maintains http://myrmecos.net/ and http://www.alexanderwild.com/.
Dingle, an emeritus professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, recently returned to Davis after living in Australia for seven years and doing research at the University of Brisbane, Australia.
One: He's writing the second edition of his popular textbook, Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press).
Two: He's delivering lectures at UC Davis.
Three: He's granted interviews for such publications as National Geographic and LiveScience.
And, four....he continues to chase soapberry bugs.
Next? Hugh Dingle will lecture on "Crossing Taxonomic Lines to Study of Migratory Patterns,” at 1:30 p.m., Friday, March 4 in 113 Hoagland Hall (note: this is a change from the initial location).
It's the last of a nine-part series on "Frontiers in Physiology" hosted by the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. It will be podcast and archived on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
The underlying theme of Dingle's research is to understand relationships between migration and evolution of life histories. One of his many studies has focused on the rapid, contemporary evolution of the soapberry bug, Jadera hematoloma, and an introduced host plant, the golden raintree, Koelreuteria paniculata.
“Selection experiments were designed to determine genetic relationships across evolving traits (anatomical structures) required for feeding and flight, both necessary for migration,” according to a spokesperson for Frontiers in Physiology. “Dingle stands alone in his interests and academic pursuits of understanding the comparative biology of migration.”
Dingle's work drew international, national and regional attention last November.
He was featured in the National Geographic magazine's cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations."
He was quoted in a LiveScience news story on “Why Do Animals Migrate?”
And also in November, Dingle lectured on "And the Beak Shall Inherit: Contemporary Local and Reverse Evolution in Morphology and Life History in American and Australian Soapberry Bugs" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar. You can view his webcast linked on this page.
Seems that a portion of Dingle's book title, "...Life on the Move," fits him well, too.
Cool temperatures and honey bees do not a good team make.
Since honey bees don't forage until temperatures hit 50 to 55 degrees, we haven't seen many bees gathering pollen from our nectarine trees.
If you love nectarines, there's a lot to love. California boasts some 29,300 bearing acres of nectarines, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's down slightly from the 30,300 acres tallied in 2009.
Although acreage is down, yields are up. The 2010 crop totaled 8.03 tons, up slightly from the 7.25 tons harvested in 2009.
Meanwhile, pollen-packin' honey bees turned out in force last Sunday to forage on the pink blossoms of our two nectarine trees.