Every year since 1972 Shapiro has challenged the residents of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano to find the first cabbage white butterfly and bring it to him. First one to capture the butterfly in one of the three counties gets a pitcher of beer (or its cash equivalent).
Shapiro 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. 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 usually wins his own contest. He's lost only three times since 1972.
If you want to compete, be sure to check the rules.
Today he went a'hunting in West Sacramento. "What a grand and glorious April day it was!" he said. "Sixty-five degrees in West Sacramento, sunny, light and variable wind...a perfect day to get the first Pieris rapae of 2012. But I didn't. I spent 3-1/2 hours in West Sacramento checking every one of the more than 20 wild radish plants in bloom at least 3 times. If there had been a rapae there, I would have seen it! All I saw was two Vanessa annabella. The drama continues."
I looked through my Solano County photos of cabbage whites and noticed a two-at-a-time image, taken Sept. 7, 2008 in our backyard.
My camera, which can shoot eight frames a second, caught the images on the fly.
Art Shapiro can catch them with his hands. And does.
The news that flashed across the Internet today indicates there's a new threat to honey bees, a parasitic phorid fly.
UC San Francisco researchers, in an article published today in the Public Library of Science (PLoS One), wrote in their abstract: "Honey bee colonies are subject to numerous pathogens and parasites. Interaction among multiple pathogens and parasites is the proposed cause for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome characterized by worker bees abandoning their hive. Here we provide the first documentation that the phorid fly Apocephalus borealis, previously known to parasitize bumble bees, also infects and eventually kills honey bees and may pose an emerging threat to North American apiculture. Parasitized honey bees show hive abandonment behavior, leaving their hives at night and dying shortly thereafter."
Should beekeepers be worried? Should they lose any sleep over this?
Noted honey bee expert, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, says "no"--at least not on the level of fly parasitism actually causing CCD or great losses.
Mussen, who was not involved in the study, says that the scientific paper "explains why some infested, honey bee adults leave the colony at night and are not likely to come back. The percent infestation level is not high enough to cause a CCD loss by itself."
Mussen attributes CCD to a suppressed immune system, probably caused by a combination of factors such as pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition, and stress. The fly does not appear to be a dominant factor.
However, as Mussen told Erik Stokstad in today's Science article,"Parasitic Fly Dooms Bees to Death by Maggots: "Anything that further stresses the bee population and increases bee losses can contribute to CCD."
The key word is "contribute." The fly may be "contributing" to the loss of adult bees from colonies, but that is probably also happening in colonies that are NOT collapsing, Mussen points out.
"How likely is it that colonies will succumb to this new threat of fly infestations?" we asked Mussen today after a host of articles appeared on the Internet.
Indeed, some news reports describe the infected bee as a "zombie bee."
"If the colony is shrinking abnormally, the bees often can re-establish the normal size by rearing 'extra' brood," Mussen told us. "However, depending upon the inherent genetic abilities of a specific colony to tolerate fly parasitism, some colonies might be prone to developing parasite levels that are overwhelming, and actually succumb to the infestations."
Honey bees, Mussen said, have "an amazing ability to make up for" unanticipated losses--like exposures to bee-toxic agrichemicals in the fields--to the adult population by rearing more brood than would be expected at that time of the year to return to normal populations size.
Mussen will discuss threats to the honey bee when he delivers the keynote speech, "Never Expect 'Business as Usual'" at the 43rd annual American Honey Producers' Association Convention, set Jan. 4-8 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Bottom line: The current U.S. environment seems to be very stressful to honey bees, with or without the parasitic florid fly.
This fly appears to be another ointment in a bee's ill health.
When California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) bloom and honey bees battle over the blossoms, can spring be far behind?
No, it's just California's pleasant weather. The California poppy, the state flower, usually blooms from February to September, but sometimes in a warm, sheltered area, you'll find it blooming in the dead of winter--and honey bees foraging among the blossoms.
Such is the case over on Garrod Drive by the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. The asphalt from the parking lot generates quite a big of heat--and coupled with the sun, that's plenty of warmth for golden poppies to flourish.
It's a sight to bee-hold when Apis mellifera and Eschscholzia californica meet in December.
As 2012 approaches, it's "out with the old and in with the new!"
The huge feral honey bee colony that we photographed Jan. 9, 2011 in a Modesto ash tree at a Vacaville (Solano County), backyard, is still going strong. Thirty feet off the ground, the structure is solidly intertwined in the limbs of the old tree and is truly a sight to bee-hold.
Bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, estimate it's been there since the spring of 2010. Leaves shroud it much of the year, but when the leaves drop, it's very much exposed.
Despite heavy rains, severe winds, robber bees, and foraging birds and other animals, this feral bee colony stays put.
On Sunday, Jan. 1, it will enter its third year of existence, which is quite remarkable in itself. Several UC Davis bee experts figured it wouldn't make it through the 2010-2011 winter. "If it lasts, I want that queen!" bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey quipped.
Well, it's lasted. And we're now in the second winter.
The homeowner just told us that "Yes, the feral bee colony is still there! Now that most of the leaves have blown off the tree, so it's much easier to see. The bees still come down to the deck to walk, not fly around. I'm surprised that it's remained viable for so long. The bees still buzz busily around the structure! What an amazing natural phenomenon!"
The photo (below) of the feral honey bee colony that first appeared in Bug Squad has attracted a lot of attention. A TV producer asked to borrow it for a recent episode of My Extreme Animal Phobia (Animal Planet), about a guy deathly afraid of honey bees. If you saw the entire episode--some of it filmed at the Laidlaw facility and some of it filmed in the quarters where a Sacramento clinical psychologist was treating him--you saw the photo on a bedroom wall.
We don't know how this magnificent structure could instill fear. For us, it instills only wonder, amazement and admiration.
It's like a spray of sunshine in the depths of winter.
The Bulbine frutescens, native to the desert grasslands of South Africa, is blooming well in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
On any given day, even with the temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, the nearby honey bees find their way to the yellow compound flowers perched on the two-foot stalks.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, which opened to the public on Sept. 11, 2011, is gated (to keep out the rabbits), but it's open from dawn to dusk, all year around. Admission? Free!
The designers wanted something blooming year around in the garden, and that's exactly what's happening.