If you're gearing up for the Fourth of July weekend, you'll probably head to the farmers' market, a roadside stand, or the produce department of your favorite grocery store for some freshly picked strawberries.
And you can thank a honey bee if your berry is fully formed. If it looks deformed "or not quite filled out," possibly "the seeds on that side didn't get pollinated," said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Among the fruits and vegetables that require bee pollination are almonds, (seeded) citrus, plums, cherries, apples, kiwi. melons, squash, pumpkin, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and vegetable seeds such as onion seeds.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, showcases a number of plants that require bee pollination, including almonds, apples, plums, blueberries, onions and squash. The garden, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, is open to the public, year around, from dawn to dusk.
The goal of the bee haven is to provide a year-around food source for the bees at the Laidlaw facility, to raise public awareness on the plight of the honey bee, and to show visitors what they can plant in their own gardens to attract bees. And, it's a research garden. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is monitoring the dozens of different species of bees visiting the garden.
The strawberry patch is tiny--after all, this is a demonstration garden--but the berries are big. Staff and volunteers keep the garden weeded and occasionally, harvest a few strawberries.
The verdict: Berry, berry fine!
Male squash bees know just where to sleep--inside a squash blossom.
If you're growing squash and you head out to your garden just after sunrise, you'll probably see the males fast asleep, waiting for visiting females to arrive.
They're native bees, specialist bees that forage in squash, zucchini, pumpkins and gourds. The females nest in the ground; the males sleep in the blossoms.
We recently spotted a male squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) asleep in a squash blossom at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
The squash bee thrust out his tongue for a sip of nectar and dew, and then darted from one squash blossom to another. His search for a mate proved fruitless that morning, but there's always tomorrow.
And meanwhile, a squash-blossom pillow to rest his head.
If it looks like a bee, sips nectar like a bee, and buzzes away like a bee, that doesn't mean it's a bee.
Last weekend we visited a Fort Bragg nursery specializing in succulents, and these "little white bees" were all over the red flowering thyme (Thymus serphyllum).
"Little white bees." That's what nursery personnel and visitors called them.
Not bees, though. Wasps.
But both in the order Hymenoptera.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as a sand wasp, genus Bembix, probably B. americana.
"These wasps fly very rapidly and frequently visit flowers," Thorp said.
Being a wasp, it's a predator and a carnivore, not a vegetarian like the honey bee. It preys upon flies, hover flies (aka flower flies or syrphids), tachinid flies, lacewings, and other critters, taking the carcasses back to its ground nest to feed its larvae.
The sand wasp digs its nest holes in the sand, thus its name. Its abdomen looks something like a basketball referee: except instead of black and white stripes, it sports curvy black and white stripes.
Bug Guide indicates that North America is home to 19 species of sand wasps.
This one (below) seemed to be sipping nectar (adults feed on nectar).
Probably a "matter of thyme" before it nailed a fly.
Not all bumble bees are primarily black.
Take the Bombus flavifrons.
We spotted a male Bombus flavifrons nectaring on Centaurea montana, aka perennial cornflower or mountain cornflower, recently in Mill Valley. It didn't look like many of the other common bumble bees, such as the yellow-faced bumble bee and the black-tailed bumble bee.
It was as yellow as a baby chick.
It's just one of 20,000 species of bees found globally, and one of 49 bumble bee (Bombus) species found in the United States and one of more than 250 species of bumble bees found worldwide.
Sometimes we overlook something we're not ready to see.
Have you ever stopped to admire a blossom and seen forceps protruding?
We were walking near Mrak Hall, UC Davis, on a hot summery afternoon and spotted a tell-tale sign: abdominal forceps, aka pinchers or pincers.
In a male earwig, the forceps are more widely spaced.
The most abundant earwig in California is the European eartwig, Forficula auricularia (family Forficulidae), according to entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their book, California Insects. However, it was not known in the state until 1923.
They describe the adult as about 12 to 22mm long, mostly brown with pale forewings and antennae. "The immatures and adults feed on a wide variety of substances, from flowers and green foliage near the ground to living and dead insects, including aphids."
This one seemed to be escaping from the heat.