Often you'll hear kindergarten students asking one another: "What's your favorite color?"
Beekeepers do that, too--in a joking sort of way. Some like to rear the blond Italians; some prefer the darker Carniolans, developed from the area of the Carniolan Alps in southeastern Europe; and others opt for the even darker bees, the Caucasians, originating from the Caucasus Mountains of eastern Europe.
It's the desirable traits, not the color, though, that really matters.
"More than 20 breeds of bees have been identified, and many of these have been tested by beekeepers for their ability to live in manmade hives, as well as their adaptability to the moderate climates of the world," writes Bee Culture editor Kim Flottum in his excellent book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden.
"Many species," Flottum continues in his book, "have been abandoned by beekeepers because they possess undesirable traits, such as excessive swarming, poor food-storage traits, or extreme nest protection."
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a dual appointment with the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, is partial to her New World Carniolans, a bee line she established.
Overall, the Carniolans are known as a good colder-weather bee. The Italians, though, are the most common bee in the United States. Sometimes you'll see an Italian bee so blond it's lemony.
Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, chair of the California State Apiary Board, rears Italians, which leads to good natured-ribbing between her and Cobey about "the best bee."
If you're interested in genetic diversity, mark your calendar for May 2, 2012. Cobey will speak on “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" at her seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. It's part of a series of seminars that the UC Davis Department of Entomology is sponsoring. Plans are to webcast this; so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, take a look at foraging honey bees in your neighborhood. Like the patchwork coat in the Dolly Parton song, "Coat of Many Colors," you'll see many colors.
Many, many colors. And some belong to young bees with a fuzzy thorax and fresh wings, and some to old bees with a bare thorax and tattered wings.
What's your favorite bee? Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology who maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, says that "beauty is only skin (integument) deep."
"I prefer the ones with a good disposition regardless of their external appearance even on a 'bad hair day,'" Thorp says.
As for me, to paraphrase American humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935), "I've never met a bee I didn't like."
I haven't met any of those highly aggressive, super-defensive Africanized bees, though.
Those jumping spiders can jump--several lengths of their body, in fact.
There seem to be more spiders in our yard this summer than usual--crab spiders, black widows, web weavers and jumping spiders. Well, that makes sense--we have more bees. A bee friendly garden is a spider friendly garden.
Spiders, though, are good for the garden when they catch pests like flies, gnats and mosquitoes. We don't like them nailing our pollinators but that's a fact of life--and death.
One of the guests in our garden is the Daring Jumping Spider, a black spider with metallic green chelicerae (the "fangs" in the structure containing the mouthparts).
It looks like the perfect Halloween spider (along with the black widow).
This particular Daring Jumping Spider crawled into the leaves and flowers of a sedum yesterday to ambush an insect. It didn't take long. An Italian honey bee buzzed down and began foraging.
The spider steathily crawled toward its would-be prey.
In a nanosecond, the spider pounced.
Whew! That was close one.
One left hungry. One didn't.
We watched a leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) foraging on a gold coin flower (Asteriscus maritimus 'Gold Coin') yesterday when suddenly danger lurked.
A jumping spider peered over the petals, its legs (aka "claws") extended in anticipation, the mark of a good hunter.
The jumping spider (family Salticidae), easily identified by four pairs of eyes, can jump several lengths of its body.
That's good enough to nail a leafcutter bee, but not this time.
Score: Leafcutter Bee 1, Jumping Spider, 0.
The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is one of the showiest butterflies in California, says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.
Indeed it is.
The bright orange-red butterfly with a wingspan that can reach four inches visited our back yard yesterday. It nectared the lantana and sedum, competing for the sweet treats with honey bees, sweat bees and leafcutting bees.
Last year we planted a passionflower (Passiflora) vine (larval host of the Gulf Fritillary). None came. No butterflies, no breeding site, no little orange-and-black caterpillars to chew the passionflower leaves. We removed the vine and replaced it with vegetables.
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is even more beautiful when it folds its wings. Then you can see what makes this butterfly so utterly breathtaking: the iridescent silvery spots.
Shapiro says this is a tropical and subtropical butterfly, with a range extending from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. It appeared in southern California in the late 1800s, and was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
Like to attract this butterfly? Its larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, it nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
"Tread softly" is also a good idea if you're trying to photograph it. It's a very skittish butterfly and the slightest movement will prompt it to take off.
But if you wait patiently, the fluttering orange flash will likely return.
News media, the scientific world, and the general public can't believe it.
Yes, the male "warrior wasp" is 2-1/2 inches, not centimeters.
The new species of "warrior wasp" that Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus, discovered on the Indonesia island of Sulawesi, is the new conversation piece in the bug world. Kimsey has nicknamed it "warrior wasp" and "the komodo dragon of wasps." Others have called it "Godzilla."
But what's really interesting besides the length is this: The male wasp is equipped with jaws longer than his front legs.
"What are those large jaws used for?" another reporter asked.
Well, little is known about the biology of this wasp, but Kimsey figures it's probably similar to wasps in the same genus; that the large jaws probably play a role in defense and reproduction.
"In another species in the genus the males hang out in the nest entrance," said Kimsey, a professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology as well as director of the Bohart Museum, which houses a worldwide collection of more than seven million specimens.
The jaws, she said, serve "to protect the nest from parasites and nest robbing, and for this he exacts payment from the female by mating with her every time she returns to the nest," she said. "So it's a way of guaranteeing paternity. Additionally, the jaws are big enough to wrap around the female's thorax and hold her during mating."
Kimsey said she'll name the insect-eating predator--which belongs to the genus Dalara and family Crabronidae--"Garuda," a powerful mythical warrior that's part human and part eagle. Garuda is the national symbol of Indonesia.
Kimsey collaborates on a five-year $4 million grant awarded to UC Davis scientists in 2008 to study the biodiversity of fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on Sulawesi, all considered threatened by logging operations and mining developments. Much of the mountain was logged two decades ago and now there are plans for an open pit nickel mine, Kimsey said.
“There’s talk of forming a biosphere reserve to preserve this,” she said. “There are so many rare and endangered species on Sulawesi that the world may never see.”
Globally, how many more undescribed insects are out there? A recent article in National Geographic related that scientists have identified 1.5 million insect species, but the total number of undiscovered insect species probably ranges from "10 to 30 million."
Could be more...