If you walk slowly into your garden or backyard, and observe your surroundings, you'll find them. A jumping spider perched on a rose leaf. A soldier beetle climbing out of a tulip. A syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly, foraging on a poppy blossom.
The insects (and spiders!) are back. The springlike temperatures, accompanied by bursts of rain, mean that these tiny little critters are everywhere.
If you pop a macro lens on your single-lens reflex camera, or use the macro setting on your point-and-shoot camera, you'll get them. There's even a set of lenses (macro, wide-angle and telephoto) that magnetically attach to your I-phone camera.
Travelers say it's fun and educational to go to Africa on safari, but you can also go on a Bug Safari in your backyard. It won't cost nearly as much, you don't have to make reservations, you don't have to hire a tour guide, and you don't have to worry about a water buffalo charging you.
Or your credit card company charging you.
You've heard of "Got milk?"
With honey bees, it's "Got pollen?"
We spotted a lone honey bee on an African daisy last weekend. It was clear she'd been foraging for pollen. Pollen covered her legs and antennae and rimmed her head. And it was clear where it came from. The pollen on the daisy and the pollen on her matched perfectly.
"The importance of pollen for the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, in his newly published book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty acids--are derived from pollen."
"Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae," Gary writes. "During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers and consumes about 77 pounds of pollen."
Gary further points out: "When she contacts the flower, pollen grains are attracted to her body, similar to the attraction of iron fillings to a magnet."
So, when you see a honey bee covered with pollen grains and think--"What a load!"-- that's just part of the 77 pounds gathered and consumed in a colony per year.
And ants, honey bees, bumble bees, beetles, and skeeters, oh yes!
Don't see "Ewww!" Say "Wow!"
Those are just a few of the bugs that will be part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology's activities during the 98th annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 21.
Entomological activities will take place at two sites: Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive and the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, coordinator of the department’s Picnic Day activities, promises not to disappoint. Indeed, thousands of people flock to the Bohart and Briggs every year just to see the bugs. What's a picnic without bugs? Bohart, Briggs and bugs. Now that's alliteration.
At Briggs, the popular events will include Maggot Art, termite trails, cockroach races and honey tasting, as well as displays featuring forensic, medical, aquatic, apiculture and forest entomology. Exhibits also will include such topics as fly fishing/fly-tying, insect pests of ornamentals, and pollinators of California.
Visitors to Briggs can cheer for their favorite cockroach at the American cockroach races; watch a termite follow a line drawn with a Bic ink pen (they follow the line because the ink acts as a pheromone or attractant) and create a Maggot Art painting suitable for framing.
Maggot Art, a term coined and trademarked by forensic entomologist Rebecca O’Flaherty, a former doctoral candidate at UC Davis, involves dipping a maggot in non-toxic, water-based paint to create art. O’Flaherty launched Maggot Art in 2001 as a community outreach project to teach--and reach--youths while she was studying entomology at the University of Hawaii.
At Briggs, the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) will "display information and tools for managing pests in homes and gardens," said Mary Louise Flint, UC IPM's associate director of urban and community IPM and an Extension entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "We'll give advice on managing pests with less toxic, environmentally sound IPM methods. We will have Quick Tips to hand out, people can try out our touch screen IPM kiosk to answer questions and we will also be distributing live lady beetles (aka ladybugs) for children."
Those polka-dotted ladybugs are a big hit--and an even bigger hit if you watch them chow down aphids in your garden.
Also at Briggs, plans call for a “Bug Doctor” to answer insect-related questions from the public. Last year’s “Bug Doctors” included Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. There's another "doctor in the house," too: Dr. Death. That would be forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey perched at a microscope and inviting folks to have a look-see.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of more than seven million insect specimens, will showcase displays of specimens and live pollinators. The theme: "Insects Are Forever." Bohart Museum officials insist that insects can be a girl’s best friend (just like diamonds or dung beetles). They'll feature photos of UC Davis women entomologists. The Bohart Museum also will include a live “petting zoo” where visitors can hold Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks.
Also at the Bohart, native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and graduate student Emily Bzdyk, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, will provide a live display of pollinators, including bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutting bees and green metallic sweat bees.
Is this going to "bee" fun or what?
Perhaps, just perhaps, the entomologists can steer folks clear of saying "yecch!" and "ewww!" and encourage them to ponder the wonderful world of bugs.
The carpenter bees (Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex) of the Central Valley have emerged and are creating their own little Lovers' Lane on the salvia.
More males than females. More buzzing than foraging. More chasing than capturing.
This is the "bug" that some folks are afraid of--they describe them as "big black bees heading right at me and scarin' the livin' daylights of me--close enough for a buzz cut."
Well, the males ARE quite territorial. But only the females are solid black. The males have yellow on their thorax and head.
But hey, they shouldn't scare the livin' daylights out of you. They're pollinators.
It's good to know your floral visitors. Not all floral visitors are honey bees. Some are carpenter bees, bumble bees, wool carder bees, longhorned bees, and leafcutting bees, to name a few. Some are syrphid flies that mimic bees and wasps.
If you're yearning to learn more about pollinators, then the all-day Pollinator Gardening workshop on Saturday, April 28 in Room 1001 of Giedt Hall, UC Davis, is for you. "Your Sustainable Backyard: Pollinator Gardening" is sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) at UC Davis. Among the speakers: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who will discuss "Bees 101: Species Diversity and Behavior." Yes, that will include carpenter bees.
Thorp's knowledge of all things bees is totally amazing. You'll come away wanting to spread the word: carpenter bees are pollinators, too. Don't fear them.
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis, will share the "Importance of Pollinators and Conservation." Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture at the UC Davis Arboretum, will cover "Bee Plants." Vicki Wojcik, associate program manager of Pollinator Partnership, will speak on "Pollinator Gardening: Design and Maintenance."
You'll "learn about bees and what they do, and how gardeners can support healthy populations through simple gardening practices," said coordinator Melissa "Missy" Gable, horticulturist and program director of CCUH. "This workshop is intended for anyone with a love of gardening."
"We have entomologists, horticulturists and design experts presenting at Pollinator Gardening," Gable said. "This workshop is designed both to inspire gardeners and equip them with all the necessary tools to provision pollinating insects in their own landscape. Without the pollination services of European honey bees and native bees, what fruits and vegetables would be accessible to us? Come learn what you can do your part to support healthy bee communities." Check out the registration site.
Following the workshop, participants can visit (1) the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road and (2) the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive and perhaps buy a plant or two. The haven is open all year around from dawn to dusk (free admission) while the teaching nursery will be open that afternoon to registered participants for a look-see at the demonstration gardens and for plant sales.
Perhaps, just perhaps, you might want to buy salvia to attract such floral visitors as carpenter bees!
Okay, I’ll admit it.
I have a soft spot for honey bees.
Today I fished out some thoroughly drenched honey bees from our swimming pool.
Indeed, the pool looked like an Olympic meet for Apis mellifera.
It appears that while the bees were foraging on the nearby cherry laurel blossoms, they tumbled into the pool. That's when I saw them--struggling--and netted them.
I could say “They looked like drowned rats,” but I’m not and they didn't. They looked like very much like drowned honey bees.
I took a plastic spoon, dipped it into a jar of starthistle honey and offered it to them. They sipped it, gathered a quick burst of energy, and off they buzzed.
I suspect they returned to their hives. Maybe tomorrow they'll be back foraging in the cherry laurels, but hopefully, they won't be back in the pool, and will warn their sisters of the danger through head butts.
Saving a few bees, one bee at a time, is a little like saving starfish on the beach. Author Loren Eiseley inspired others with this story:
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, 'It makes a difference for this one.' I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
― Loren Eiseley
Today the honey bees were starfish.