In a pre-Valentine's Day event, officials at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, are planning a Bug Lovin' theme for their next open house. It will be a lovefest of bugs!
The event, free and open to the public, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12 at the museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive.
The Bohart, home of more than seven million insect specimens, also houses a "live petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks) and a bug-themed gift shop, where you can buy Valentine's Day presents for your sweetie. Among the many items: jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect candy, coffee cups, posters, insect-collecting equipment and the like. (Be sure to check out the California dogface butterfly earrings crafted by UC Davis entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk. Items from the gift shop can also be ordered online.)
The open house will be part of "UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day." Also open that day from 1 to 4 p.m. will be the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and the Botanical Conservatory. The Center for Plant Diversity will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. (Download directions)
What else is Feb. 12 known for? Scientists celebrate the birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin (Feb. 12, 1809-April 19, 1882).
With four open houses planned on Feb. 12, it's a good time to head over to the campus and learn about biodiversity.
Last summer we spotted what appeared to be the red-backed jumping spider, Phidippus johnsoni (famiiy Salticidae), stalking native bees and honey bees in our yard.
Its iridescent green chelicerae, which characterizes many species in the genus, literally glowed.
It wasn't a good hunter. It missed its prey time after time.
So, it should be interesting when Damian Elias, assistant professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley, comes to UC Davis on Wednesday, Feb. 8 to speak on "Multimodal Communication in Jumping Spiders" from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8 in 122 Briggs Hall.
"Animals use a variety of senses to navigate the world," Elias says. "While humans are adept at sensing the world through visual, auditory, and olfactory (smell) information, some animals use senses that are imperceptible to human observers. The vast majority of life on the planet uses vibrations transmitted through solid objects (substrate-borne vibration) to communicate and up until recently, this crucial aspect of animal biology was completely unknown."
The jumping spider he is currently focusing on is Phidippus clarus.
Elias, who received his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell in 2005, says he uses behavioral ecology techniques to study different aspects of communication. In particular, he is interested in questions regarding sexual selection, mating system evolution, signal design and responses to population, ecological, and environmental variation.
If you look on YouTube, you'll see an excellent macro video of the same jumping spider, Phidippus clarus, that Damian Elias studies. It's the work of Oklahoma artist Thomas Shahan (who also teaches macro photography in the popular BugShot workshop).
And, if you think that's amazing, check out the even more spectacular images of jumping spider photos on Shahan's website.
This year, however, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, almond trees began blooming in late January in some parts of Central California.
Take the city of Benicia. Its temperate climate is conducive to early spring. Today as the temperature climbed to 58 degrees, we saw almond blossoms everywhere--at the entrance to Benicia State Park, in residential yards, in fields and meadows, and lining city streets and roads.
Benicia resident Gordon Hough, who owns and skippers the sports fishing boat, The Morning Star, didn't go fishing for sturgeon and bass today, but he did go jogging in Benicia State Park. On his way home, he stopped to check an almond tree for honey bees.
No bees. But one ant.
It should be a great year for almonds. The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service projects a record 2600-pounds-per-acre yield for the 2011-2012 California almond crop. That represents an increase of 200 pounds per acre, or 8 percent, over the previous yield-per-acre record set in 2008-2009, the NASS officials said.
This is what the California Almond Board had to say in its September 2011 newsletter: "The California Almond objective forecast for the 2011–12 crop year is 1.95 billion meat pounds, which is based on 750,000 bearing acres. Overall, shipments were up 13 percent, reaching 1.668 billion pounds and marking the fifth consecutive year of record shipments across domestic and export markets.
"For the second year, California shipped over 1 billion pounds to export destinations, an increase of 15 percent over 2010–11. Domestic shipments were up 9 percent over the previous year, at 490 million pounds. The top five export destinations (China, Spain, Germany, India and the United Arab Emirates) account for approximately 53 percent of total export shipments, while the top 10 destinations account for over 72 percent of export shipments. For the first time, China became the leading export destination, with shipments rising by 26 percent to reach 168 million pounds."
Meanwhile, it takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's 750,000 acres. The bees, trucked here from all over the country, are in holding yards and ready to go.
The orchards will be abuzz soon with millions of bees pollinating the blossoms.
They're hairy. They're bristly. They're attention-getters.
They probably draw more "yecchs!" than most insects. All the more reason to love 'em.
Frankly, the tachinids (family Tachinidae, order Diptera) could never be misidentified as honey bees, as some pollinators such as hover flies, are. And yes, flies can be pollinators.
Entomologists tell us that worldwide, there are more than 8,200 identified species, and more than 1300 species in North America alone. Who knows how many more are out there?
The 2011 State of Observed Species (also called SOS), issued Jan. 18 by the International Institute for Species Exploration, Tempe, Ariz., lists 19,232 newly discovered species. Of that number, more than half--9,738--are insects. Those figures are already out of date. These newly discovered species were identified in 2009, the latest year statistics are available. It "takes up to two years to compile all newly reported species from thousands pf journals published in many languages," the SOS team says.
Check out the report, billed as "A Report Card on Our Knowledge of Earth's Species."
Who knows? If you're crawling around a flower bed, you might just discover a new tachinid.
A "she bee" on a hebe.
That has a nice ring to it.
It was Jan. 7, an unseasonably warm day for winter and we decided to take advantage of it by driving to the Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael.
Gardeners do a good job tending the plants that border the marina and the honey bees do a good job of gathering nectar and pollen.
One of the plants popular among the bees is hebe (genus Hebe), an evergreen shrub that probably derives its name from Hebe, the goddess of youth (Greek mythology). A native of New Zealand, this plant is quite hardy, and some varieties bloom during the winter.
There's even a Hebe Society that promotes "the cultivation and conservation of hebes and other New Zealand native plants." Founded in 1985, it's a British registered charity. According to its website, the Hebe Society "is affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society, New Zealand Alpine Garden Society and Tatton Garden Society. Most members are in the British Isles, but some are in the rest of Europe, North America and New Zealand."
Although the "she bees" (worker bees) forage on the hebe, the "he bees" (drones) eventually derive the benefits via the food brought back to the colony. So, the "she bees" and the "he bees" draw nourishment from the hebes.
That is, when the colony starts producing the "he bees."