The temperature on the UC Davis campus stood solidly at 56 degrees this afternoon.
The less-than-ideal weather didn't seem to deter several Italian honey bees from foraging in a flower bed behind the Laboratory Sciences Building on the central campus.
They took a liking to a yellow Senecio, from the Asteraceae (daisy family), and went right to work, despite it being the dead of winter.
In somewhat slow motion (it was cold!) they foraged among the long-legged flowers, adding a burst of sunshine and a muted buzz to the winter scene.
It was 56 degrees and they were flying. Foragers usually begin flying around 50 to 55 degrees.
It won't be long until the almonds bloom. Well, mid-February is not that long!
James R. Carey, professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology (the department co-sponsored the event), webcast the six talks presented by either current or retired UC Davis professors. The videos are now on UCTV; here's the link to the Honey! index page.
Did we say "free?" Free.
Carey is a firm believer that UC seminars ought to be shared with not only UC affiliates but with the general public. (Read about how and why he spearheaded the 10-campus project.)
Meanwhile, you can learn about bees from some of the country's best: two UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty and one emeritus. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen discussed "The Wonder of Honey Bees" and later presented a talk about honey and honey tasting.
Assistant professor Brian Johnson--he researches the behavior, evolution, and genetics of honey bees--covered "Honey Bee Communication: How Bees Use Teamwork to Make Honey" and emeritus professor Norman Gary, a scientist, author and professional bee wrangler, convinced us why we should consider "Hobby Beekeeping in Urban Environments." After all, he's been keeping bees for 64 years!
Then Louis Grivetti, professor emeritus in the nutrition department, strode to the podium to tell us "Historical Uses of Honey as Food"--you won't believe all the things he said in his well-researched talk! Liz Applegate, nutrition professor and director of the Sport Nutrition Program," followed with "Sweet Success: Honey for Better Health and Performance."
By the end of the day, the crowd agreed with Mussen that “Honey bees are truly marvelous.” And with Johnson who pointed out: “Bees have small brains but can solve big problems."
A nice addition: a honey-tasting contest judged by the attendees. The winner? An oh-so-good clover honey from Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. The honey (yes, it's available for sale at the 2110 X St. business), was produced by the Jones Bee Company, Salt Lake City. Second place went to Alan Pryor of Alameda; and third place, Diane Kriletich of Paloma, Calaveras County.
“It was a sweet day all in all,” said coordinator Clare Hasler-Lewis, executive director of RMI.
Indeed it was!
It's good to see University of California scientists pursuing rare bumble bees.
The latest news on the bumble bee front: UC Riverside scientists recently rediscovered "Cockerell's Bumble Bee" (Bombus cockerelli Franklin), considered "the rarest of the rare" species of bumble bee in the United States.
It hadn't been seen since 1956. Then, on Aug. 31, 2011 UC Riverside scientists collected the species on weeds along a highway north of Cloudcroft in the White Mountains of south-central New Mexico.
In a Dec. 5th press release, UC Riverside senior museum scientist Douglas Yanega told senior public information officer Iqbal Pittalwala: "Most bumble bees in the U.S. are known from dozens to thousands of specimens, but not this species. The area it occurs in is infrequently visited by entomologists, and the species has long been ignored because it was thought that it was not actually a genuine species, but only a regional color variant of another well-known species."
Fast-forward to UC Davis Department of Entomology where native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, is pursuing the critically imperiled--and maybe extinct--Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini Frison).
Thorp hasn't seen Franklin's bumble bee since 2006. Its range is a 13,300-square-mile area in Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California, and Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon. Up until now, its habitat was thought to be the smallest of any other bumble bee in the world.
Yanega believes that the range of the Cockerell's bumble bee is the smallest in the world. It's less than 300 square miles, he says.
Davis bumble bee enthusiast Gary Zamzow (he studies and photographs bumble bees and is a volunteer in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis), says the latest find is "an exciting discovery and encouraging news. Gives one hope in finding lost bumble bees."
And an interesting note: Henry James Franklin (1883-1958), who monographed the bumble bees of North and South America in 1912-13, named both of them. Franklin named Cockerell's bumble bee for Theodore Dru Allison Cockerell (1866-1948).
There should be a crowd at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
That's when evolutionary ecologist Ruth Hufbauer, associate professor at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, who researches insect-plant interactions, will speak on “The Roles of Demography and Genetics in the Founding of New Populations.” Her talk is set for 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Plans call for it to be recorded and broadcast at a later date on UCTV.
This is the last in the series of UC Davis Department of Entomology seminars for the fall quarter. Host Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology, will introduce Hufbauer.
Have you ever wondered how insect populations become established in a new environment? Their fate rests on both their demographic and genetic compositions, Hufbaue says.
Hufbauer, who co-organized a seminar on "Evolution and Biological Control" at the Entomological Society of America's 59th annual meeting, held last month at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, says that "Establishment success increases with the number of founders as well as with their genetic diversity. However, because more individuals typically harbor more genetic variation, demography and genetics are linked. To disentangle them requires factorial experiments manipulating numbers of founders of different genetic backgrounds--inbred to outbred.”
Hufbauer will present data from two such factorial experiments. “In both systems, demography and genetic background interact to determine the success of founders. Inbreeding led to reduced success, and those effects depended upon the species and the environment. Inbreeding and genetic drift can, however, have positive effects as well, particularly in the case of purging of deleterious mutations. A third data set supports the idea that purging can happen in natural populations, and may influence subsequent population dynamics.”
Hufbauer, who grew up in California, earned her bachelor of arts degree at UC Berkeley and her doctorate at Cornell. In 2000, she joined the faculty of the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University.
On her website, Hufbauer quotes Ukrainian geneticist/evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975): “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
She acknowledges that “these days studying and teaching evolution in the U.S. is quite controversial." So, she's thoughtfully posted some links to "sites from the scientific community aimed to educate people about the basics, not only of evolutionary biology, but also what physics and chemistry teach us about the world.”
What a remarkable project a biologist launched in Kenya involving honey bees.
It all began with farmers complaining that migratory elephants were raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood. What to do? How do you conserve the elephants and protect the crops at the same time?
Knowing that elephants dislike being around honey bees, biologist Lucy King came up with a clever idea: she installed bee hive fences around 17 farms in a two-year pilot project aimed at preventing the elephants' entry, according to an article in Discovery magazine. She placed the hives 10 meters apart and then connected them with wire.
When the elephants tried to push their way through the fence, the jostled bees, defending their hives, pushed back by stinging them. The elephant scattered and most--93 percent--never returned.
Can you say "Memory like an elephant?"
Now the farmers in Kenya cannot only protect their crops from the pachyderms but there's the added bonus of a second income: honey!
We wouldn't be surprised if this little experiment is tried elsewhere.
During Prohibition, bootleggers reportedly placed bee hives inside their liquor trucks to disguise their cargo and ward off inspection.
The bee fence could be the new "no trespassing" sign, the new "caution" tape, the new security guards.
Pomegranate growers could string a beehive fence around their fields to deter thieves. They could replace their signs, "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Prosecuted" with "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Stung." Banks owning foreclosed homes could fence off their yards with bee hives. Prisons could increase their security with a line of bee fences.
Problem is, though, one percent of the population is allergic to bees and if stung, they could go into anaphylactic shock.
And folks would perceive bees the wrong way--they'd forget about their pollination services and think only of insects that sting.
Then, too, some unethical folks would steal the hives, as they do during almond season.
But hey, it worked for the elephants!