Bees and blister beetles, yes.
We remember writing about her work in April of 2013 when she addressed the Nor Cal Entomology Society (now folded) about her research on how blister beetle nest parasites cooperate to mimic the sex pheromone of a digger bee. She had just returned from the Mojave National Preserve, tracking the solitary bee Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus.
Fascinating research! Saul-Gershenz, who grew up in New York, studies the chemical ecology and parasite-host interactions of solitary native bees and their nest parasites across the western U. S., including the coastal sand dunes of Oregon and the Mojave Desert in south-central California.
"The solitary bee is the first native bee to emerge in the spring on the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve," she told us. “The adult beetles emerge on the dunes in the winter months at Kelso Dunes and feed exclusively on the leaves of Astragalus lentiginosus which leafs out in January."
The bee's emergence is generally synchronized with the onset of blooms of the Borrego milkvetch, which is the sole host plant of adults of the blister beetle at Kelso Dunes.
Basically, the larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal or allomone, similar to that of a female bee's pheromone to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee on contact and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
Leslie is now Dr. Saul-Gershenz. She received her doctorate in entomology in May 2017. And on Wednesday, Oct. 18, she will share her research at her exit seminar, "Host Range Evolution of the Bee Parasite Meloe franciscanus," set from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
"We report that different populations of M. franciscanus exhibit local adaptations that mimic both the behaviors and the chemical composition of the sex pheromones of locally available bee host species," she writes in her abstract. "We compared a population of M. franciscanus larvae, known as triungulins, parasitizing nests of Habropoda miserabilis (Hymenoptera: Apidae) from the coastal sand dunes of Oregon with a population parasitizing the congener H. pallida in the Mojave Desert in south-central California. We determined that M. franciscanus populations are the same species using molecular analyses.
Working in collaboration with the Neal Williams bee lab and the Steve Nadler molecular lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, she and chemical ecologist Jocelyn Millar at UC Riverside found that multiple populations of the blister beetle Meloe franciscanus are locally adapted to different bee hosts in different allopatric populations. (Professor Williams is a pollination ecologist, and Nadler is a nematologist and chair of the department.)
The UC Davis evolutionary ecologist also explored which functional traits of hosts are useful for predicting parasite host range. In another study, she brought together a dream team of bee biologists and received funding from the Bureau of Land Management to study the impact of utility-scale solar development on desert bees. This study documented that these landscapes are biologically rich, even in drought years, and contain a minimum of 114 species of bees including six undescribed species of bee.
The significance of her work?
"Our research has added to the understanding of the communication signals of bees in the genus Habropoda," she related. "We now know that they use long-chain hydrocarbons for the female sex attractant and vary the position of the double bounds in different components and vary proportions of these components to avoid cross attraction among closely related species. Parasites co-opt this communication channel to deceive male bees in the Meloe-Habropoda system.
"In our host functional trait research we show that annual host abundance and host abundance from year to year, as well as local temporal overlap are highly predictive of host range."
Results on the impact of utility-scale solar development on desert bees showed high bee species diversity in the Mojave and western Sonoran region. "This suggests the importance of careful regional planning and additional research to protect this area of significant floral and fauna biodiversity," she said.
Future plans? To continue her research.
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, recipient of numerous grants and author of a number of publications ranging from peer-reviewed papers to books, is the co-founder of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org and director of Research and Conservation (1988 to present). The international conservation consortium works with partners to protect ecosystems around the world.
She is also a 2004 graduate of The Bee Course, an intensive 10-day workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. One of the instructors is Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, also one of her many collaborators.
Among her other current collaborators: scientists Lynn Kimsey, Neal Williams, Tom Zavortink, Rebecca Hernandez, all of UC Davis; Terry Griswold, USDA-ARS, Bee Biology Lab; Monica Geber, Cornell University; and John Ascher, National University of Singapore.
Her next presentations of her research will be at the Entomological Society of America's annual conference, "Ignite, Inspire, Innovate," scheduled Nov. 5-8 in Denver,Colo., and the California Native Plant Society Conservation Conference, scheduled Feb. 1-3, 2018 in Los Angeles.
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."
All is still not right in the bee world. And all is not right with science. Its future is troubling.
That's why it's so important to "March for Science" on Saturday, April 22. All eyes are focused on the national March for Science in Washington, D.C., and the satellite marches in solidarity.
We're glad to see that the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), a non-partisan scientific society founded in 1889, is taking an active role by naming its members "point persons" for the various marches.
At the Sacramento March for Science, UC Extension entomologist emerita Mary Lou Flint of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is ESA's point person. “It is a really important time to be supporting science and scientists in the United States," she said. "This march is nonpartisan and fully sponsored by the ESA.”
In Sacramento, participants will gather at 10 a.m. at Southside Park, 2115 6th St. for a pre-march program. At noon they will begin marching to the Capitol Mall, 1315 10th St. The post-march program will take place there from 1 to 4 p.m.
Flint, a UC Davis graduate who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, retired in June 2014 as an Extension entomologist and as a leader in the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program: she served as the associate director for Urban and Community IPM.
On April 22, she will be there with other scientists, out of their labs, and into the streets. And joining thousands of others, all marching for science.
The guiding principles of ESA "recognize that the discipline of entomology is global, that all of its members must be able to participate fully in the organization, and that entomologists must collaborate with government and the public to maximize the positive benefits insect science offers to the world," said ESA in a press release. "The stated goals and principles of the March for Science align closely with these strategic principles of ESA.”
ESA is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Its members are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, and hobbyists.
ESA has created a web page to share information on how members can participate in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., or at satellite events around the nation and the world. ESA is also planning a pre-March for Science webinar on April 19 at 2 p.m. (EDT). Speakers from ESA, Lewis-Burke Associates, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will discuss the logistics of the March for Science, best practices for non-partisan advocacy on behalf of science, and advice for productively engaging with the media during and after the March.
In addition, ESA members and others can use an ESA template to print their own "Why I March for Science" sign. They are encouraged to take a selfie with it, and send it to email@example.com. "Why I March" pictures will be shared on social media in the days leading up to the event.
The March for Science is not only intended to raise awareness, but to celebrate science and to support and safeguard the scientific community. The goals include advocating for open, inclusive, and accessible science, affirming scientific research as an essential part of a working democracy and, in general, supporting scientists.
As the Sacramento March for Science web page points out: "Recent policy changes have called science-based information into question. Science is not a partisan issue. Science is fact-based and provides objective results. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted!"
"We come from all walks of life. We are of different races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, political perspectives, and nationalities - and we are united through our respect for science and our belief that it is crucial to the health and success of our society and our planet. Our diverse opinions, perspectives, and ideas are critical to the scientific process and are our greatest strength."
If you live in the Sacramento area, check out these related links, and then join the march to the state capitol:
A monarch—the most special monarch ever--fluttered over our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday afternoon, Sept. 5 and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
As it sipped nectar, I glimpsed something white, round, and lettered, something I've never seen before in the wild. This one was tagged.
Shouldering my camera with a macro lens as long as a military tactical flashlight, I slowly edged around the garden, nearly hugging my new best friend, a cherry laurel hedge, as I tried not to look like a predator seeking prey.
Please, please, don't fly away. Stay still for a few minutes so I can read your tag. Please. Please. I want to know where you're from, how far you've traveled to get here.
As if on cue, Danaus plexippus stayed still and I shot away on the continuous mode setting with my camera, a Nikon D700 equipped with a 70-180 macro lens. It's a handy lens for fluttering monarchs and skittish insects that move in and out of your viewfinder.
But when I read the little round white tag, my eyes widened and I think I did a happy dance or a somersault or a pirouette. The tag, with a serial number, read “Monarch@wsu.edu A6093.” Oh, wow! This monarch is from my alma mater, Washington State University.
Where have you been, firstname.lastname@example.org? I've been looking all over for you since Oct. 17, 2014 when I also encouraged others to look for you.
The next time you see a monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.
It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.
James, an associate professor at Washington State University, studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.
And voila! There is email@example.com A6093.
To put it frankly, A6093 and I became quite close. True-blue friends. Well, he's orange and black, actually. Still, it was a five-hour friendship. I first saw him at 1 p.m., and he hung around our pollinator garden for five hours. How did I know the gender? When he spread his wings, I saw the familiar black dots.
A6093 was exciting to watch. He'd pause to sip some nectar from the Mexican sunflowers and butterfly bush, and then soar upward again, meeting and pursuing other butterflies. He was part of a swirl of orange butterflies, a symphony of orange butterflies, dancing in the sky to music only they could hear.
But here's what's really exciting. We emailed entomologist David James of WSU and learned that the monarch was tagged by Steven Johnson of Ashland, Ore. and released on Sunday, Aug. 28. “Information is slowly trickling in,” he wrote back today. “I think it likely that Steven reared it from an egg laid on his property."
"So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day. Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now."
"Clearly this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
Maybe we'll get more tagged monarchs? "You could well find another tag in your yard!" James said. "We believe they do take defined routes (valleys, rivers) so you may well be on a 'route.'"
So apparently our yard was a fueling stop or an "oasis," as James put it. "The tagged male--had you been able to look inside its body--would have been full of 'fat body' and a very reduced reproductive tract..so his interest in the opposite sex is currently minimal..and it'll stay that way until Feb 2017!"
(Editor's note: If you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the Facebook page. For more information about the project, see WSU's monarch butterfly news story about inmates' tagging project, and a news story on monarch decline.)
Washington State Prisoners Raise and Release Monarch Butterflies, Entomology Today, Entomological Society of America
If any insect should be the "cover girl" during National Pollinator Week, it ought to be the honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Specifically, it should be the worker bee, although the queen bee and drones (males) have their place, too.
But it's the worker bee, the forager, that basically works herself to death. She's out gathering nectar, pollen, propolis and water for her colony. She never calls in sick. She never punches a time card. She never protests. As soon as the temperature hits around 55 degrees, she leaves the warmth of the hive to go to work.
She might not return. She may run into pesticides, pests or predators (think spiders, praying mantids, wasps, birds and the like). She may wind up spending the night on a lavender blossom when it's too cold or too dark to return to the hive. She may have to fly five miles on ragged wings and in ragged weather carrying a load heavier than she is.
Once inside, she shares her bounty with the colony. She dances to let her sisters know where she found it. This isn't America's Got Talent--these dances are not for money or fame, but for purpose. "Hey, I just found a large quantity of lavender about two miles away. It's great quality. Let's go get more."
Her weapon is her stinger, but she uses that only in defense of the hive, or when something crushes her (like a human being that accidentally steps on her). She can't be compared to an assault weapon such as an AR-15 that can shoot 25 rounds in 2.5 seconds. One sting and she dies. One barbed sting and it's all over for her.
And she's beautiful, whether she's golden, light brown or gray-black.
The Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, graced its June cover with a honey bee. It's of a forager heading toward a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The background: I captured the image several years ago in my pollinator garden in Vacaville, as I watched, awestruck, as the worker bees turned the tower of jewels into a buzzing tower of bees. Oh, sure, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, syrphids, butterflies and hummingbirds were working the blossoms, too, but it was this determined worker bee that caught my eye.
She probably died several weeks after that flight photo. Honey bees live only four to six weeks during the busy season. The queen bee, an egg-laying machine that can pump out 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaced her.
For a moment, though, as the bee headed for the tower of jewels, time stopped. The worker bee did not.
Happy National Pollinator Week!