A middle-aged woman takes the sign literally. "What would you do if you saw THAT bug in our backyard?" she asks her daughter, about six years old.
"Yecch!" responds the daughter. She didn't say what she would do, but "survival" (hers, not the bug's) seemed to be the key issue.
They were looking at an assassin bug, considered a beneficial insect in the garden.
Now if those visitors were entomologists or bug enthusiasts, they'd probably begin the conversation with one of these three scenarios:
- "Ooh, there's an assassin bug! How lucky can we get!"
- "So beautiful! A work of nature, isn't it?"
- "Oh, wait, I'm going to shoot (photograph) it."
Butterflies? Check! The specimens include monarchs, Western tiger swallowtails, anise swallowtails, West Coast ladies, painted ladies, red admirals, and the pest, the cabbage white. (Note: according to Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, there are more than 300 species of butterflies in California. See his monitoring site. "And 118 have been recorded at my Donner Summit study site alone. There are about 30 species breeding in Davis right now and probably 90+ in Yolo, Solano, or Sacramento County alone--about 100 in Colusa or Napa...")
Dragonflies and damselflies? Check.
Those misunderstood assassin bugs? Check.
Another display at the Bug Barn showcases the life cycle of a monarch, featuring live monarchs and a chrysalis. Visitors at the Insect Pavilion on Wednesday morning, July 26, seemed to like that display more than they did the others. "Oh, my, a live monarch!" Out came the cell phones for quick photos.
A bee observation hive from beekeeper Brian Fishback of BD Ranch and Apiary in Wilton also drew attention. Fishback began keeping bees in 2008 and worked at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, now of Washington State University.
“Today we continue to share our knowledge with outreach programs to encourage interest in honey bees and share the importance of the bees to our environment as well as our food supply," Fishback wrote on his display. “At BD Ranch, I work very hard rescuing colonies from destruction from pest control companies, nervous homeowners, people unfamiliar with what bees are doing during swarming seasons. By rescuing and raising these feral colonies into strong hives, I can raise queens to carry the surviving genetic traits to other hives that increase their survival."
Meanwhile, just outside the Insect Pavilion, bees buzzed in the garden, unaware of the visitors expressing an interest in them. A honey bee foraged on a blooming sunflower, trailing, stopping, trailing...
Just as the humans were doing inside the Insect Pavilion...
If you enroll in a beekeepers' course at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, one of the instructors you're likely to meet is Charley Nye, manager of the facility.
Meet Charley Nye, behind the veil.
Charley remembers distinctly when bees first drew his interest.
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, he enrolled in an introductory entomology class. “I remember seeing the research technician standing in and indoor flight cage, surrounded by bees,” Nye said. “They were flying from the hive to a feeder stand and completely ignoring her. We covered the long history of beekeeping in that class around that same time and I was just amazed at how much knowledge had been collected. I applied for a job and started working as an assistant to the research technician I saw that day that spring. I spent the next three summers working for the lab of Dr. Gene Robinson and learning as much as I could.” (Note: Access this YouTube video to hear Gene Robinson speak on " Me to We: Using Honey Bees to Find the Genetic Roots of Social Life" at the Feb. 22, 2016 UC Davis Chancellor's Distinguished Speakers' Colloquium.)
Charley went on to spend eight years in Illinois working with the bees—three as an undergraduate assistant and five years as the facility manager and research technician. He joined UC Davis in December 2015.
“Adapting to the California ecosystem has been a bit of an adjustment,” Nye said. “A big part of beekeeping is understanding the ecosystem you live in. If you've got a bee yard that doesn't have a water source close, you may need to move water in during dry periods. Different flowers provide nectar and pollen at varying quantities, so being aware of what's going on in the environment can give you some insight into whether or not you might need to assist your bees with some sugar to make it until the next bloom. That has honestly been my favorite part of moving here, learning about all the trees and shrubs and wildflowers and when they bloom. It's a constant process through the year, and being my first year here it's been really enjoyable to watch the seasons progress."
"I think the general public's knowledge of bees has made amazing advances in recent years. The shortage of bees for agricultural purposes here in the Central Valley really brought beekeeping into the news, followed by a lot of documentaries and things that made people want to be beekeepers or at least plant pollinator friendly gardens. Lots of people bring up beekeeping documentaries they've seen, and I don't think beekeepers were experiencing that 20 years ago. Overall, I'm mostly impressed with the amount of bee related knowledge out in the world right now.
Myths and misconceptions about bees? Often people associate bees with stinging, and falsely claim they have an allergy. “I've been doing this long enough that I don't laugh at people when they tell me they are allergic, but I think people don't completely understand what allergic means,” he said. “Only one or two people out of 1000 are actually allergic and have a life threatening reaction--most people just experience pain and swelling. I try to point out to people that when it hurts and makes their hand swell up, that might not mean they have a bee allergy, but most of the time I just nod my head and move on. I worked a booth at a local fair and half my conversations were people telling me they were allergic because it hurt. I get stung every day, and I can attest that at no point does it stop hurting.”
Nye divides his time with the labs of Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, pollination ecologist Neal Williams, and Brian Johnson, who studies the behavior, evolution and genetics of honey bees. “My responsibilities are pretty spread out,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent keeping the bees healthy enough for experiments.” In peak season, “it's pretty common to just have a few weeks' notice that we need any number of healthy full sized colonies, and like other animals, you can't grow a calf to a full sized cow with any magic tricks, so we try to buffer that by keeping a tight schedule for disease monitoring and making sure all our colonies are as robust as possible.”
What does he like the best about his job? The least?
"My job has a great balance between working out in a natural setting going through bee hives, and coming back to the lab and getting involved in research," he said. "I think doing either one of them by themselves would get a little tedious for me, so I feel really lucky to be able to split myself between the two. The least? It might be kind of a strange complaint, but foxtails. I spend a lot of time walking through tall grass and those foxtails burrow into my shoes and make me crazy. And I'm told I have to worry about them going up my dog's nose? I would say it's an urban myth but the seeds ability to get into my shoe and under my sock is practically magic."
(Editor's Note: Here's a list of the 2017 apiculture courses that the E. L. Niño lab is teaching; registration is now underway.)
You're in good hands!
The E.L. Niño Bee Lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has announced its list of courses it will teach next year, starting March 11 and continuing through June 11.
The courses, taught by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and her colleagues, will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Laidlaw facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, west of the central campus. Registration is now underway.
- Planning Ahead for Your First Hives (25 spots per session)
March 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
March 18, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Participants can sign up for one of two short courses: the first on Saturday, March 11 and the second on Saturday, March 18. The cost is $95. The all-day course will include lectures and hands-on exercises. "This course is perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills to move on to the next step of owning and caring for their own honey bee colonies," Niño said.
- Working Your Colonies (25 spots per session)
March 12, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
March 19, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Two separate short courses will be offered: the first on Sunday, March 12, and the second on Sunday, March 19. The cost is $150. The all-day courses are for novice beekeepers who already have a colony or have taken the previous course and want to develop their beekeeping skills further. Participants will learn how to inspect their colony and how to troubleshoot, as well as glean information on products of the hive. The afternoon will be spent entirely in the apiary with hands-on activities and demonstrations.
- Queen Rearing Techniques Short Course (16 spots per session)
April 14-15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
April 22-23, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Niño lab will be offering two separate two-day courses: the first course on Saturday and Sunday, April 14-15, and the second on Saturday and Sunday, April 22-23. The cost is $375. Each course will include lectures on queen biology and rearing, as well as extensive hands-on exercises. This course is designed for those who have some beekeeping experience and would like to move on to the next step of rearing their own queens and bee breeding.
- Varroa Management Strategies (25 spots per session)
May 13, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
May 27, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Two separate courses will be offered: the first on Saturday, May 13, and the second on Saturday, May 27. The cost is $175. Course description: Current beekeeping challenges call for all beekeepers to have a solid understanding of varroa mite biology and management approaches. Participants will dive deeper into understanding varroa biology and discussing pros and cons of ways to monitor, mitigate and manage this pest.
- Bee Breeding (25 spots per session)
June 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This is a one-day course, to be held Sunday, June 11. The cost is $75. Course description: This course complements the queen-rearing techniques course. Participants will learn the intricacies of honey bee genetics along with honey bee races and breeder lines. "We will also have an in-depth discussion of various breeding schemes," Niño said.
Part of the proceeds will benefit the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center and co-owner of Z Specialty Food, will be leading a guided honey tasting at noon each day.
Harris, who co-owns the business with husband Ishai Zeldner and son Josh Zeldner, says the event will include “so many honeys—about 30. New varietals include Arizona Cactus Blossom, California Purple Vetch, Toyon, Hawaiian Wildflower, Raspberry, and Midwestern Basswood."
In addition, the event will showcase mead (honey wine), honey beer, honey fruit spreads, honey in the straw, chocolate nut spreads, olive oil and other foods. There also will be children's activities, tours, giveways, and live music by the Jonny Gold Trio of Davis.
Harris will be offering the Honey Aroma and Flavor Wheel for sale, with proceeds benefitting the Honey and Pollination Center and the Laidlaw facility.
Z Specialty Food is home to Moon Shine Trading Company, Island of the Moon Apiaries, and Cowboy Caviar. Moon Shine Trading packs more than 20 varietal honeys and other gourmet foods.
Some of the rare honeys that are quite popular are coriander and pomegranate, said Ishai Zeldner, the company's founder. This year Z Specialty Food partnered with Woodland's Blue Note Brewing Company to develop a pomegranate honey called "Local Buzz." It, too, will be available for tasting at the open house.
Z Specialty Food will be among the sponsors at the 40th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, set Sept. 5-8, 2017 at Davis. Conference participants will tour the Woodland business. WAS was founded by UC Davis bee specialists headquartered at the Laidlaw facility.
It's just been announced that the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), founded 40 years ago at UC Davis, will be meeting ...drum roll...Sept. 5-8, 2017 in Davis, Calif.
That's the kind of advance notice we like.
Fortieth anniversary? Is that possible? It is. The group traces its beginnings back to 1977 and founders Norm Gary, UC Davis professor of entomology and noted bee wrangler; newly hired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; and Becky Westerdahl, who had just received her doctorate in biology/nematology from UC Riverside. Both Gary and Mussen are retired. (Don't mention the "R" word to them, though! Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and Gary is a jazz musician who keeps busy playing the "B" or "Bee" flat clarinet, among other instruments.) Westerdahl went on to become an Extension nematologist, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mussen will serve as the program coordinator for the 2017 event, to be held in the Activities and Recreational Center (ARC) on campus. He is already planning a program that will showcase the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Meanwhile, WAS will be meeting in a few weeks--Oct. 13-15--in Honolulu. Two of the speakers are from UC Davis: Eric Mussen, who will discuss pesticides; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, an expert in queen breeding.
What's WAS all about? Mussen, a five-time president, remembers hammering out the mission with his colleagues: "WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is encouraged from anywhere in the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon." Current president is Ethel Villalobos of Hawaii. Niño serves as the second vice president.
The entire country--indeed the entire world--is worried about bee health and the declining bee population. The United States has about 2.6 million colonies, Mussen says, while the number of colonies in California is approximately half a million.
Indeed, Davis, Calif. is the place to "bee" Sept. 5-8, 2017.