Despite other major attractions--including the gorgeous spring day and the March Madness basketball tournament--nearly 300 people visited the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology last Saturday during its three-hour open house, themed "Eggs to Wings: Backyard Butterfly Gardening."
They conferred with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis; Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and a number of Bohart associates, including entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the moth and butterfly display; naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a butterfly and dragonfly enthusiast; entomologists Jessica Gillung and Ziad Khouri, doctoral candidates; Nicole Tam, junior specialist; and Joel Hernandez and Alex Nguyen, recent entomology graduates.
"Hungry, hungry caterpillars!" read one poster, illustrated with photos of the monarch, gulf fritillary and pipevine swallowtail caterpillars and their adult stages. "Having a garden full of flowers provides nectar, an important food source for adult butterflies, but what about their hungry, hungry caterpillars? It seems counterintuitive to grow plants that yu want insects to eat, but that is exactly what butterflies need when they are larvae."
Jeff Smith kept busy showing visitors the drawers of butterfly specimens, including blue morphos, monarchs and swallowtails. As he opened one drawer, he explained that "this drawer contains several species of South American rainforest butterflies, Preponas, in the genus Archaeoprepona." He described them as "extremely strong and fast fliers, but they love to settle on baits such as fermenting fruit on the ground. We (Bohart team) caught several in the ongoing Belize biodiversity work this past year."
Robbin Thorp showed live male Valley carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, green-eyed blond bees that are also known as "teddy bear" bees. "Boy bees can't sting," Thorp said, reassuring a few leary visitors. The female of the species is solid black. (Following the open house, Thorp returned the bees to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road.)
The bottle is tucked inside a zipped, meshed butterfly habitat and placed indoors or in a screened patio to prevent tachinid flies and wasps from laying their eggs in the caterpillars or chrysalids. Once the monarchs pupate and eclose, they are released to start another generation. This is a small-scale conservation project.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Special open houses take place throughout the academic year. The next open house takes place during the annual campuswide Picnic Day on April 22.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, greeted a visitor on Feb. 14 in his office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
This visitor didn't talk, though. She buzzed.
And she buzzed right over to his window.
Well, hello, black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus!
"Guess all one needs to do is sit and wait," he wrote in an email to bumble bee enthusiasts. "Eventually a gyne will find her way into one's office. This one was buzzing against my window just a few minutes ago trying to get back outside."
She came to the right place.
Thorp, a noted expert on bumble bees, is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalist (Heyday). He also teaches at The Bee Course, an annual workshop hosted by the American Museum of Natural History at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. (The Bee Course is meant for "conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees," according to the website. This year's course is Aug. 21-31.)
The black-tailed bumble bee, native to North America, is one of only 250 species worldwide in the genus Bombus.
What's next with Thorp's bumble bee?
A nest box in an almond tree near the Laidlaw facility--feed her some honey, make her feel at home, "then let her fly out, hopefully to return and establish a nest."
Insect photographer and naturalist Allan Jones of Davis discovered and photographed three Bombus melanopygus foraging on manzanita on Jan. 27 in the UC Davis Arboretum. In doing so, he won the science-based, friendly competition among a small group of bumble bee enthusiasts in Yolo and Solano counties searching for the first bumble bee of the year.
But Allan Jones went looking for his bumble bee; Thorp's bumble bee came to him...
Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, annually sponsors the "Beer for a Butterfly" contest, offering a pitcher of beer for the first cabbage white butterfly (Pierae rapae) of the year found in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento. He launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate. This year he again won the contest; he collected a newly eclosed butterfly at 1:56 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19 near the Solano Park Apartments on the UC Davis campus.
But where's the first bumble bee of the year in the Yolo county area?
At 2:02 today (Friday, Jan. 27) naturalist and insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis alerted us: "Two Bombus melanopygus on manzanita just east of the redwood grove (UC Davis Arboretum)."
And then he found another melanopygus. It was a three-in-one day.
The story behind the story: five years ago, a small group of keen-eyed bumble bee aficionados (Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide; and three naturalists and insect photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones of Davis, and yours truly of UC Davis) launched our own contest.
In an unusual twist, Jones found both genders at the same time. After finding and photographing two males just east of the Arboretum's redwood grove, he spotted and photographed a female just west of it.
"Surprising to see males this early in the season," noted Thorp, who co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. "Unusual to see males before any workers are on site. Could be from a gyne that overwintered but was not mated before she went into hibernation; or maybe the sperm she received were not viable; or maybe she was unable to release sperm from her spermatheca to some eggs as they passed through her reproductive tract."
"At any rate," Thorp told Jones, in congratulating him, "you got two firsts for the season at one time."
Great job, Allan Jones! And the bumble bee season begins...
It's sort of like the wonders of the world but this is a science-based event at UC Davis. Scheduled Saturday, Feb. 18, it's a special day for the public to go behind the scenes to see 12 collections and learn how scientists conduct research.
You'll gain first-hand knowledge. You'll see everything from honey bees to hawks, and from bugs to botanical displays.
The event, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will "showcase natural history, biodiversity and the cultural-ecological interface," said coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The open house is free and open to all; parking is also free. All collections are within walking distance on campus except for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road for the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road, and
The following will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, headquartered on LaRue Road
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Academic Surge Building
- California Raptor Center, Old Davis Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Academic Surge Building
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
The following will be open from noon to 4 p.m.:
- Anthropology Museum Young Hall
- Botanical Conservatory, greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Lab Building
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Lab Building
All participating museums and collections have active education and outreach programs, Yang said, but the collections are not always accessible to the public. In the event of rain, alternative locations are planned for the outdoor sites. Maps, signs and guides will be available at all the collections, online, and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
For further information about the event, access the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day website.
That's the sound of success.
It finally happened. The beleaguered rusty-patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis, is now listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species, the first bee in the continental United States to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
So many folks helped spearhead this project. Bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University) helped sound the alarm.
Thorp co-authored a 2010 petition seeking an endangered status for Bombus affinis. The Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, along with Thorp and others, submitted the petition to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013. In 2015, agency officials agreed to consider it. In 2016, they proposed protection. Then on Jan. 10, 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rusty-patched bumble bee as an endangered species. (See Xerces press release.)
Other key players in making this all happen included natural history photographer/filmmaker Clay Bolt and his friends at the Day's Edge Productions, which created the award-winning film, A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee with support from the Xerces Society and others. The result: nearly 200,000 persons signed a petition seeking endangered status for the bee.
The rusty-patched bumble bee was once found in 28 states in the eastern and upper midwest United States, along with the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Since the late 1990s, however, its population has declined by nearly 90 percent, according to Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species for the Xerces Society.
"The rusty patched bumble bee is threatened with extinction," Jepsen wrote in the petition. "Possible causes of its decline include pathogens, habitat loss or degradation, pesticide use, and climate change. Reduced genetic diversity, which could be a result of declining, isolated populations caused by any of the aforementioned factors, likely also threatens this species with extinction. Furthermore, existing regulations are wholly inadequate to protect this species."
Jepsen described bumble bees as "iconic pollinators that contribute to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems."
Enter Clay Bolt who set out to find, photograph and document the critically imperiled bumble bee. He moved from state to state, habitat to habitat, museum to museum, meeting with scientists and conservationists. Finally, he found the living breathing rusty-patched bumble bee in the University of Wisconsin arboretum. You can see his excitement and learn about his incredible journey in the amazing Ghost in the Making.
Bolt related that he first became aware of the plight of the rusty-patched bumble bee while looking at specimens in the collection at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "There was a stuffed passenger pigeon in the same room, frozen in time, but no longer among us in nature," he told us. "It was once the most numerous bird on the planet and then it was no more. This has always haunted me. I decided then that I had to do everything in my power to attempt to bring more attention to this beautiful little bee before it went the same way."
With friends from Day's Edge Productions and the Xerces Society, Bolt made the film about the bee, helped develop the petition, and spoke on Capitol Hill and other high-profile events to spotlight its plight. "Through all of this, I kept thinking back to seeing this amazing little animal in the field," Bolt said. "Watching it fly. Witnessing it do what it had been doing for thousands of years. It had no idea that its fate was in our hands."
"I am just so encouraged and grateful for the public's outcry in support of this species," Bolt said. "This was an effort that would have never been possible without so many people working together to see it through. I am grateful that my images played even a small part in this historic occasion. These are the moments that make all of the hours of work and worry worthwhile."
One observation in Ghost in the Making particularly resonates: "We spend so much time and effort making life better for ourselves, the least we can do is make life possible for this bee." The film advocates that we all do our part: provide flowers, a safe place to nest, and a pesticide-free environment.
How many other bumble bees should be listed as endangered? "That's difficult to answer, mainly due to a lack of good information," said Thorp. "Most of our bumble bee species seem to be doing well according to our most recent assessments. But at least one eastern cuckoo bumble bee may be declining because its host bumble bees have declined. About a quarter of our bumble bees may be at risk, but we need more information. One that used to be common here in the Central Valley, Bombus sonorus, basically disappeared from our area about a dozen years ago, but it is doing well in the southern part of its range in southern California and Arizona."
Meanwhile the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing three other species of bees for possible inclusion as endangered. They include Franklin's bumble bee, the western bumble bee and the yellow-banded bumble bee.
Thorp, who has been monitoring Franklin's bumble bee, Bombus franklini, since 1998 (See Dec. 12 Bug Squad), hasn't seen the bumble bee in 10 years within its five-county range of southern Oregon and northern California. He doesn't want to say the "E" word--extinct. Not yet. He thinks this may be the year he'll find it.
This week, however, is a cause for celebration. The rusty-patched bumble bee is now an endangered species, in danger of extinction, and we can now begin the process to protect it and recover it.